As we’ve noted time and time again, the public sector is a diverse beast. It’s fragmented, funding varies and each organisation is catering to local needs. As such, it’s unsurprising that the uptake of digital technologies is varied and progress towards working differently through the use of Internet-based tools depends on a number of factors.
Which is why we observed with interest the findings of a cloud adoption survey, carried out by Eduserv, a not-for-profit organisation working with the public sector, and Socitm, a members network for IT professionals in local and central government.
The survey assesses the quantitative responses of 633 public sector organisations during 2018 and has been supplemented with qualitative interviews with a further 14 public sector organisations.
It finds that Universities top the public sector cloud rankings, with 36% storing at least 10% of their data in the cloud. Whilst public bodies stood at 29%, with local authorities (21%) and emergency services (13%) lagging behind.
Interestingly, 79% of public bodies have some sort of cloud policy or strategy in place, followed by 55% of universities. Meanwhile, just over half of emergency services (51%) have adopted a similar strategy, with only 44% of councils having taken similar steps.
Andy Powell, CTO at Eduserv, suggests that pure cloud operation for public sector organisations is someway off, with most adopting a hybrid approach in the interim. He said:
“As the report highlights, the journey will start on-premise and will almost certainly transition into a hybrid phase, possibly for quite some time, as many organisations are insufficiently mature in their IT management and information governance.
“During their journey to the cloud, public sector organisation IT departments will need to refine their IT delivery models, based on an improved understanding of cloud technology and its potential, new governance models and opportunities of information and data. There is no better time to start thinking about those issues than right now.”
The government’s Cloud First Policy was introduced in 2013, with an amendment in 2017 that essentially stated that public cloud adoption of technology was preferable to on-premise. However, uptake has varied and many public sector buyers are still grappling with skills, strategy and/or transitioning away from complex contracts and outsourcing arrangements.
New procurement mechanisms, such as the G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace, have helped somewhat, but there is still certainly a learning curve for organisations that want to get from point A to point B.
In terms of motivation, the Eduserv and Socitm survey found that desire to move to the cloud varied between different organisations. For example, universities are primarily interested in scalability (75%) and agility (73%). Meanwhile, emergency services are focused on cost savings (84%) and scalability second (75%).
Eduserv suggests that those that are focusing on scalability and agility are more likely to adopt cloud, whereas cost-savings don’t appear to be as much of a motivator.
Stephen Vercella, Head of ICT at Wiltshire Council, said:
“The whole idea behind moving to the cloud is that you size it for what you need and then buy additional capacity when you need it. You can’t do that without looking at your existing IT estate and identifying what you can get rid of and what you don’t want to move to the cloud.”
Meanwhile, Rob Miller, Director of ICT at Hackney Council, added:
“I’ve seen a number of organisations publicising that they have moved their ICT to the cloud, but I don’t think that setting an objective of being fully on cloud infrastructure is important in and of itself. I think we need to be clear about how cloud services are helping us to deliver better and more cost-effective services for our residents and businesses.”
The survey also found that 96% of universities manage their IT in-house, followed by local government (85%) and emergency services (83%). Whereas, public bodies have 20% of their IT outsourced and just 69% managed in-house.
Eduserv and Socitm note that the use of on-premise and third-party datacentres, the cost that comes with maintaining them and the need to upskill staff, are some of the many reasons why cloud adoption is not being implemented faster in the public sector.
In addition, organisational culture, resistance to change and budgetary challenges also play a part. The report states that this makes it “hard to nurture modernisation”.
Trevor Baxter, IT Solutions Director at King’s College London, offered his advice and said;
“I would certainly look to ensure an overall standardized approach. One of the challenges you get within HE is that people like to have 100% of what they want and they over focus on that side of things, so you end up with a lot of customization. That customization makes things slower and less effective so I would advise to talk to the organization and make sure that they are willing to accept 95% of stuff off the shelf instead of 100% of stuff which has had significant customization applied”, says
“Be as standard as possible, be as normal as possible. Make use of outside world models. When you’re building a finance system, don’t build one that looks exactly the same as the last one. Build one which uses best practices of today and apply them to the way that you work.”
Whilst surveys can’t always be taken as an entirely accurate, it’s always good to get a gut check on these things. And these results line up with what I’m seeing in the market, where local government in particular appears to be struggling to either a) figure out how to get to the cloud, b) understand the importance of why it needs to do so, and c) develop the skills internally. However, that being said, there are pockets of innovation that need to be shared widely - because the because the benefits that can be gained from a new model of delivery are too great to be ignored, particularly given budget constraints.