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Innovation could be COVID’s silver lining

PA Consulting’s cloud expert, Rahul Gupta, discusses how COVID-19 has sped up the public sector's shift to the Cloud.

The public sector lags far behind private enterprise when it comes to moving legacy IT systems into the cloud, something brought into stark relief by the coronavirus pandemic.

As councils, police forces, schools and hospitals have faced unprecedented challenges, they have had to find, implement and scale solutions at breakneck speed.

Those still using inflexible on-premise IT systems have found it harder to cope than their cloud-native peers. Not only is it more difficult to buy and “plug in” new cloud solutions, they are also likely to have missed out on considerable savings gained from moving to the cloud, leaving them with fewer financial and human resources to throw at the crisis.

Rahul says: “If all your energy is spent keeping the lights on and limiting IT failures, you can’t focus on new initiatives that might transform your operation.”

In 2014, the UK government made it mandatory for central government departments to consider potential cloud solutions before any other option when procuring new IT services. It also strongly recommended the policy should be adopted by the wider public sector.

But according to a freedom of information request by IT management company SolarWinds last year, only 30 per cent of NHS trusts had adopted any level of public cloud in their organisation, while the figure for central government departments was 61 per cent.

This will not have helped in 2020 as vast numbers of public sector employees have started working from home, where they need secure remote access to centralised data on various devices. Organisations have also had to scale up IT systems at record speed, for example to cope with a large rise in unemployment claims or to underpin wholly new services such as COVID testing centres.

However, the crisis has succeeded in strengthening the case for change, says Rahul: “The pandemic has surfaced a lot of hidden problems, but also some real game-changers that people are going to want to hang on to when this is over.”

The problem many organisations face is that they invested heavily in on-premise systems years ago and are still locked into expensive contracts with the suppliers that built them. The prospect of undertraining complex IT migration also scares many.

However, IT managed service companies such as Fortrus say they are breaking this mould by transitioning public sector organisations from legacy single-vendor systems onto more flexible wrap-around solutions. In such cases, clients pick from a wide range of different software vendors, safe in the knowledge they will integrate seamlessly in the cloud.

The pandemic has left many public sector technology departments with shaky finances and an impetus to try new ways of working. Rahul believes it could be the catalyst many need to finally make a concerted jump to the cloud: “In the public sector, changing the culture is usually much harder than changing the technology. But the pandemic is changing culture very fast. People who were scared to make that jump are now seriously thinking about it and allocating budget.”

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