Local government slow to adopt cloud services, research shows

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The majority of local authorities across the UK are yet to embrace cloud services to handle citizen data, citing concerns over data fragmentation and funding for infrastructure.

In fact, 80% of councils are still using on-premise infrastructure, either in isolation or in conjunction with a cloud service, to access and manage citizen data, according to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

When the government published a 'Cloud First' policy in 2013 calling for the public sector to consider cloud services, it highlighted the public cloud as its preferred model. Despite this, the FoI data collected by virtualisation firm Citrix shows that private cloud is the most favoured model, used by 30% of councils surveyed, followed by a hybrid mode used by a quarter of respondents, with only 7.5% using the public cloud.

Citrix sent FoIs to 80 councils, getting 40 responses. Asked what approximate proportion of applications and data are stored in the cloud, the majority, 77.5% said they stored up to a quarter of these assets in the cloud, with 5% storing everything on-premise. No council surveyed stored more than 75% of their data and applications in the cloud.

Moreover, data fragmentation remains a major concern, with 70% of IT teams 'not confident' the authority they work for has a 'single view' of citizen data; in that there is only one database entry per individual, with access to all service history.

"Local councils today are under enormous pressure from both central government and British citizens to deliver better services, at lower costs," said Darren Fields, Citrix managing director in the UK & Ireland.

"With local authorities facing an overall funding gap of 5.8 billion by the end of the decade, councils are always on the lookout for innovative, cost-effective technology to help deliver efficient citizen services, whilst also improving productivity for staff and reducing costs."

Despite the majority of local authorities, 75%, considering investing in cloud infrastructure in the next 12 months, only 7.5% are planning on downsizing their physical IT infrastructure by getting rid of on-premise servers or physical hardware, for instance. Just over a third, 35%, have no plans to do so.

However, an academic paper published last year warned that councils across the UK shouldn't be rushed into migrating their applications and data. The report found that despite the political pressure on local government to move to the cloud, there were few examples of best practice.

Each of three councils' cloud deployments examined in the report was "well implemented and well supported by cloud supplier staff", the researchers said, and had a string of positives, but all case studies examined showed a need to "develop an appropriate full and growing cloud strategy aligned to business strategy, together with an internal support programme to manage demand".

"These factors require planning, managing and monitoring to ensure the best use, value and benefit is obtained from the investment in the technology to help ensure efficient, effective and successful IT," the report's authors said.

Fields added: "The cloud has the potential to transform public services, yet many local authorities are held back by legacy IT systems - making it a demanding and challenging exercise to consolidate and transition data and applications to the cloud."

"However, the cloud will inevitably become integral to service delivery - solutions are typically more cost effective, scalable, secure and flexible - and are likely to become an indispensable asset for local authorities looking to deliver first-class services to residents across the UK."

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.