The pressure to squeeze more out of less extends to all parts of the public sector – from central to local government, and while health and police may have been protected from budget cuts to a great extent, public demand on their services continues to spiral upwards.
Attendees at a recent workshop between Public Sector IT professionals felt that a big part of achieving this could be in cutting capital expenditure and moving to IT service models that respond flexibly to demand – such as the cloud – whilst ensuring that any waste in spending is minimised, if not eradicated completely.
When it works properly, cloud gives the customer organisation more flexibility in changing direction. Of course, it’s not cost-free to begin using new applications for new processes, but Infrastructure and Platform as a Service can provide the foundations for a new approach and require less investment and effort than when it involves the structure of in-house systems.
Hardwiring this flexibility into the technology architecture is essential according to attendees. Indeed, it is so important that many recommended designing a ‘lift and shift’ exit strategy from the outset, so that changes of supplier or requirements can be undertaken rapidly. This applies not only to transition on exit from the current ‘first generation’ provider but also to future transition from ‘second generation’ contracts.
On that note, it is also essential to ensure that legacy data standards are just as easy to accommodate or move in the future.
Whilst no one has a crystal ball, attendees urged consideration of future possibilities – and building enough flexibility into the architecture to ensure that options for future development were left as wide as possible.
Scalability is another consideration. It is very important that a service makes it easier for an organisation to take on more data and increase the scale of its operations without demanding a significant capex spend. This can also work in reverse, making it possible to scale down usage of the service when needed without leaving it stuck with excess capacity. These factors can be important when changes in policy at central or local level – which are always going to happen – lead to changes in the responsibilities of organisations and the demands on them to store and manage specific datasets.
Integration is a major driver for cloud thinking at present, especially in the areas of devolution and health and social care. The public sector as a whole can improve its efficiency by ensuring that organisations better align the services they provide to individuals, eliminating the gaps and preventing any duplication. The key to this is in pulling the data that supports the processes out of organisational silos and onto a neutral virtual space, where the appropriate people have access to view and update the data around an individual.
Attendees were concerned about the need – and their organisation’s ability – to react quickly to developments in the IT industry, taking up appropriate new products and services as they become available.
Indeed, the traditional model of long term licensing for software – with associated installation and licensing costs – can stand in the way of this. But new shorter term contracts and the increased flexibility of cloud services will make the sector better able to react and gain real benefit from new platforms and applications.
Attendees were agreed on the importance of ensuring that both flexibility for the future and the capability for rapid integration should be hardwired into thinking at the beginning. Said one: “Make sure that service integration is well thought through and documented in the ops manual.” Another advised focusing on the underpinning architecture: “Aim for ‘lift and shift’ so that you have the flexibility to move if necessary.”
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Next week: Optimising Your Transformation and Savings when Introducing Public Sector Cloud