Cloud solutions will be crucial in creating the new work environment post-pandemic, writes Rhys Sharp, public sector solutions director of Rackspace.
The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered major changes in how the public sector is working that could well prove to be permanent, with cloud systems playing an ever more important role.
Rackspace has seen this for itself, having been sideswiped into a rapid change in its own operations by the pandemic, and in what it has seen in the responses of its public sector customers.
The biggest single shift has been towards home working on a massive scale, with a resultant surge in the take-up of video conferencing services such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. This has come with its own demands, requiring an effort to ensure people are equipped with not just the applications but adequate computers and the skills to use the systems; and that the organisations have the computing power to make them available to all those who need them.
This has been accompanied by a big extension of virtual private networks, with authorities having to quickly bring more home workers into the loop and step up their computing and encryption capacities to ensure they work effectively.
It has laid the ground for a potentially permanent shift towards home working for many employees, fuelled by organisations reviewing how much office space they need, and a sense that, with the right conditions, it can increase productivity.
The other big change has been an acceleration in digital transformation initiatives, with the rapid development of new applications to support the response to the coronavirus, both for internal operations and making new services available to the public.
NHS organisations and local authorities have shown it is possible to quickly create new apps, web services and co-ordinating functions, often building on existing systems.
Moving forward out of lockdown things will look very different. There’s now a widespread acceptance that a project can be delivered remotely.
A recurring factor in these changes has been the use of cloud services to develop the solutions and boost capacity, with organisations adjusting the balance in their hybrid clouds or swiftly taking up new services. It provides a fantastic potential for drawing on the array of offers from cloud providers to find the right blend for a public authority
But it also requires skills in choosing services and cost optimisation that are in limited supply in the public sector. There is a difference between operating a digital infrastructure on-premise and in the cloud - with the latter demanding an extensive knowledge of the pros and cons of different offerings and how they can affect the outlook for integrating systems and long term costs.
Many public sector organisations have limited experience in this field and need specialist support to make it work to their advantage. This is where they should be engaging with suppliers who have been through the experience themselves and worked with other public sector customers on the change.
Rackspace provides an example, with its own experience in facilitating a wholesale shift to home working for its staff. This involved technical measures of scale testing to ensure it had the internal capacity, making sure staff had the right equipment and were trained in how to use it, that they had adequate connectivity, and that the proper security protocols were in place. Along with this it has helped them in creating the right work environment with issues such as seating and the positioning of computers, and taken steps to support wellbeing, setting up support groups, online yoga, running quizzes and expanding training.
Along with this it has worked closely with public sector customers, supporting them through the rapid roll out of video conferencing and extension of their VPNs, and helping them make their choices of cloud services where needed. Security has been an important element of this and we’ve advised many on how guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre applies to their environments.
We have mechanisms to help customers optimise their environments and reduce their potential footprint. We are also aligning our efforts with the drive towards open APIs that can do so much to provide better digital public services.
This makes us well placed to provide support for public sector bodies looking to adapt quickly to the new environment while looking to the long term possibilities.
Covid-19 has been a crisis that has accelerated a change for the better in public sector digital, and the skilled management of cloud is going to be a big factor in taking this further. We’re here as an organisation that provides support, answering the questions asked in the relevant context, and helping organisations become future ready rather than future naive.
Catch up with Rhys's presentation at UKAuthority Powering Digital Public Services last month here
UKAuthority recently worked with Rackspace on a report identifying 'best of breed' infrastructure elements and smart sourcing - read more by downloading 'Smart sourcing insight' below: