Industry voice: As public authorities reduce their use of outsourcing they need an agile approach that strikes a balance between in-house capabilities, public and private cloud and external expertise, writes Rhys Sharp, solution director at Rackspace
The ardour for outsourcing ICT has cooled in the public sector in recent years. It has not been written off, but an increasing number of organisations are bringing the management of their digital capabilities back in-house, aiming to build their own skills and reassert direct control over their assets.
However, the sector hasn’t rekindled a romance with the old model of doing everything internally. Many digital services are moving to the cloud and technology is developing at a pace that will feed into a continuing evolution of how public services are delivered.
Insourcing doesn’t provide the most effective response; it requires smart sourcing.
The ins and outs of smart sourcing for a 'best of breed' approach to requirements were the subject of a recent UKA Live discussion in which I took part with Owen Powell, ICT director at Central and North West London NHS Trust, Geoff Connell, head of technology at Norfolk County Council, and Simon Clifford, head of digital and data at the Police ICT Company. It brought out some clear ideas about the challenges involved and the nature of an approach to best serve the public sector.
The argument for moving away from large scale ICT outsourcing is becoming familiar: that public authorities need to be agile, with their own skillset, to respond to a changing landscape. The demands on their ICT estates are going to change in ways that can't be fully predicted, they need flexibility for future proofing and the scope to take in innovative solutions from small suppliers. Big long term outsourcing deals don't provide the best framework for this.
The move to smart sourcing
The process to in-house control is not always straightforward. Getting out of long term contracts can sometimes be a painful process - often depending on how the outsourcer has viewed the business relationship - and most public authorities do not have the full range of digital skills in-house to manage the complexities of niche systems, specialist cloud services and integrations. They need to develop capabilities in security, governance and building the enterprise architecture, a process that can take years to accomplish.
There are plenty of other requirements. They need to avoid the creation of a monolithic in-house ICT service or a series of long-term procurements in which the service is fixed. Instead they need a more agile approach to procurement, focused on smaller, shorter-term deals for products and services that can be integrated into a flexible enterprise architecture.
Internal skills have to be shaped in the right way, so that staff can develop their capabilities as the architecture evolves. Technologists need to be more outward facing and work more closely with the business teams, and people from the latter need to develop a stronger understanding of technology solutions and how they can support the business.
Organisations should look at bringing together their traditional IT teams with the ‘digital natives’ in the business streams to foster a constant collaboration between the two. It can be an incentive to staff to teach them that, while their existing job may have a limited life, there are plenty of others to come if they are ready to constantly learn and update their skillsets.
They need to seek out the right type of cloud services, with the capacity to add APIs for the exchange of data and to strengthen integration with other systems. And they have to provide the environment to take advantage of innovation in the tech industry. Pre-procurement engagement with potential suppliers can do a lot to encourage innovation and ensure that it matches the needs of the public sector.
There was a consensus in the discussion that smart sourcing offers the best way forward, enabling an organisation to harness a combination of ‘best of breed’ software with commodity systems and a hybrid cloud model. It is not a uniform approach – having to meet different demands for different types of services – but it is marked by flexibility.
Simon Clifford described the Police ICT Company’s approach of using software-as-a-service when possible, but knowing there are elements of policing that currently require more bespoke solutions.
It is utilising these with a capability model that involves identifying how police forces carry out various processes and where different business units use similar technology. This is followed by fixing any elements of the tech to work better, then producing common tools for widespread use.
Geoff Connell said that the basics are in identifying tech components that are commoditised and buying them cheaply, ensuring a solid infrastructure is in place, and then building the user experience - which could demand some niche systems. Integrating these can be a complex business in which outsourced deals have sometimes fallen short, and the key to getting it right is in knowing the scope of what has to be changed and when.
This has prompted Rackspace to take a flexible approach in supporting public authorities, helping them to explore the art of the possible, develop their own capabilities and add its own where necessary to the technology options. This involves disaggregating the components of service components and providing its service in ‘blocks’ that customers can use as and when they require. A block can be used for weeks or months, and be discontinued when no longer needed.
This approach helps an organisation to find the right blend of cloud platforms, hybrid and on-premise systems to meet its specific demands, align the skills available with the point it has reached in its development, and build up internal skills that increase its control over the long term. It comes down to working collaboratively to understand where the skills gaps exist and how we can fill them for as long as required.
It is a complex scenario with plenty of challenges in store, but Rackspace’s expertise in cloud applications, data, security and infrastructure, and its service blocks offering, makes it a strong partner in addressing the issues and laying the ground for a healthy future with smart sourced ICT.
To talk about the art of the possible when it comes to smart sourcing and taking back control of your technology, contact Rackspace by calling on 020 8734 8107 or by visiting the Rackspace website here.
Meanwhile you can catch-up on the UKA Live discussion with the Police ICT Company, Norfolk County Council, Central and North West London NHS Trust and Rackspace below: