“Don’t dither or fret. Um and ah. Don’t pass the buck. This is it”. Characteristically plain speaking from Eric Pickles – the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – as he exhorted Local Government1 to “show leadership, stop throwing money away, and get coordinated”. The specific context was problem families but the thrust of his attack applies equally to the delivery of any number of public sector services that call for collaboration between organisations. The government’s cloud computing initiative – the G-Cloud – can radically change the nature of collaboration but I suspect getting the technology right is only half the battle.
As Andy Nelson – CIO for the Ministry of Justice – recently said2 “for me, the biggest driver [of adopting cloud technology] is cost-saving” and it’s easy, against a background of public sector budget cuts, to understand why. Now you may, or may not agree with the tone of Eric Pickles’ delivery but I applaud the fact that he looks at coordination and collaboration in its widest sense. In addition to cost savings he is also interested in how it can change the nature of public services for those involved in delivering them and for those receiving them. This describes the potential of G-Cloud but it will only be realised when the latter becomes embedded in planning from the outset.
Adopting this approach says it’s alright to be driven towards the cloud in order to reduce costs but it also forces you to consider how your organisation will do business several years hence. And this is the challenge for the public sector. To deliver high quality, seamless services to citizens you need to know who you need to collaborate with; what information do others hold that you will need access to; what information do you hold that others will also need; where duplicated data can be eradicated; what information citizens need to access in order to transact with the public sector; and what processes you will need to integrate with other organisations. Then there are the tricky questions concerning governance, ownership, responsibility, accountability and apportionment of funding.
This is not a trivial undertaking as many different organisations and agencies need to be involved from the outset.
However, investing time to get this right enables the full benefits of the G-Cloud to be realised. In addition to the early savings through programmes such as data centre consolidation you also get a road map to future savings (e.g. business process integration, shared applications et al) and improved service delivery. But this requires a change of mindset. As Eric Pickles puts it1, “This is a massive, crucial culture change – sharing data automatically.” And it’s on this culture change that the overall success of G-Cloud hinges.
A quick glance at our Juniper’s own web pages reveals innovation that’s taking cloud technology beyond the first generation. Now take a look at the Cabinet Office’ Phase 2 Scope Report3 and you will see that technology appears to be a given and the real risk to implementation resides in softer areas of leadership, stakeholder engagement and public sector ICT professionals. The ICT industry has a part to play here too. And it’s not just a matter of working through the business and process issues either. Intangibles such as trust come into play. Imagine the perfect G-Cloud where services are delivered from a single dataset. You might find yourself accountable for delivering services that depend on data over which you have no direct control. The temptation to duplicate will be hard to resist. Is this what Eric Pickles has in mind when he said1 “you’ve got to dare to share”?
I have no doubt the kind of leadership exhibited by Eric Pickles will drive the pace of change in public sector services and extract real value from the G-Cloud. However, he is dependent on cooperation from some public sector organisations over which he has no control. In the Cabinet Office’ G-Cloud Founding Principles4 paper this is anticipated when they state “public sector organisations will be expected to use G-Cloud services as their first choice”. But the follow on comment “The level of encouragement and/or mandation associated with compliance remains to be decided” makes me think Eric will have a real fight on his hands. I hope, both as a citizen and an industry professional, he wins.
Does the public sector need more people like Eric Pickles to drive through change via the G-Cloud programme? Is the public sector, in general, guilty of only looking at the infrastructure savings of cloud services as the expense of radical change in service delivery? Should the Cabinet Office be quicker to mandate adoption of cloud service? Let me know your views.
1 From a speech made by the Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles MP – Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, LGA Conference – Problem Families and Community Budgets.
Text of speech found at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/speeches/corporate/a
2 Andy Nelson interviewed by Tony Greenway, The Future of IT, pub. Media Planet (September 2011)
3 The cabinet Office, Phase 2 Scope Report [G-Cloud], February 2011
4 The Cabinet Office, G-Cloud Founding Principles, February 2011