Should Local Authorities choose the Cloud over Data Centres?
Across the UK and Northern Ireland, there are 398 principal councils – 333 within England, 22 within Wales, 32 within Scotland and 11 within Northern Ireland. Typically, these principal councils are broken down into county, district, or unitary. As a result, there are currently around 11,930 local councils across the entirety of the UK.
So, what is the concern for local authorities?
In a nutshell:
- An increase in demand for public services
- A £16 billion reduction in Government Funding
- Modernisation and the pressure to digitise and offer “smarter” services
The concern for local authorities across the UK is that each has a statutory duty to provide up to 1200 public services to their communities. This is a significant point to make, as over the past decade services in which councils are obligated to provide has increased by 72%, from the 700 services in 2010. This means that 1200 services are continuously and simultaneously being administrated and managed, whilst the authorities aim to protect their local communities ensuring safety, health, and well-being, through continued planning and so much more.
With this in mind, along with the continued cuts in government funding and citizens seeking more ‘smarter’ services too, local authorities are anticipating the future and what next step(s) they should make. Local authorities have needed to look outside of their operations to seek new and innovative ways to save money, streamline its services and improve its trust and services for its citizens.
Thanks to the ever-growing Digital Landscape, technology is fast becoming an integral part of the general public’s everyday life, making organisations and their communities more connected than ever.
Citizens are more aware of their rights and are more informed than they have ever been before. As a result, they do not fall shy of expressing their feelings, experiences, and opinions. Making significant changes can impact citizens day-to-day lives in ways that councils may not consider. As a result, changes made without consideration can destroy trust and reputation. It therefore is (and should be) of considerable importance for local authorities to appraise their citizens and take understanding in the potential, consequential impact.
For example, the quick, easy, and typical route to attack cuts in funds would be to increase taxes. However, there are limits on the amount local authorities can increase this without public consultation – and, as you can imagine, this is not the most ethical of choices where the public is concerned. And, since citizens have become more tech-savvy, they anticipate local authorities to also “move with the times.” Expecting their local councils to provide benefits, services, and experiences, comparable to those available from the private sector.
The public desire for digital innovation is ever-increasing
The public desire for digital innovation (and indirectly, cloud adoption), is further supported by studies. In 2019, Accenture conducted a study, reporting the current levels of citizen engagement with digital government services, the current state of digital service offerings, and support for these AI (artificial intelligence) technologies.
What was revealed:
- 51% of respondents claimed they would increase their use of digital government services having that they could access multiple government services from a single portal
- 56% pro-claimed increased trust if governments communicated how tech innovations would improve the lives of citizens
- 57% of citizens stated they would increase their use of digital services if local councils (and governments) adopted AI to provide more “accurate [and] useful information”
- One-third of UK respondents – 29% – stated that they do not use, nor know of any government digital services
The above information combined demonstrates that there is a clear area for improvement where digital innovation, implementation and adoption is concerned. And through reports, studies, and statistics, it would most certainly be a smart, useful, and beneficial move for local authorities to make. Not just for the organisation itself, but its citizens too. Now, central governments and other larger, public-sector organisations have managed to adopt the cloud and other digitally innovative technologies. So, why is there a delay in local authorities adopting the cloud?
Cloud is more difficult for local authorities
An FOI conducted by Citrix, and the Local Government Cloud Adoption (2018) report carried out by Eduserv and Socitm, strongly suggest that legacy IT systems are the culprit behind local authorities struggle to embrace the cloud. Some may argue that the physical move from legacy systems is not necessarily a concern for local authorities. Especially as these authority bodies do not need to undertake a complete ‘rip and replace.’
Simply put, existing systems can be finely tuned through the incorporation of application programming interfaces (APIs), which can be quickly implemented, connecting older computers and IT systems to the modern web, or cloud-based services. This suggests that it is not the move itself that is causing a delay in the adoption of the cloud.
So, what exactly is preventing local authority bodies from adopting the cloud?
It is a combination of three things:
- Legacy vendor lock-ins
- Increase in services local authorities are obligated to provide
- Various vendors for specialist applications (dependant on older technology)
It is in fact due to the lock-in contract(s) local authorities face of these on-premises data centre systems, the increase in services local authorities is obligated to provide and the applications utilised to keep these in operation that is causing slow integrations and migrations to the cloud.
Legacy vendor lock-ins
What is a ‘vendor lock-in’?
Vendor lock-in, technology lock-in, proprietary lock-in all mean one thing: being solely dependent on a single vendor, application, system, or product. It is the case where an organisation has spent a lot of time, money, and effort into one (or in some cases, all) of the above and simply switching would be not only difficult and expensive, but it could be detrimental to the organisation if not handled strategically.
Typically, proprietary software and systems encourage lock-in, as this ensures both long-term customers and continued revenue. It also leaves the decision for innovation down to the vendor. But since they would have acquired long-term customers, why waste money on innovation when users can’t easily leave? Instead, vendors will relocate their investment(s) into newer acquisitions whilst older products miss the latest updates and features.
How do vendor lock-ins affect local authorities?
To move systems, applications, and infrastructures across to the cloud can be considered a “hassle.” Legacy systems and applications, whilst considered neither scalable nor innovative, are still essentially effective. Because of this, local authorities do not want the hassle to change and updating their functions and operations, just to be seen as innovative.
