Many people seem to believe that local and central government authorities are reluctant to adopt new technology, perhaps owing to an inability to change.
But the unprecedented cuts to public sector budgets, and growth in public demand for services, means that the public sector is under as much pressure to use technology to survive as the private sector, and evidence suggests that it is not behind, if it ever was.
Take cloud adoption, for example. Recent analysis by Computing Research showed a slow take-up of cloud by the private sector. This accords with Eduserv's findings for local government cloud use, also published in September, with similar proportions of organisations not using cloud or doing so in very limited ways.
The research showed that about 75 per cent of organisations report no or only limited use, but the same number expect that use to increase. My experience is that pretty much all organisations are, in practice, actually using cloud services, but many IT departments just don't know about it because it lies in ‘shadow IT' or in delivery partners' and outsourcers' services.
Yet at the same time, the Eduserv analysis showed that some parts of the public sector struggle to keep up with the innovators or to handle the risks associated with new technologies such as cloud. These are often the smaller councils that have the most to gain but are held back by two primary concerns: data security and legacy systems.
This is partly a perceived rather than a real problem. It can be a reluctance to change because of a fear of cloud computing, rather than a rational analysis of the risks, e.g. worries about the unknown effect on IT security, integrated application portfolios, technical support or accredited processes in the IT department. But there are also real problems to address.
First of all, IT departments must deal clearly and firmly with legacy applications if they hold back the ability to use cloud or other modern IT methods. Managing the risks in uprooting established but outdated legacy IT, let alone constructing the business case for this, can be hard.
But that is why we have CIOs to bridge the gap between business opportunity and technology potential. CIOs need to be clear with their organisations about where technology blockers lie and how they are best removed.
The same applies to data and security, where cloud use has real problems. An effective strategy and policy for cloud adoption allows data and security risks to be managed responsibly.
This is much more than having a cloud checklist, such as where data is physically held. It needs a mature approach to information governance and master data management, e.g. which data is the most sensitive, how it is being used, retention policy, data linkage, data quality management and so forth.
This is something that is still beyond many organisations at present and results in unquantifiable risks in cloud use.
In one sense at least, the opportunity of cloud will therefore drive a more vigorous and effective response to legacy IT and information governance, both of which should in any case be high priorities for IT departments in the public and private sectors.
Jos Creese is principal analyst for the Local Government Executive Briefing Programme at Eduserv and former CIO of Hampshire County Council.
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