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Equipping UK Public Sector for Cloud: a Think G-Cloud panel debate

by on November 2, 2012

Think G-Cloud logoIn mid-October Eduserv was invited to take part in the inaugural Think G-Cloud event. I hosted a panel session on Equipping UK Public Sector for Cloud, exploring issues such as whether UKPS culture is ready for cloud, whether skillsets or attitudes need to change and the security issues involved.

Joining me for the panel were:

Here are some of the highlights from our discussion.

A view from the cloud

Tonino Ciuffini shares some insights from Warwickshire County Council’s experience of implementing cloud:

“Cloud is not the answer for everything but it is the alternative option. It’s a way to deliver improved services in the most cost-effective way to citizens. We’ve seen some clear benefits from our work with cloud, in terms of the flexibility that it gives us and the increased ability to collaborate with partners.

“The public sector is under major financial pressure that’s going to continue for another few years, so we’re all looking at alternative strategic commissioning, alternative sourcing models, and cloud just has to be part of that. In certain areas it offers tremendous benefits. In some respects G-Cloud is almost the ultimate shared service. The public sector needs to look at how to use it to not just reduce costs, but deliver a better service.

The big thing was not calling it cloud. There was a defining moment in the budget when a member of senior management said “all that technology stuff is exciting for you techies, but what does it mean for me?” We realised we had to change tack, explain what it delivers better.

“When you’re using cloud tools you have the ability to deliver services more quickly – you can rapidly provision immediately as opposed to a 6 month delay. The business is interested in those kind of things – it doesn’t matter if it’s cloud or anything else.” – Tonino Ciuffini

Security and risk

“There are questions over information security with any system. It isn’t just about cloud, it’s about whether your information is secure whether it’s hosted internally, externally or in the cloud. Cloud takes paper out of the system, making it easier for citizens. But that’s also what tends to get left on trains and stolen from houses. It’s the same questions, it’s just different answers. How do you know if your data is secure? Do you know what the recovery options are? Who’s going to have the best datacentres, the best technical security? Who’s going to have ISO27001? The CSG accreditation that the G-Cloud’s trying to do is absolutely the right thing so that it can be done once, done properly, so you don’t have to ask those questions over and over again.”” – Tonino Cuffini

“What comes with a ‘new’ service is a fear of the unknown. If you don’t understand the risks and how to mitigate them then you’ll be more inclined to resist. As well as understanding benefits for end users, you need to understand the business benefits, such as cost savings, service continuity, ability to scale and improved productivity in the business.

“The more we can do to articulate those benefits, for example through case studies, and talk about the key risks and considerations for implementation and how they can be overcome, the greater the uptake we’ll see for cloud.” – Graham Kennedy

“The risk profile for a 2-3 line service from G-Cloud over a short period of time to do something very specific is entirely different to a major programme outsourced for 10 years to prime contractor – if that fails it’s going to end up on the front page of every newspaper. It’s important to be pragmatic.” – Kevin Webb

“Information security is clearly a key consideration and so you need to decide what kind of cloud you need – private or public. If it’s private, is it good enough to have a semi-private cloud (across government) or does it have to be a cloud solution for a specific organisation? The other thing is change in working practices which has risks associated with it. People need to be encouraged and motivated in a different way to ensure continuity of service.” – Graham Kennedy

But what about our jobs…

“One of the things we see, certainly in HE, is the fear that if we move to cloud, taking things out of the internal architecture, then what does that mean for our jobs? I think in practice what that means is re-education in the IT function. Where the IT leadership has a view of moving IT from delivery more to business analysis, business development and aligning IT more with the business goals, then that issue is removed.” – Andrew Hawkins.

“It will enable IT to shift its spend from the 70% that IBM mention spending on the operational stuff, to spending more on the value-added stuff, freeing up spend to invest in IT that makes a difference to the performance of the business. That does result in change in the IT organisation – and there’s likely to be fear of change there. But there’s an opportunity for the IT department to add much more value to the business.” – Graham Kennedy

Procurement and the G-Cloud difference

A key issue is the “intelligent customer” discussion. For a long time things have been contracted out en masse. Buying things differently will take a long time for people to understand what can be done.” – Kevin Webb

“Talk to others that have moved to cloud, try it out = ‘think big, start small, scale fast’ is the expression.” – Graham Kennedy

“Everyone on both sides of the process knows how long procurement usually takes. The big success of the G-Cloud has been how extremely helpful they’ve been – GPS’s new innovative approach has made things easier. One of my major suppliers is not necessarily going to be on G-Cloud 2, and having to deal with that separately I can tell you how much extra effort that is.

“Even though I’m involved with the G-Cloud board, I have to say that process is too long so we need to come up with a way of improving that. One other risk – some cloud stuff isn’t really cloud (and it can be expensive) so just make sure you’re buying the best service.” – Tonino Cuffini

Skills and mindset

“We had the skills to ask what the business wants, what’s the best solution, how can we implement, but we’ve had to change some of the other things we do, so staff who had to look after email servers are now moved into other more exciting areas. Some skills we will give up, where we used to manage infrastructure for example, that’s moving to cloud. The big change for us – and I’ll quote someone on the team – “I’ve never been involved in an IT project where the IT has been so ready to go”. The bigger issue then is about contracts, service levels and service management, and security. So we’ve got involved in looking at different questions and that’s where we’ve had to develop our skills. For example  how do we know information is safe when it’s been run by somebody else on our behalf?”  – Tonino Cuffini

“It’s more about mindset than skills. I’d expect the industry to be awash with the right skills. It’s just a case of going out and finding them. If you’re prepared to admit you’re not comfortable in a particular area, then take advice, learn from others or maybe get some training.” – Graham Kennedy

Using SMEs to move to the cloud

SMEs are agile, willing and hungry in comparison to the larger corporations. There’s an awful lot of innovation that can be driven from working with a small group of very focused, energetic and passionate people.” – Kevin Webb

“SMEs have an important role to play in terms of being the beacon for adopting cloud. I would suggest it’s going to be the smaller departments and suppliers that start on their cloud journey first. I think there’s a responsibility on the part of those organisations to promote the benefits and articulate the risks and how they were overcome to other departments.” – Graham Kennedy

“I tend to find the SMEs are definitely more implementation focused. They turn up and look at the problem and deal with that.” – Tonino Cuffini

Galvanising change

“Don’t start from the IT strategy – start with the business benefits. Then it’s about what approaches you’re going to take. ” – Tonino Cuffini

“Early successes are really important to build advocates for a new approach. Clearly mobilising a whole IT organisation to embrace the adoption of cloud is a big task and not where I’d start. I would start with finding an opportunity for adopting cloud and focus on making sure that’s a success and build a body of advocates around that. Once you’ve done that, make the bigger case. Then update the strategy and vision to communicate the direction you’re going in to get them on board.” – Graham Kennedy

“In a lot of the large organisations we talk to, this does require a significant rethink. You can’t just ‘bolt cloud on’ – you need to take a holistic view and put cloud at the heart of your strategy.” – Andrew Hawkins

“The public sector has never been so advanced in its thinking and desire to change. Instead of jumping into major contracts, a lot of the ways in which we can do business, mashing up data and services, have yet to be invented.” – Kevin Webb

Visit our website to find out more about our range of private and community Cloud Services, with security up to IL3. 

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