Essex CIO urges partnership approach to public sector cloud

9 Sep 2011

Partnership between the IT department and the organisation is key to making cloud computing work in the public sector, a conference heard yesterday.

Giving the afternoon keynote at yesterday’s Cloud Computing Summit in Dublin, David Wilde, CIO of Essex County Council, said moving to the cloud can only happen after the organisation itself changes. “Only do this if your organisation is ready for it,” he said. “IT can’t drive this, and the business can’t transform without it.”

Wilde urged that lines of business should be engaged from the outset. “Migration will need to align with organisational change,” he told delegates. “The public sector has had to fundamentally change. IT is seen as an inhibitor but also a significant enabler, as a vehicle through which you can make difficult change happen.”

When planning for a move to the cloud, good business practice is to understand the enterprise architecture across the organisation. Wilde said many CIOs still don’t have a handle on this. “Half the architecture is no good; you’ve got to know where everything is.”

CIOs and IT heads must understand and quantify the legacy systems and map the route forward based on market changes and supplier plans, he added. Bringing core infrastructure up to an acceptable level is an essential step before any organisation can think about moving to the cloud.

Out with the old apps

Wilde said that when he joined Essex, end-user devices were on average six years old, and many users were running old versions of software apps, such as Office 2000 or 2003. “If I chucked the cloud at that, Essex would have crumped in a heap,” he said. Instead, the goal is to have the council’s user population ready by 2015 and it has begun a process of standardisation on light laptops and mobiles.

Wilde advised two years’ advanced planning in the public sector because of the length of time involved in the procurement process. Leaving it to six months before the end of a contract is too late, he warned.

CIOs also need to thoroughly understand their budgets – what the total ICT spend is and the baseline. After coming into the job, Wilde was able to find stg£11m in budget simply by looking through the council’s procurement system. His target is to make stg£32m in savings by next year and cloud would account for around a third of that amount.

Essex County Council had 300 IT staff two years ago; now through a consolidation process that includes moving some systems to the cloud and reducing reliance on IT contractors, that number will fall to 160 by April 2012. Wilde also advised CIOs to audit the skills in their own departments to ensure the team is equipped to handle moving to the cloud.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic