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Sharing services May 27, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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I have recently commented in this blog on the opportunities for sharing services that overlap, particularly in the public sector. Most organisations have similar support functions that can be shared with others, providing the right procedures around data security and ease of use are addressed.

This has not been questioned in the private sector because it is essential for survival. The private sector has had a rough ride in most developed economies since the downturn in 2008, and the UK is no exception. It could be argued that with growth still within the margin for error, the UK has yet to really recover.

So nobody has to convince private sector companies of the benefits for sharing HR, or payroll, or finance and accounting services, either through outsourcing or by reducing a multiplication of effort by several divisions within the same organisation. It seems that many in the public sector still need convincing though.

A new report from the analyst firm Ovum suggests that half of all European public sector CIOs don’t think that the savings are worth the upheaval. Changing software, systems, retraining staff, migrating data – it’s a complex process to venture into a shared service arrangement with no guarantee of success. But as the story in Computer Weekly notes, the NHS is doing it, police services are doing it, councils are doing it.

Is it time for the bar to be lowered on how much needs to be saved to make sharing worthwhile?

The Government App Store April 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, Outsourcing, Software.
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Detractors have argued that the concept of a government cloud (g-cloud) is so complex and fraught with privacy issues that it will never get off the ground, but supporters argue that in a time of austerity, reuse of software and systems is essential.

The general cloud concept has been outlined on this blog before. One of the great attractions for cloud-based applications is central management, eliminating the need to manage local versions, upgrades, and maintenance. Virtual infrastructure, such as data centres also work well within the cloud-based model, allowing several departments or organisations to share storage and computing power.

For all these reasons, the British government has been interested in two key concepts in recent years:

  • A cloud of government applications and tools that can be shared by many departments
  • A government app-store, allowing standard tools to be used anywhere within government.

These are common concept for consumers. The cloud itself is merely centrally managed software, such as Microsoft’s Gmail, and the app-store is what every Android or iPhone user is now used to – plug and play systems. It is not so long ago that your telephone could only do what it did when you bought it. It was not possible to upgrade or load new software, and when it was possible, it was with great difficulty. Now consumers are used to modifying, customising, and using their equipment in new ways.

The advantages for government are obvious. Think of how many software systems are used within the police, the NHS, the devolved local governments and councils… the list is mind-boggling and yet in all these places there will be a set of common tools that can theoretically be shared with other government organisations. The advantages of getting the G-cloud working are obvious. Will the detractors derail it as too ambitious?

As with most things in politics, only time will tell.

Outsourcing without losing jobs March 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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I had the opportunity to spend some time recently with the Chief Executive of a county council. We were talking about the looming spending cuts and what he might be able to achieve through the rationalisation of infrastructure, such as contact centres.

He explained to me that he had eleven premises with call centres handling enquiries from the public. Eleven!

I asked him why he doesn’t just rationalise them all into a single customer service centre. It would mean less property to manage, and without all that real estate overhead he could reduce headcount too.

He explained to me that in his part of the UK, the public sector employs around half of all employed adults. He not only has a mandate to try keeping costs down, but as one of the biggest employers in the region, he has to think of the social consequences of suddenly automating processes and casting hundreds into unemployment.

This is a very peculiar problem that most business leaders fortunately don’t have to face, but even the council leader could be exploring his data centre requirements without an immense impact on jobs.

Every process and system used today requires storage. Those banks of servers used to be lined up in the basement of every office until it became more efficient to use communications lines to large data centres, where the servers could be maintained more efficiently.

Storage is a homogenous kind of product. Apart from differing security considerations, there is not much else that is required other than the ability to store data safely, and to have backup and business continuity plans in place, just in case things go wrong.

Ultimately storage will go to the cloud. The players offering us space to store our company data will be Amazon and Google, but in the meantime there are many organisations – such as the county council – where individual departments still manage their own servers and storage.

Ensuring the enterprise uses a shared storage strategy through a rationalised data centre is one step towards reducing cost and running a smoother operation, but it also gets people ready for the future, a future where storage is on tap.