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G-Cloud: Half full or half empty?

James Passingham, chief technical officer at Foehn, explains the challenges public sector IT managers face in implementing cloud technologies. 

Think of all the department heads in your organisation. Now think about the consequences of each screwing up. Sales, production, HR, marketing – a glitch from any could leave a dent in the company, but there’s only one department where a glitch can mean catastrophic failure – that’s the IT Department (for want of a dozen other labels). 

Data loss, security breaches, comms outages, viruses, network disconnects – these are failures on a scale sufficient to lose customers, destroy reputation, incur huge compliance fines or shut down operations altogether. Furthermore, a constant flow of calls to the IT helpdesk provides a permanent firefighting job, with issues that, for the end user, are disasters on a personal scale. 

Despite protection, back-up, resilience and fail-over precautions, the role of the IT manager is fraught with risk. Of course for the big multinational business or central government department, with budget in billions and headcount in hundreds, specialist skills and top technology make life easier. For the majority of local authorities and smaller public sector bodies, though, where headcount, budget and skills are scarce resources, the challenge of managing legacy IT infrastructure can be daunting and the prospect of investing in new can be distant. 

So you would think cloud-based systems would be the saviour of the day – low cost, simply deployed and maintained by someone else. You might also think that smaller organisations would jump at the opportunity, sign up to G-Cloud and move their IT operations to the cloud over night – but they don’t. With cloud migration, it takes time and money to save time and money and, for the reasons mentioned above, that’s where cloud initiatives stall. Under the pressure of running legacy infrastructure with diminishing budgets, many IT managers feel trapped in a cloudless world. 

The frustration is clear, with many of the small public sector organisations investing in one-off, low-risk cloud solutions, like data back-up or SaaS applications, without any defined cloud policy or plans. You can hardly blame them. Equally, the steadily growing number of purchases being recorded through the G-Cloud procurement framework is a positive sign that IT managers are able to shed the ball and chain of legacy infrastructure and progress to the cloud in the face of adversity. (See our earlier article ‘G-Cloud Works: That’s official’). Above all, our first-hand experience at Foehn confirms that by offering the right technical support in design, cost and deployment, service providers can help enormously in making G-Cloud work and helping to kick-start the customer’s cloud journey. 

Against this backdrop it was interesting to see two pieces of research into public sector cloud usage arrive in the media over recent months. Interesting because of the different points of view taken – The first1, coming from a not-for-profit organisation offering strategic and technical advice to local authorities, focuses on the absence of cloud policy and strategic planning amongst local authorities. The second2, coming from a Gartner Magic Quadrant leader in cloud storage, focuses on the technical and operational barriers to cloud faced by a broader range of public sector bodies. 

The ‘first’ research points out that 69% of councils have a corporate policy to use G-Cloud but only 39% have a cloud IT policy, suggesting that adoption of cloud by councils is being hindered by policy and strategy failings rather than commercial limitations. Rightly or wrongly, this research leaves an over-riding impression that the glass is half empty and local authorities need to raise their game. 

The ‘second’ research also confirms the high uptake of G-Cloud combined with slow progress towards the cloud, identifying that whilst 80% of the public sector claim to use cloud in some way or another, less than 25% of external services are actually delivered by cloud services. But here the reasons are suggested as more practical, technical issues associated with moving huge legacy systems, dealing with multiple cloud providers, finding the right provider and, of course, dealing with cloud security. The message here is that IT managers with insufficient resource are, none the less, slowly winning the battle for the cloud and the glass is half full. 

Immature skills and lack of policy versus technical barriers and lack of resource – two conclusions but ultimately the same message to public sector managers and providers alike: IT management needs help, not kicking. The fruits of that approach are plain to see with the growth of strong working alliances between customer and provider building cloud adoption and helping G-Cloud evolve around real public sector requirements. Having completed four successive years as a G-Cloud provider, we wait with great anticipation to see if the promise of an improved G-Cloud 9 will live up to this expectation. 

Take a look at a few case studies where smaller public sector bodies have not only embraced G-Cloud but have also saved tens of thousands in doing so: Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Local Government Ombudsman , Boston Borough Council 

1Eduserv, Local Government Executive Briefing: ‘Up in the Air: The state of cloud adoption in local government in 2016’.

2NetApp and GovNewsDirect: ‘Your Data In The Cloud: Manage, Move & Protect’ 

About Foehn 

Foehn is a leading communication systems integrator, delivering IP telephony and contact centre solutions to the private and public sectors. We are an innovative, flexible and attentive SME and what also makes us different is that we are passionate about Open Source technology.  It enables us to provide innovative solutions that are more feature rich, easily integrated and cheaper than the proprietary platforms from legacy multi-national vendors. 

Foehn is proud to be a member of the Government's G-Cloud and Digital Marketplace framework, as well as being selected as provider of IP telephony services on the Government's new Network Services framework. Foehn can transform IP telephony for public sector organisations, improve efficiencies and reduce fixed telephony costs by as much as 40%. 


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