A more varied and granular approach to ICT services can lead public authorities to a fruitful middle ground, writes Rhys Sharp, solution director public sector at Rackspace.
Outsourcing is not dead, but it does not have the clout it had in the public sector 10-15 years ago.
Many organisations have taken their ICT management back in-house - alongside a trend towards taking up cloud services. There has also been a growing emphasis on agility and iteration in the development of modern digital services.
This has fuelled a consensus that there is no single approach likely to provide the best solution for all organisations. Instead, an increasing number are thinking about ‘smart sourcing’, a more flexible approach allowing for the use of ‘best of breed’ solutions across the estate. This entails taking up cloud offerings that are most appropriate to specific services, finding the right balance between in-house control and using outside contractors as needed, developing a combination of external and internal skills, and building up the latter to increase long term control.
Mapping the journey
One of the early steps is to map the organisation’s technology, including that in any existing outsourcing deal, to understand its performance, its effect on services and how it can best be managed for optimum results.
It requires an emphasis on flexibility, enabling an organisation to exploit new technology options and sources of data as they evolve. It needs to be able to respond to unanticipated changes – sourcing support and cloud services to do so effectively.
With this comes the need to ensure key skills are retained in-house; retaining a core internal team offers some insurance if an outsourcer falls short of what is expected. Part of the solution is in identifying the more mundane tasks to be transferred outside, and the more complex ones to be be kept in-house.
Managing cloud services also requires a specific package of skills that can be developed in-house or contracted to partner for speed.
It is part of a wider issue of examining the broad range of skills in ICT. It needs teams that are outward facing, ready to partner with business and develop contract management and communications skills.
Similarly, an organisation needs a strong procurement team that understands not just how the different deals work, but how they fit with the way cloud and digital are evolving and the need to build agility into developing services.
While the Government’s ‘cloud first’ policy is still a strong factor, some people are talking more of ‘cloud appropriate’, matching the need for flexibility and cost-effectiveness.
This demands a strong understanding of what various offerings can deliver, how they can match different functions in the organisation, and contracts that are sufficiently flexible to allow some scaling up and down - and not tie it into an operating model for too long. It needs the right cloud for the right need, which often takes the form a hybrid model, with combinations of public and private cloud and a continued reliance on on-premise in some instances.
Beneath all of this is the readiness to expect constant change in the technology landscape and to expect the unexpected. It amounts to a shift in mindset and a recognition that smart sourcing is an ongoing process rather than one that is delivered every few years.
The approach is still taking shape and people have their own perspectives on what is involved, but smart sourcing can provide a fruitful middle ground between fully outsourced and in-house ICT, creating a future-proof technology environment for public services.
This is a taster of an in-depth report 'Smart Sourcing Insight - Finding the right balance in outsourcing, insourcing and cloud procurement' on the issues around smart sourcing, produced by UKAuthority in association with Rackspace. You can download the report and learn more below.