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As public cloud mandates were introduced by the government in 2013, the focus on using them for digital services provided the basis for substantial cost savings and emergent technology solutions. But, the data landscape has changed dramatically in the last ten years, and – especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, when innovations in data management played an important role in protecting vulnerable people – has highlighted the crucial role data plays in public service provision.
Technology offers enormous potential for improving efficiency, overhauling ageing IT infrastructure, and even improving citizen service in an increasingly digital world. Alison King, Senior Account Director for the NHS & UK Government at CTS explores how with the right approach to legacy technology and data management, the benefits to be gained are significant.
Tangled web of legacy systems
All public sector bodies carry a significant investment in legacy IT, with data often siloed in disparate systems. Better data sharing and integration is one of the keys to successful digital public service provision. In its Digital and Data Strategy policy paper published last year, the UK government outlined plans for integrating emerging digital technologies across the public sector whilst identifying risks associated with legacy systems.
Over many years, legacy technology has racked up a growing list of problems. In the long run, “making do” means security, data protection, efficiency, productivity, service delivery, and value for money are all at risk.
Due to the wide variety of bespoke and outdated legacy technology used by public sector bodies, compatibility issues can seriously hinder users’ ability to perform their duties. And, rebuilding these applications to work with modern platforms can be prohibitively expensive.
However, these systems are also expensive and complex to support, as the necessary knowledge and experience to maintain these aging legacy technologies becomes less readily available. Meaning that legacy technologies are entangled in a web of problems.
Despite these challenges, the global pandemic has taught us that there are solutions available to address the impact on technology delivery. From improving bottom-line financial results, enhancing efficiency, and enabling the transition to home-working, smart technology offers a range of advantages organisations can take advantage of.
Better data = better decision making
It’s no secret that there is a wealth of data used by the public sector, which only continues to grow year on year. Additionally, organisations are sharing more data between themselves – and with third parties and partners – which is often held in different sources, creating further hurdles to gain insights from these datasets. How can public sector organisations therefore collaborate in order to make high-value decisions and policy recommendations?
A recent ONS Statistically Speaking podcast discussed how to combine administrative data with census data in order to get a clearer picture of how decision-making can be improved at a local level. By combining those datasets, local councils are able to compare regional data with twin regions and draw upon each others’ experiences, see what is working and what can be improved. For example, a region in the north might have the same demographic, education status and population as a region down south but policies may differ in each region.
The public sector needs an infrastructure, provided by cloud computing, if digital transformation is to be successful. In light of this, bodies at all levels need to adopt these technologies, especially since citizens, businesses, patients, and others have increasingly high expectations and demands from public services.
In the case of legacy applications that are simply too old to be moved to the cloud, the ideal option may be to re-architect or re-purchase in a cloud-friendly version. However, for organisations with a limited budget, that may be out of the question. And recently, it has been recognised that ‘lift and shift’ may simply be moving a problem from point A to point B, despite its mention within the 2013 government cloud-first guidance mandate.
As such, best practice has now been amended to advise any organisation with historic IT infrastructure to undertake an overhaul and audit to determine which systems are business-critical and should be migrated to the cloud. The policy has also been revised to ensure an even playing field for cloud providers, so that due diligence is done and organisations are able to choose the right cloud provider, ensuring the public sector remains diverse.
It is then up to the organisation to decide whether they want to keep running old infrastructure and applications, which may negatively affect the user experience by requiring them to use only certain legacy devices to access them, or move only the front-end interface to the cloud. A more digital approach would allow users to access their services without disrupting legacy systems. And as a result, legacy systems can gradually be phased out.
Digital transformation to date could be described as somewhat sporadic and inconsistent when looking at the public sector as a whole. In many cases, data quality is poor and it is stored in silos, limiting the insights that can be drawn. As the government strives to transform the way public services are provided, breaking down data silos is a key priority.
Improved operational efficiency as well as a more collaborative and productive work environment are key benefits of modernising public sector IT infrastructure. The next phase is to move toward cloud infrastructure as the norm rather than the exception. The sector must commit to using a cloud-first approach by 2025, which can lead to a range of benefits from lower costs to greater efficiency and security.
In the next five years, the UK public sector could become a leader in this area if it is bold and ambitious in its approach to digital transformation and as a result, the outcome would be transformative both for the government and the public.