It is clear that if councils are to realise the potential benefits of cloud computing, IT leads need to do more than promoting the benefits of cloud – which are increasingly well understood - but in helping to identify, manage and mitigate potential risk.
This was the key finding from the recent Eduserv Local Government Executive Briefing Programme workshop at Think Cloud, which evaluated awareness of risk, value and change management issues among some 40 IT and digital leaders using a new self-assessment framework.
Whilst there was a high awareness of some of the risks, there was a lower understanding of how to manage and mitigate these risks. That is no doubt why there is still considerable reluctance to adopt cloud solutions in local government.
First step: Cloud Adoption Policy
A crucial first step that any organisation should take is to have a cloud adoption policy. Not every service is right to move to the cloud, so IT leaders need to work with business colleagues to define when and how cloud can be used as part of a wider IT strategy. Equally, a patchwork of cloud services adopted over time can increase IT support costs, risks and complexity, leading to service management challenges. Although just over two thirds of the group we spoke to were aware of the benefits of having a cloud policy, very few had one in place.
A second step in preparing for cloud adoption, is having a depth of understanding of the main areas of risk. Our research found this an area which IT leads rate as important, but where there is a patchy understanding of what precisely needs to be done. For example:
- Data protection and data handling: Organisations need to understand where data resides, the restrictions on how it can be used, where it can be stored, what protection it needs, and processes for back-up and recovery.
- Service continuity: This is not just about clarifying how IT resilience will work in a cloud context, but it is also about embedding a cloud model in a new IT infrastructure which will rely on more heavily on internet connectivity.
- Security of systems, networks and data transfer: especially how data and information will be protected and monitored in a cloud environment, relevant to the sensitivity and critical nature of the data and system.
Risk assessment in these areas in particular will help organisations prioritise what is most appropriate for cloud migration in the near term and the areas for which more careful planning is required.
Building a Business Base
A further significant cloud adoption gap is the difficulty in identifying precisely how the business benefits of moving to the cloud can be measured and compared with current cost base.
Establishing where savings and benefits lie in a cloud service is not always as easy as some make out. Prospective cloud suppliers need to be clear about how precisely they will work with you to deliver tangible value through the services they offer and how this can best be measured, as well as helping mitigate risk.
A cost analysis should assess the costs of migration, ongoing costs for service delivery, how the charging structure changes operates with demand changes and critically, how you exit from the agreement and the costs of this. The actual savings from a cloud service against existing IT may be relatively modest, but cloud should avoid future overheads of IT infrastructure such as data storage, processing and even electricity. Also, cloud deployment can enable staff productivity improvement and reduce property overheads. But without planning, partial cloud adoption can actually increase internal IT costs.
Planning for Cloud Deployment
The three areas of policy, risk and financial modelling can ensure that IT leads have realistic, business-focused conversation with service leads about realising the benefits and avoiding the pitfalls of cloud migration.
In addition to this, IT teams need to consider how they need to operate differently to adopt cloud services. This means roles, skills, IT governance, systems architecture, IT strategy and service support processes. The role of IT is to enable new technology models, such as cloud, to be used effectively and supported, not resisted or ignored.
Taken together, a move to cloud is a major change process which requires close partnership between service leads and IT professionals. It is an opportunity for any organisation, but particularly councils wanting to reduce costs and maximise productivity of the workforce. But to manage the risk and opportunity effectively, you will need to ensure you have the right support and roadmap in place from your internal team and cloud service suppliers before you proceed.
For the full results of our survey and a self-assessment cloud awareness checklist please click here to download the report.