by Don Peebles, Head of CIPFA UK Policy and Technical

Industry View from

Cloud computing: practical solutions for local government data

Public sector bodies often look to digital technology to help alleviate budgetary pressures and provide services more efficiently. Cloud computing is one such technology growing in popularity among councils. Various government initiatives have been established to increase the adoption of new technologies. Among them is the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) Local Digital Fund. Designed to support local authorities with collaborative digital projects such as transitioning to the cloud, the fund’s latest application cycle closed on September 16 2019. So, how can this particular digital technology be applied in the public sector context?

 

The adoption of cloud computing technology is one example of how the Local Digital Fund could be used. Gaining popularity among the local government sector, cloud computing is a broad term used to describe the delivery of technology services over the internet, rather than from an organisation’s own data centre. The term “cloud” simply means that the location of the hardware and software is elsewhere. The majority of cloud services can be accessed via the internet, while other cloud networks may have a dedicated application for users.

 

The advantages of the technology include savings on in-house IT infrastructure, improved security and backup/recovery, greater flexibility and capacity for remote working or operations, increased automation, faster access to data and lower utility costs, among others. Whether it’s financial statements, project plans or resident information, adopting the cloud across the public sector allows data to be managed and accessed in a streamlined, efficient way. For most citizens, these increases in efficiency translate to more face-to-face time with local authority staff – a real benefit. Further, some organisations have claimed savings of more than 30 per cent since adopting the technology – a point many local authority CFOs will undoubtedly find attractive in the current climate of restricted public budgets.

 

So what might this actually look like in the UK? Practically speaking, cloud computing holds the potential to support modernisation and improve efficiency not only in local government but across the NHS as well. Providing easy access to patient information for a mobile workforce across hospital sites, cost-effective and secure data storage and advanced analytics are all benefits that can work to reduce some of the operating costs for the NHS while improving the day-to-day experience of patients. It’s possible to think of all the wider benefits of this technology if applied across all public services.

 

Many in the public and private sectors expect that in the coming years, a “no cloud” policy will be as rare as a “no internet” policy today. To support their organisations, finance teams of local bodies will need to understand more about this disruptive technology before deciding to transition to the cloud. However, as more government bodies make the move to cloud-based storage, the transition will only become that much easier.


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