Do we need a cloud-first mandate in local government?
Eduserv’s Jos Creese says UK councils have a way to go in understanding how the cloud can or should play a role in local public services modernisation
When a ‘Cloud First’ policy was announced by the Government Digital Service in 2013, the expectation was that from that point, any public sector body would consider cloud services as the first option for technology solutions. In conjunction with the G-Cloud procurement path, it was expected to increase flexibility and cut IT costs across the public sector.
Although local government was not mandated to use GCloud, or to put in place ‘Cloud First’ IT policy, the new approach offered councils a new opportunity to procure and implement IT infrastructure which could provide a basis for digital government and shared services.
Three years on, we have tested the extent to which this has in fact penetrated local government. We have found that only a minority of the 400 or so UK councils have followed the policy in any meaningful way.
Which begs the question: Is the cloud-first policy a sensible one for local government?
In my view yes, but how it should be applied has to reflect the legacy application estates of each council, the priorities of the organisation, the differences in demography, risk appetite, geography and a range of other policy issues.
Mandating a cloud-first policy within local government might help, but could prove difficult to implement and mandating policies like cloud, open source, open data and other IT methods usually results in unintended consequences and can fly in the face of common sense.
Eduserv’s recent research through Freedom of Information requests ( to all UK councils – full report now available ), shows that UK councils still have a long way to go in understanding how the cloud can or should play a role in local public services modernisation.
Whilst councils may be aware of cloud and some of the risks, they are not yet mature in their response to managing those risks in order to exploit what is a valuable technology asset. Many of these risks are associated with data governance and information management, which are neglected priorities in their own right.
That said, there are clearly some leaders in the sector: Mostly larger councils who have more mature IT approaches, which are more likely to be keeping pace with technology trends such as cloud. Smaller councils in particular need help in developing their thinking around cloud adoption.
This is a concern because, given their size, these are the very organisations that potentially have the most to gain from new IT models that offer flexibility and lower cost. District councils can benefit in much the same way as SMEs. Cloud allows access to tools and technologies with flexibility that could previously only be afforded by large organisations – which can be a key factor in the success of startups and small businesses.
This is why there is a strong case for greater collaboration between larger and smaller councils in order to accelerate cloud adoption. Working together is perhaps the fastest way to achieve IT maturity and integrated, joined up services in the sector.
The way G-Cloud is marketed to local authorities also needs to be addressed. Sometimes G-Cloud is seen as a Whitehall tool, with advocacy, priorities and the support offered around it reflecting this. Without being critical of G-Cloud, in the past there has been some truth in this.
To flourish, G-Cloud must be seen as having universal benefit to the whole public sector, and be managed in that fashion.
The trick is to make it clear to procurement, legal and IT teams that G-Cloud is a valid, acceptable and preferred route for procuring IT.
Otherwise it is simply too easy to carry-on procuring IT in ways we’ve always done. My experience of working with IT professionals is that they’re always looking for the easiest and best procurement route, so are likely to use G-Cloud if they feel able to do so.
Cloud is an essential element in the portfolio of agile IT infrastructure required to underpin local authority digital programmes. It accelerates process reengineering, shared services, modernised IT delivery, mobile and flexible working and information governance maturity. Above all, it reduces IT costs and it is a faster way of meeting changing service demands, so local authorities can better support citizens with less money available.
Jos Creese is principal analyst for Eduserv’s Local Government Executive Briefing Programme.
You can download the report : Up in the Air: The state of cloud adoption in local government in 2016.