Public sector IT services: no sweat or sweating the assets?

Written by Darren Watkins, Managing Director, VIRTUS Data Centres Published 2016-05-19 09:16:12

News just in: 63 per cent of UK organisations are planning a shift to the cloud this year as the technology begins to take hold[i].

Oh hang on, more news just in: only 15 per cent of IT decision-makers in the UK totally understand the risks of storing data in the public cloud[ii]. That means the rest distrust it, with the main issues concerning compliance and that old bug bear security.

These are just two examples of the sort of survey and research reports that have been drip fed into my inbox over the last few years (and there’s plenty more that I could cite). One minute the future is totally cloudy, the next there’s a cloud hanging over the cloud, so to speak.

This is not good for the industry and adds to the FUD[iii] that you often hear about in the industry (usually from those who like to call themselves ‘tech evangelists’).

I pity the end user here.

And in particular, my sympathies lie with the IT teams working for local or central government organisations. Faced with austerity measures and budget cuts, they are constantly having to do more with less as they sweat their IT assets.

While organisations in private sector come up against similar challenges, these pain points are magnified in the public sector and have more of an impact because at the end of the day they’re dealing with taxpayers’ money.

So when it comes to help, expert advice and support from the IT industry, I would say it is the public sector that needs it the most.

For example, if an IT director of a Whitehall department finds out they can save money and be more efficient with something like cloud-based services, virtualisation, IP telephony, etc., why wouldn’t they go for it?

In theory that’s a no-brainer. But in reality (and IT refresh cycles and budgets aside) there are perhaps two reasons why they wouldn’t.

Firstly, it’s because of the surveys such as the ones mentioned above. What the IT industry giveth with one hand…

Secondly, it’s because while the technology industry in general is running way ahead of everybody else in its quest to come up with the new products and services it needs to sell, end users are only just walking. And arguably in the public sector, many are still taking baby steps; they are still bedding down with yesterday’s technology and are years away from even beginning to consider what’s next in store.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago I was asked to co-present a seminar on unified communications. The audience was mainly made up of those who worked in IT for public sector bodies such as the NHS, local councils, emergency services, etc.

While my co-presenters (who represented two big name vendors) gushed forth about the relative merits of UC and how it could solve any IT problem known to man, I chipped in by talking about how the technology was going to be big, really big, and quoted some analyst forecasts and figures to back my claims.

But during the breakout sessions when I mingled with the delegates it soon became apparent that while the presenters were addressing the questions of ‘what is unified communications and how can you get it?’, what our audience really wanted to do know was ‘do I really need unified communications and how much is it going to cost me? Do I need to rip out and replace?’.

To the innocent bystanders at the seminar, it almost seemed like the industry was creating solutions that was looking for problems.

Now before I get whacked by the UC mafia, I am not having a go at one particular technology. My point is that like many organisations, the public sector in particular needs technology that is affordable to buy, affordable to run, cuts costs, and adds real business value.

So why not follow through on the general principle of the Public Services Network (or Public Sector Network) where there is a single IT entity servicing the needs of multiple public sector organisations? This is where the data centre provider has a vital role to play.

With cloud-based services delivered via a data centre, users don’t have to worry about investing in the latest IT technologies. They simply invest in the data centre supplier and pay them to provide UC, virtualisation, XaaS – you name it, the DC’s got it.

However, despite the Government’s Cloud First[iv] strategy, in yet another survey[v] published late last year, only two per cent of public sector IT managers see their sector as “highly pro cloud”.

The study revealed that three quarters of public sector IT managers are only taking their first tentative steps on their cloud journey, suggesting that they need to become more confident about their cloud approach.

According to the pollsters, survey respondents were worried about ‘gaining internal sponsorship’ for a cloud migration and how services would be integrated, as well as fears over data sovereignty.

But in an attempt to create some CCND[vi], there are countless examples and case studies of how successful the cloud approach could could be.

For instance, Surrey County Council is one of the country’s largest local authorities and is expected to save at least £200 million over the next few years following the migration of its data centre infrastructures to a new shared IaaS platform[vii].

And in the 10 years the Ministry of Defence has worked with the ATLAS[viii] consortium of vendors on single, supported data centre infrastructure, it is said to have clawed back more than £1 billion.

You can even save on your printing costs as Aylesbury Vale District Council did last year when it adopted a data centre hosted cloud-based managed print service. Expected annual cost reduction? £50,000.

But I can see some more FUD looming and some of you may be wondering if paying a single data centre provider constitutes some kind of ‘vendor lock-in’?


Firstly, it should be borne in mind that the best data centre service providers provide flexible platforms and understand that one size doesn’t fit all. For example, VIRTUS recognises that clients have varying workloads, project lengths and changing business requirements, and as a result it has developed solutions to cater to these needs. Plus, many of the service providers it works with on its marketplace can offer flexible, pay-as-you-go type services.

If you really want to talk about vendor lock-in, how about this: in early 2014 you may recall the Government announced that it could save millions by ditching proprietary office productivity software from big name brands. The idea was to move towards more open standards for government technology and pave the way for a host of other software providers.

Speaking at the time, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that the software used in Whitehall was still supplied by a few large companies, with a “tiny oligopoly” dominating the marketplace. According to reports, the Government had spent around £200 million since 2010 on Microsoft Office alone.

£200 million. Vendor lock-in? Vendor quids in more like.


[i] Cloud Essentials report, Cloud Industry Forum, February 2016. []

[ii] Blue Skies Ahead? The State of Cloud Adoption, Intel Security, April 2016. []

[iii] Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

[iv] Government adopts ‘Cloud First’ policy for public sector IT, Cabinet Office press release, May 2013. []

[v] ‘End of life’ technology is really what’s driving public sector to the cloud, Redcentric survey, September 2015. []

[vi] Courage, Certainty and No Doubt, Rahiel Nasir, April 2016.

[vii] Surrey County Council Redefines Local Government IT with Nutanix, December 2014. []