Industry voice: Ian Robson, business development manager at Pythagoras, says discussions with local digital leaders have pointed towards the hybrid model of cloud as a foundation for transformation
Cloud computing is now prominent in the thinking of almost all of local government’s IT leaders, and an important element of their transformation plans. But a migration to cloud is not an easy business and there are fiendishly difficult issues to overcome.
It demands a pragmatic approach that avoids seeing cloud as a panacea, but in which a hybrid model and a realistic grasp of the possibilities provides the foundation for change.
This became clear at a series of discussions between local government leaders – round tables in London and Manchester staged by Pythagoras and UKAuthority and a handful of one-on-one interviews – in the autumn of 2017. They produced some lively debate and valuable insights into taking cloud beyond the hype,making it part of a successful digital transformation.
It became clear that the advantages of cloud computing are now widely known: significant savings, strong information security and the scope for frequent upgrades in software-as-a-service.
IT leaders are grappling with a series of issues as they plan for change. These include making the case for the investment to senior leaders, unpicking the legacy systems – more difficult when people have developed workarounds and stored data in different systems and spreadsheets –overcoming resistance to change, and drifting away from the strategic direction of the transformation.
They also face a complex landscape in making their technology choices, reflecting the fact that local government is a highly complex business. There is no platform that meets all its needs, which leaves the prospect of continuing to rely on a few specialist applications – some in the cloud, some on-premise – that have to be integrated with the major platforms.
But the discussions also produced positive thinking on how to deal with the challenges. The priorities include IT leaders learning to speak the language of the boardroom to win over business leaders; ensuring their teams work closely with service departments to understand their needs; getting employees used to the concept of perpetual change; combining cloud migration with a rationalisation of the software estate; intelligent engagement with suppliers; and sharing experiences and best practice with other authorities.
It is also very important to ensure that, while being ready to deal with specific issues facing service teams and individuals, the migration that does not drift off the course of the overall strategy.
“The challenge is not to take your eye off the strategic direction but keep your eye on it to consolidate,” was the comment from one participant.
It became clear from the experiences of the participants that a cloud migration is a highly complex business. Every step has consequences, some are going to stir resistance, and there will be times when concessions are necessary. Also, there will be instances in which cloud does not provide the cost-effective solution.
The prime lesson was to avoid thinking of it as an absolute. A migration across the board could create a new set of problems, and while there can be a presumption in favour of cloud, its value to each element of a transformation should be questioned.
Most participants in the discussions had reservations about a 100% move to cloud, believing that for some applications and data it is better to retain in-house control. There are also instances in which cloud would not be the most cost-effective option, and there are worries about the risk liability for losses of data or disrupted services.
The general view was that most authorities will find it more appropriate to move to a hybrid model, with cloud providing the foundations for most processes but some elements of the infrastructure remaining on-premise.
Need for pragmatism
Underlying all this is the need for a pragmatic approach towards a cloud migration and a broader transformation effort. A couple of significant phrases emerged from the discussions: the need to “understand the art of the possible”, and to look for the “realistic, viable product”.
This goes along with the view that, while local authorities should be looking to standardise and share solutions, they also need the flexibility to respond to specific circumstances. It can provide solutions that work and help to build confidence in the broader transformation.
This should take cloud services beyond the hype, making them an integral element of local government.
You can obtain a broader range of insights from the discussions in the full briefing, which can be downloaded from here.