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Local councils should not be pressured by political forces into adopting cloud technologies before they are ready, concludes an academic research paper into public sector use of off-premise systems.

The Risk and rewards of cloud computing in the UK public sector paper set out to investigate the risk cloud poses to the local authorities that adopt it, as well as the rewards they stand to gain by taking steps to cut their use of on-premise technologies.

There is political pressure, the paper states, for public sector organisations to run more of their IT infrastructure in the cloud, but relatively few examples of best practice, which is what the authors seek to address.

To this end, it has gathered evidence from three anonymised councils (termed UKLA1, UKLA2 and UKLA3) about their cloud migration experiences.

In each case, the need to cut costs and comply with the government’s push to get more public sector organisations using cloud is cited as the main driving force behind these organisation’s efforts to drive up their use of off-premise systems and services.

“The study revealed a general feeling among workers that their authority’s move was a purely rushed attempt to meet the political agenda,” the report said.

It is worth noting that while central government departments are mandated to adopt a cloud-first approach to new IT purchases, no such policy exists at local government level.

Project profiling

Based on Gartner’s one-to-five IT maturity measurements scale, UKLA1 is reported to have an advanced and mature IT estate (scoring five), while UKLA2 and UKLA3 received scores of three and four, respectively.  

“The three case studies are public sector organisations that provide a common range of services to the general public. These services include environmental health, refuse collection, building control, planning, highways, social services and education, including schools,” the paper states.

“Each organisation was structurally similar, [but] had different approaches on how to deploy cloud.”

The paper goes on to say all three councils considered their cloud deployments to be “well-implemented and well-supported”, resulting in a growing demand for more off-premise services from the “more knowledgeable, assertive and well-informed users” in their organisations.

Even so, the feedback accrued from all three organisations has allowed the researchers to compile a best practice guide for other public sector bodies seeking advice on how to embrace cloud in a trouble-free way.

To get the ball rolling on the process, the authors advise local authorities to ensure a cost-benefit analysis of using cloud is undertaken first, involving as many “appropriate” stakeholders as possible.

Without undertaking such due diligence, councils risk moving to the cloud in haste, which heightens the risk of things going wrong.

That’s according to Dr Uthayasankar Sivarajah, one of the report’s co-authors and a lecturer in operations and information systems management at Brunel Business School, who cited a security breach that blighted one of the three profiled councils shortly after their cloud migration began.

“One of the authorities faced an immediate security breach that caused chaos,” he said.

“Data was accessed illegally by an unauthorised third party and the private sector cloud provider [overseeing the project] blamed human error.”

Black hole cloud

Senior management buy-in is also considered a must-have for any cloud deployment to be successful, with all three councils reporting high levels of commitment from the powers that be within their organisations to ensuring the organisation’s cloud ambitions were realised.

The challenge all three councils will face, as their cloud journeys progress, will be around ensuring their evolving off-premise IT strategies remain aligned with the needs of the business.

“[This will] require planning, managing and monitoring to ensure the best use, value and benefit is obtained from the investment in the technology to help ensure efficient, effective and successful IT,” the paper continued.

Presently, Sivarajah said, there remains “huge black holes” between what councils are trying to do with cloud and what they are able to achieve, in response to governmental pressure to ramp up the use of off-premise technologies in their organisations.

“At operational level, they could all see real benefits in cost savings, but it is still early days and we don’t know what the long-term impact will be,” said Sivarajah. “That may take 10 years to find out. It might reduce the headcount in IT departments, but I can’t see it cutting out the need for them altogether.”

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