Researchers from Brunel University London have tracked what happens when local councils transfer services to cloud computing and warned that local authorities and public sector organisations should “do their homework” before switching to the cloud.
Local authorities across Europe have been urged to move in-house IT services – such as servers, email and telephones – to internet-based providers, amid pressure to reduce their total investments in IT infrastructures and resources (e.g. data centres). Warwickshire County Council and the London Borough of Hillingdon were among the UK’s first to announce plans to switch around 2012.
A study of three local councils found the cloud brought several advantages, but authorities tend to make the shift too hastily, with one council instantly hit by hackers.
“These findings have messages for both local government and central government,” said Dr Uthayasankar Sivarajah, part of the Brunel University research team.
“One of the authorities faced an immediate security breach that caused chaos,” said the lecturer in operations and information systems management. “Data was accessed illegally by an unauthorised third party and the private sector cloud provider blamed human error.”
Government strategists predicted in 2011 that switching to the G-Cloud or Government cloud could save £3.2bn because as a shared service, costs are spread among organisations. But despite cost-cutting pressure, many public sector managers see the cloud as more a liability than labour saver, with data security and downtime the biggest fears.
Making it easier to work from home and better information management are key advantages to councils switching to cloud-based technologies, the team found. Major cons meanwhile are a lack of data ownership and loss of control and governance, because of a grey area around who has access to information.
The report, Risk and rewards of cloud computing in the UK public sector, also revealed a general feeling among workers that their authority’s move was a purely rushed attempt to meet the political agenda. “There are huge black holes between what the councils are trying to do and what they are achieving,” said Dr Sivarajah. The biggest lesson to councils, he underlined, is that “the right person needs to drive and lead the implementation and sell it to the workers.
“At operational level they could all see real benefits in cost savings. But it is still early days and we don’t know what the long-term impact will be. That may take 10 years to find out. It might reduce the headcount in IT departments, but I can’t see it cutting out the need for them altogether.”