Six east-London boroughs are working on a way to halve the cost of email by using cloud computing.
Email might sound like a trivial item of expenditure, until you consider that Newham LBC has 5,000 active mailboxes that cost £32 a year each, because of the software, hardware, back-up systems and IT staff needed to run them.
That’s £160,000 a year, and the plan offers a potential annual saving of £80,000 just for Newham if it comes off.
This is only one example of the savings that could be achieved if cloud computing is successfully adopted by local government.
Cloud computing simply means that someone else hosts your computer applications for you. The host, such as Microsoft or IBM, makes the applications available to the user over the internet.
The hosts would use their buying power to achieve the lowest prices for their clients, while the local authorities would need far fewer data centres and, ultimately, fewer IT staff.
A host must be able to guarantee that data will not be stored in a data centre outside the UK’s jurisdiction, as law requires that certain types of data cannot be held abroad
Working examples of cloud computing include the email and spreadsheet services offered by Google, or Salesforce.com, the sales management system used by private sector companies.
The East London Solutions consortium was formed to look at ways that the local boroughs could collaborate to save money.
Leading the way
Newham is leading the ICT work stream. Geoff Connell, acting divisional director for ICT, explains that the consortium is working with Microsoft and Hewlett Packard to see if they can come up with a cloud system that would deliver the 50% savings.
“I am sure they can do it: they are extremely interested,” he says.
“Although a commitment is some way off, Mr Connell adds that “most of the big IT providers see this as the way they’ll be delivering services in future”.
The consortium, whose other members are Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge,Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest LBCs, has looked at several providers.
However, a host must be able and willing to guarantee that data will not be stored in a data centre outside the UK’s jurisdiction, as the law requires that certain types of data cannot be held abroad. Microsoft is willing to guarantee that the data will be held here.
Mr Connell adds that Havering, where he is also interim head of business systems, is considering the transfer of its procurement, payroll and finance IT to a cloud, as it prepares to upgrade its Oracle on Demand Enterprise Resource Planning system over the next year.
“The question is, will it be at the right price, and will it offer the right level of flexibility?” Mr Connell says.
Central government is pushing hard for local authorities to adopt cloud. Martin Bellamy, who joined the Cabinet Office in July to lead the drive towards cloud computing, and who holds the unwieldy title of director in the Office of the Chief Government Information Officer, put his plans to a conference of IT managers in January.
“The UK public sector could be a leader in the deployment of cloud computing. The capability benefits, as well as the cost benefits, are just too big to ignore.” Mr Bellamy even predicted that within 15 years “all computing and storage will be done within the cloud”.
However, most councils seem less enthusiastic than those in east London.”I don’t know of any local authority that has committed itself completely,” says Chris Morton, a consultant at the Society of Information Technology Management.
If you work in IT and you expect the role to stay the same year after year, you are sadly deluded
Geoff Connell, acting divisional director for ICT, Newham Council
Security concerns and the fear of job losses are the two biggest obstacles, Mr Morton says. He emphasises that he is confident that the hosts can guarantee the safety of sensitive data. “It’s an objection people put forward so they don’t have to do it,” he says.
Yet Mr Morton has no doubt that cloud is a threat to local authority IT jobs. “For the head of IT in a local authority, with 30 or even 50 people reporting to them, it is like turkeys voting for Christmas because, ultimately, that’s what it’s about - people reducing expenses, and that includes getting rid of people. It’s brutal, but it’s true.”
But Mr Connell points out that standing still is not option. “If you work in IT and you expect the role to stay the same year after year, you are sadly deluded,” he says. “The role will change all the time, and we can add far more value if we are in the role of business analysis than if we’re just managing bits of tin.”
Mark Jansen, writer on IT