Despite the introduction of the G-Cloud and a broader Cloud First strategy,public sector adoption of the cloud has been slow to catch on, particularly outside of central government. The considerations around citizen data and its security, alongside new procurement models, have created a somewhat complex picture. But given the benefits seen by businesses that have moved into the cloud, is this an opportunity that the public sector can afford to miss?
Public sector organisations of all shapes and sizes are battling against two universal challenges. The first being the rapidly evolving demands of the end user. The way people interact with the public sector is changing, as is what they’re expecting from it. The second is continuously shrinking budgets. The public sector has to sustain doing more with less, which means “working smarter”, transforming the way it operates and embracing the cloud – which is often the bedrock of many smart working initiatives.
At its most basic level, moving day-to-day systems into the cloud can reduce back-end storage costs, enable agile working with teams being able to share knowledge and information around the organisation more easily and resolve user queries more quickly. Collectively this supports financial and service delivery objectives. Something as simple as transitioning staff emails and internal communications from a server into the cloud can produce impressive savings.
Consolidating and sharing services
Some organisations are already making good head-way on the journey to smarter working by consolidating and sharing services. For example, there are many good examples of local authorities sharing resources so they can share services and benefit from economies of scale to make budgets work harder. The London Boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea have successfully joined forces to share frontline staff to make savings of over £40 million.
Putting data and work processes in the cloud makes consolidation and sharing services significantly easier. Consider community health and social care teams who already need to work very closely together and share the same information, and will need to incorporate all NHS healthcare organisations by 2018 according to the government’s integrated health and social care plans. Digital transformation that enables patient records to be stored electronically in the cloud means that teams from multiple agencies can access them when they need to, rather than searching for an old fashioned paper-file. It also enables real-time updates and collaboration amongst employees and carers, helping to significantly improve the level of care and support – and also ease the working lives of frontline staff.
Empowering and encouraging end-users to self-serve is also starting to take hold as a way to meet demand and reduce costs. At its most basic level some councils have brought self-service kiosks into their reception areas so end-users can independently pay for things like licenses, parking fines and internal small value items such as photocopying and printing, without the need for reception staff. Because these kiosks are connected to the council’s back-office accounting systems through the cloud, finances are calculated automatically; saving staff valuable time and minimising human error.
Other examples of self-serve include libraries. Portsmouth City Library has introduced a web-based lending service so members can browse and reserve books and audio-visual materials online. The library management software has allowed the library to streamline back-office administration, giving staff more time to deal with the public during peak hours.
Simple self-service stories like these will continue to develop as demands rise and budgets dwindle. .Additionally moves are being made to create solutions where individuals log all information (e.g. birth and health records, council tax, repairs, truancy and planning consents), access and purchase public services from an online portal.
Storing and merging this kind of detailed end-user data in the cloud makes it much easier to transform it into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes. Business intelligence tools can help filter this unstructured data to identify, develop and create new strategic opportunities. It could be something as simple as noticing that fly tipping increases in the summer months when people clear out their gardens and increasing the number of rubbish collections during this period from once a week to twice to cope with demand. Camden Council put its data in the cloud and opened it up to internal and external coders for a hackathon to find more cost-effective ways to deliver services by looking at challenges in housing, street cleaning and health.
Unfortunately too many organisations, and particularly local authorities, are still holding back from embracing the cloud which means they’re unable to become more agile in the way they work. Whilst reservations about making any commitments ahead of the general election and concerns about the safety of end-user data are understandable, they are not insurmountable. A good technology partner will work with a team to establish which aspects of its operations are best placed in the cloud and map out a pain-free transition without compromising current service delivery. With the help of a trusted partner there’s no reason why organisations across the public sector can’t be trailblazing cloud leaders in their own way.
About the author
Steve Shakespeare is Managing Director of Civica Services and has over 30 years’ experience in the IT industry with the last 16 years being with Sanderson and Civica. With senior roles building and developing service and consultancy teams through to pure IPR software businesses.