Management > CIO

Councils must exit slow lane when it comes to future IT strategy

Published 01 August 2016

IT teams need to work with their organisations to improve the business understanding of cloud limitations, risks and opportunities argues Eduserv’s Jos Creese

When it comes to laying the foundations for digital transformation in local government, there’s much to applaud in terms of progress, according to Eduserv’s recent research into cloud adoption among UK councils.

Just over half of the 100 biggest local authorities (56%) have a strategy or guidance in place for how cloud computing will be used.

With a further 15% preparing a cloud IT policy that means a total 71% of councils are addressing how their organisations can put cloud to play as they reshape their operations for the digital-first future they must inhabit.

Our finding that some 10% of councils have moved to an IT infrastructure which is fully cloud enabled, backs up my first-hand experience that some of the most innovative CIOs and forward thinking IT teams can be found in local government.

A cloud free horizon

But looking behind these headline figures, it is clear that IT teams in many of these leading councils have yet to grasp the digital agenda well-enough to harness the potential benefits.

One indicator of this is a continuing reliance on internal data centres: nearly two thirds (63%) have two or more on premise data centres, a third use no external data centers at all and a tiny minority (7%) use any sort of cloud infrastructure for data storage.

There is no doubt that there complexities in moving away from an on-premise model of IT: systems integration, support, access management and federated identity control are some examples. But as the 10% of leading cloud adopters show, these can be overcome, including the fear and risks about data security and confidentiality from cloud adoption.

No-one can argue that a pure cloud computing model will suit every council and every system, but avoiding new delivery models such as cloud comes at a price.

Cloud services, if properly deployed, can reduce running costs, avoid future capital investment, increase staff productivity and establish a more flexible, accessible and adaptable IT service.

From a business perspective, they also provide the foundation for further digital innovation, unshackling organisations from out of date IT which reinforces service silos and design of services around the provider, not the user need.

Our research shows that nearly half of councils have yet to understand this.

Cloud use alone does not make a digital council, but there is a clear argument that low adoption is symptomatic of a reluctance to move to new ways of working and to address the risks and cost of change in so doing.

Willing but not ready

The extent of unreadiness is underscored by a second issue uncovered by our research. This is the apparent lack of knowledge of where precisely council data is stored. Some 27% of those we contacted were unable to provide a breakdown.

This not only indicates weak information management, but the extent of the work some councils will need to do before they can use their data or safely deploy cloud services.

We also found that some councils do not use cloud at all. The concern here is that they are just not aware of what is happening – cloud is in use in every council, embedded in shadow IT activity which is fueled by inappropriate controls or reticence to change in the IT department.

Preparing for the future

IT departments therefore need to accept that they can’t block ‘shadow IT’ use: it is out there, and it’s growing. Equally, council IT teams can’t try to protect themselves from perceived data security risks by keeping data on premise and avoiding cloud infrastructure altogether.

IT teams need to work with their organisations to improve the business understanding of cloud limitations, risks and opportunities. They need to put policies in place to help manage digital risk, cloud use, and assist in building business cases for change programmes enabled by technology.

At the same time, digital maturity is mostly not about the IT department. It’s about changing business models, leadership skills and methods outside IT. IT teams can help the board and elected members to own the digital agenda, since without this it is unlikely to succeed.

Time is running out. Councils face even greater financial pressure over the next four years and simply investing in more technology will neither be enough, nor will it signify true digital maturity. Councils need to fundamentally rethink what they do and how they do it, using digital methods, and this includes harnessing the power of cloud.

Those that succeed will be the future digital leaders. Those that do not, may simply cease to exist.

Jos Creese is principal analyst at Eduserv’s local government briefing programme and former CIO of Hampshire CC.

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