Dodging the pitfalls of local government’s Covid cloud boom

It’s been nearly ten years since the UK government introduced its ‘cloud first’ digital imperative, with the G-Cloud program supporting public bodies, including local governments, to invest in a plethora of cloud technologies to drive better services

While this cloud-first agenda is far from new, the pandemic provided an undeniable catalyst for rapid digital transformation in local government organisations. From remote working to virtual town meetings, the cloud became the conduit. However, the mass adoption of systems like Microsoft Teams was done at breakneck speed.

The popularity of cloud technologies has soared within local government, not least due to its scalability. As explained in the government’s recent policy paper ‘Roadmap for digital and data, 2022 to 2025’, “when people order their groceries, book a holiday or check their bank accounts, they expect and receive a seamless and easy experience. The same should be true of government services.”

Cloud is the conduit.

While local governments understand the need for cloud, its implementation can come against pitfalls. From the threat of spiralling costs to security concerns and skills gaps, local governments seeking to capitalise on the covid cloud catalyst have some fundamental challenges to address. Here we explore these challenges and suggest practical ways local governments can ensure cloud ambitions are not just pie in the sky.

Curtailing spiralling costs

“We are held back by costly and outdated technology and we do not leverage our scale in technology procurement.” So concludes the 2025 Roadmap.

Local government’s use of cloud is complicated; that is a fact. These are highly distributed organisations that integrate many different agency services and depend on close integration. This means there is no one size fits all approach to cloud implementations. While this means creating bespoke offerings for local government’s needs, it can make costs challenging to track. Some councils have been left with unexpectedly large bills against ever-tightening budgets. This is unsustainable, so what can councils do to keep costs in check?

The first step, of course, is effective planning. This can mean working with expert partners to devise a realistic digital transformation roadmap that carefully balances technology deployment against budget. Such a roadmap includes auditing current technology to ensure existing assets are being used effectively, and identifying idle resources that might provide opportunities for savings.

From here, it is possible to design an innovative solution to meet real needs, and create a practical deployment plan, selecting the appropriate, cost-effective technology to help drive further efficiencies into the future.

Looking forward is essential to ensure that the roadmap created today can continue to be optimised into the future. After all, the needs of today may not be the needs of tomorrow, and a lack of expert planning could lead to a nasty surprise on the budget line in years to come.

Bridging the security gap

The rapid uptake of cloud across government has delivered a great many benefits but has also left rather major holes in cyber defences. According to a recent report, some government digital services fail to meet even the minimum cybersecurity standards. And, the threat of attacks has only increased in the wake of the pandemic. For example, the National Cyber Security Centre recently issued a warning about increased Russian attacks against public bodies, with councils from Gloucester to Hackney hit by headline-inducing cyber attacks.

Forgotten and obsolete services and tech, identity management and home access are just some of the reasons IT teams have had many sleepless nights in recent years. While it may not be possible to ward off every attack, it is possible to build defences and strategies that provide protection and mitigation.

Right now, this means ensuring that post-pandemic working environments are protected. Whether remote or hybrid, workers are using increasingly disparate and unprotected systems and devices to access government information as they work. Alongside aging devices, which may not deliver the security standards required today, new devices are being deployed at breakneck speed. For example, our research found that in the final quarter of 2020, the Cabinet Office, the nerve centre of government, supplied a record number of smartphones, almost 50% more than the same period twelve months earlier, while over 7,000 laptops and tablets were allocated during the same year.

Ensuring staff understand the security landscape and their role in cybersecurity is essential alongside end-device protection. Alongside internal pros, ensure that the best use is made of consultants who can bring sector experience and insight to this complex security matrix. From vulnerability assessments to penetration testing, training and communication, there is a plethora of tailored support available for local governments, so they do not have to face the threat alone.

Lack of internal know-how

It’s no secret that government (and many other sectors) is suffering a cloud and IT skills shortage; one of the pillars of the new government digital roadmap is ensuring digital skills at scale. All industries are competing for talent and it is not realistic to think the public sector gap will close any time soon.

That means any cloud solutions integrated into government must be as simple and flexible as possible and matched with appropriate support for training and learning. Whatever challenges organizations a facing, help is also at hand. Whether it is a small to large projects, using partners is often an essential part of the solution. From an audit of current technology to the design and finally the implementation, partners can provide invaluable guidance.

About the Author

Fraser Sutherland is Head of Government & Education at Maintel. Maintel is a trusted provider of cloud communications and managed services helping customers in both public and private sectors improve their business through digital transformation. We help them to make their people more effective and productive with digital workplace technology. We help them to acquire, develop and retain their own customers with customer experience technology. And we ensure they can always connect to their applications and their data through secure connectivity.

Featured image: ©DisobeyArt