The financial pressures councils are under has been common knowledge for some time, and the likelihood is these pressures will continue to grow.
Business units across a council play a role in tackling this, including IT, which shouldn’t be treated as a cost centre but is vital to helping councils provide an accessible, efficient service to their communities. One area where councils can economise and save money, and where IT can help, is their use of the cloud.
Moving to the cloud ties in with official central government ‘Cloud First’ policy which says when procuring services, public sector organisations should evaluate potential cloud solutions first, before any other option. What central government has recognised, and what councils are now also coming to realise, is that using the cloud has a role to play in helping councils be more efficient. However, recent research has found that councils aren’t yet making the desired progress on the journey to cloud.
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests – submitted to all London Borough, Metropolitan, and County Councils in England – have shown that councils are deploying some cloud services but are in effect only using some of the cloud’s potential. 80% of English councils are now using public cloud services, but most (68%) are still running less than a quarter of their IT infrastructure in the public cloud. While councils have adopted cloud for certain services, they are merely dipping their toes in the water, and most activity still happens on the premises. One area where councils did show a strong tendency towards cloud is email. More than half (55%) are already using a cloud email service, with 90% of those not yet using cloud email planning to in the next three years; Office 365 is the most popular option (90%) followed by Gmail (10%).
When it comes to the impact cloud email can have, research shows that successful adoption of Office 365 can give businesses a return on investment of 162% within three years. Yet many organisations aren’t unlocking the product’s full potential – which means they are not getting all the bang for their buck.
The level of email adoption shows there is positive intent here on the part of councils to explore cloud. Using cloud email as a marker, council CIOs and IT teams can provide a tangible ROI to the executive team. However, there are barriers to further cloud adoption that will need to be addressed before councils’ transition to the cloud en-masse like the government wants them to.
Overcoming the barriers to adoption
The biggest barriers identified through the FOIs were application migration (60%), security concerns (55%), and compliance (48%), followed by a lack of appropriate skills (40%). To overcome these challenges and realise the benefits of cloud outside of email, councils need a clear roadmap to ensure manageable adoption. Key elements of the roadmap should include a reliable budget plan based on valid operating figures, thereby minimising unbudgeted costs, alongside a projection of future budgets containing accurate details about potential consumption. In addition, an overview of all the software licenses in place, and of those that will be needed, will to help plan new purchases and avoid non-compliance.
Councils also need to be smart about how they use the cloud once more services are migrated over. This means effective monitoring and optimisation of usage post-adoption is key to avoid falling foul of licencing conditions or facing increasing costs – like unplanned consumption spend. In the context of squeezed budgets, this is all the more important. Additionally, part of the solution to a lack of skills is putting in place support structures and technology, such as cloud monitoring, so concerns over cloud sprawl or poor performance are minimised, and staff have access to real-time performance and consumption analytics.
Jump in feet first for future innovations
Cloud will also play a crucial role in how councils operate in the future. Today, citizens want the online channel to be the first port of call. If they have a query, want to report a pot-hole or poor street lighting, or want to pay council tax or business rates, they want to be able to complete these tasks easily online. As councils pursue these kinds of digital transformation projects, all of it will be underpinned by cloud, as it gives councils the flexibility and scale they need to support digital applications. Real world examples of this are the increased usage of chatbots and virtual agents by councils.
Rather than playing catch-up and losing the goodwill of their communities, as well as missing out on the cost savings from using the cloud for more services, councils should seek to implement more cloud now. When councils can overcome these barriers to widespread adoption and move beyond using the cloud for just email, they’ll find the benefits multiply dramatically, along with their ability to maximise the cost-effectiveness of cloud.