However, this leaves organisations to begrudgingly tolerate the extensive expenses to keep business afloat – and not just the costs of the vendor(s) either. Waiting for these systems and/or applications to one day no longer be “effective” for business operation, is an ineffective and positively detrimental error for local authorities. Doing nothing about sub-par systems and applications can cause damage that can be hard to come back from – notably affecting productivity, reputation, and profitability.
Out-dated technology, as a result, can:
- Reduce operational and employee productivity
- Decrease morale due to outdated, unnecessarily complex systems
- Further increase costs to scale infrastructures to accommodate new services, applications, and data
- Decrease reputation through lack of desire to “move with the times”
- Promote poor UX, again, through lack of desire to implement modern, technologically advanced systems, services, and resources
Organisations invested i.e., local authorities, lose out not only on the opportunities to be but the abilities to become more digitally and technologically innovative and advanced. As a result, organisations face the consequential effects of the experiences of both their employees and service users, continued decrease in profits and reputation, and so much more.
Increase in services and specialist applications
Local authorities, as mentioned prior, by law must provide up to 1200 services. When compared to other organisations, even the service(s) of central government, local authorities offer more than 100% of services.
So, how does the amount of services impact local authorities?
To keep even just one singular service in full functional operation there is a multitude of data, applications, resources, and programmes that are required and utilised. Therefore, when put into perspective of local authorities – who are legally obligated to provide 1200 services – in comparison to our central government, there is a lot of information and resources to be handled, integrated, and migrated. An intensely complex and tedious move. Especially when lock-ins and specialist applications are in use.
Let us delve a little deeper
For a local authority body to keep each one of its variety of services running, they will require anything from 20 – 50 applications. However, having many minute applications creates two issues:
- Each application must be migrated independently
- Applications are typically highly specialised – provided by various vendors, dependent on older tech and use proprietary interfaces
This is different from central government, where typically they will have as few as one singular focus and therefore fewer major systems to migrate and/or integrate. Also, contrary to local authorities, the central government not only has the scale but also the resources to migrate to the cloud – further enabling their move. The ultimate challenge for local authorities is therefore integration.
Local authority bodies use specialist applications that are provided by various vendors. Oftentimes, these apps are either dependent on or developed on older technologies. This means that their proprietary systems are not compatible with or supported by modern technology i.e., PaaS. Local authorities face more challenges where applications are specifically customised. If the decision is made to move to SaaS, development(s) carried out must be configured to enable successful integration (if possible) and in cases where it is not, systems may be lost which could impact the councils’ processes for business.
This leaves local authorities with the single option of IaaS.
However, the trouble many local authorities’ find with this option is that IaaS only provides the ‘base server.’ This means that the responsibility of design, configuration, the actual migration (and so much more) is left to the council.
Councils are therefore left with three options:
- Leave the migration and integration process to the vendor (monetarily costly)
- Manage the entire process themselves (costly of time, money, and resources)
- Maintain the on-premises system(s) until it is necessary to migrate and integrate
So, it makes sense – whilst the move to cloud sounded beneficial initially, it has suddenly become both more complex and extremely costly (in time and resources) for local authorities.
So, is it smart for councils to make the move to the cloud? We go into detail below.
The future of local authorities and the cloud
Despite the concerns, complexities, and difficulty to transform infrastructures to the cloud – it should be noted that this form of digital transformation, at this stage, is an imperative decision for councils. In fact, according to Gartner predictions, by 2025 80% of organisations would have shut down their traditional data centres – with 10% already having done so, and half of cloud data centres will deploy advanced robots with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities. As a result, operating efficiency is anticipated to increase by more than 30%.
Sid Nag, VP Analyst at Gartner further states that “The risk of doing nothing to address these [legacy data centre] shortcomings [are] significant for enterprises.”
This suggests that the move to the cloud is now a crucial move that is awaiting to be made. It also suggests that local councils must not worry about the now but think about the future. The predictions of cloud are positively astounding, and the longer councils wait to utilise these technologically advanced solutions, the longer, harder, and more complex it will be to make this move in the future.
So, should councils choose cloud over their traditional data centres?
At times where budgets are decreasing, obligated services are increasing, traditional systems are no longer meeting demands or serving true value, and desire for innovative solutions is at an all-time high, digitally transforming local authorities’ systems to cloud-based is an effective and efficient approach to improve services, scale for demand and both increase and improve operations. With the public now accustomed to accessing online services, through the cloud local authorities can offer customer-facing, modern applications. This will provide the ability to access resources online, improving not only customer experience (CX) but also operational functions, productivity, and efficiency as valuable resources and employee roles will now be free to utilise and focus on more critical areas.
More importantly, the cloud offers local authorities the opportunity (and ability) to aggregate data for future analysis. Due to local council systems evolving gradually and organically over time, data has been stored in separate repositories. This design, along with complex internal bureaucracy, makes it difficult for information to be shared either between departments or with other related authorities.
Yet, through the cloud and cloud-based applications, local governments will not only be able to link data from and between different areas and share this information but further identify trends and as a result, produce valuable insights. Collectively allowing local authorities to make more informed decisions, improve their services, productivity, and more.