Local Government and the public cloud

For the last 4 or 5 years, Eduserv has delivered managed services on our own public and private cloud platforms hosted in our Swindon data centre. We have targeted central and local government and the third sector in the UK with our services, predominantly through the UK government’s G-Cloud procurement framework, and we were initially reasonably successful in doing that.

But things have changed…

Recently, we have taken a major strategic decision to move towards providing managed services on the public cloud, particularly focusing on the services available from Amazon and Microsoft. This decision recognises that in future we will not be able to deliver as much value using our own infrastructure as using those large-scale public cloud providers and that we can do more for our customers in partnership with them.

As far as our cloud offers are concerned, we now exist to help our customers get the best out of AWS, Azure and Office 365. That position will clearly evolve over time. Of course, the reality is that many of our customers will need time to migrate their services to the public cloud and that may well lead to hybrid approaches being adopted in the short term. A few may see themselves as having longer term hybrid requirements but we see it as part of our mission to encourage them to move to the public cloud and to understand the rationale for that approach. The long term direction is clear.

In reality, we should have taken this decision some years ago — the ‘public cloud’ writing has been on the wall for some time — but for various reasons we were unable to do so. I won’t go into the reasons here. Suffice to say that we are a bit late to the party.

It’s a big decision for us, and the impact is pretty huge in terms of the AWS and Azure up-skilling that now needs to take place across the business and the associated cultural changes in the way we work. We do not want to become one of the managed service providers (MSPs) that Stephen Orban describes as “holding our customers’ strategies back” and we are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. But it’s a big change for us. If nothing else, the changes are significant enough that it makes Eduserv a pretty exciting place to be working right now. I’ll return to how we are dealing with some of these changes in future posts.

We work mainly with organisations that spend other people’s money — either in the form of tax revenue (where we are dealing with central or local government) or in the form of donations (where we are working with charities).

As a tax payer and/or as someone who donates to charity, I want the organisations that are taking my money to spend it as wisely as they can. I don’t want to cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats or run a half-marathon only to find that the money I’ve raised is wasted by a charity’s inefficient use of IT. And I don’t want the council-, income- or other tax that I pay to go to organisations that subsequently waste it on poor IT decision-making.

So what does spending money wisely on IT look like?

Well, some obvious things spring to mind. For example, I don’t want those organisations to be spending money on building or maintaining data centres of their own. Why would they do that? It’s not core business for them and there will be other players who can do it more efficiently than they can. And where they recognise that, which increasingly most of them do, I similarly don’t want them to simply lift-and-shift a bunch of on-premise servers (physical or VMs) and move them into someone else’s data centre. Nor do I want them to simply lift-and-shift them to the cloud.

There has to be more intelligence to it than that.

I want them to migrate to the cloud in the best way possible. That means I want them to make sensible decisions about which cloud provider(s) they choose and I want them to get the best out of the way they undertake the migration. Stephen Orban lists 6 strategies for migrating applications to the cloud and that feels like a pretty good place to start.

But why AWS and Azure?

Partly it is down to the breadth of services on offer. And not just breadth… but pace of change as well. Cloud is not just somewhere different to plonk your existing servers — it’s a whole new way of thinking about service delivery. The clearest current example of that is the changes that are brought about by the advent of serverless, which I’ll come back to in future posts, but there are other examples as well — and there will be more examples in the future based on technologies that the Amazons, Microsofts and Googles of this world haven’t even thought of yet.

Remember that ‘best’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘cheapest’. I mean, yes, cost is clearly an important factor in any decision around IT spend — especially when we are talking about the UK public sector in its current form. But decisions based solely on cost concerns now, will likely have a long term detrimental impact on how well services are able to be delivered in the future.

As both a funder and a consumer, I want organisations in the public- and third- sectors to also be positioning themselves to be able to offer me the best possible services. The best possible social care, or health, or transport choices, or education, or refuse collection, or whatever. In the main — not always, but in the main — that means transforming themselves to consume and deliver services digitally. That requires a huge cultural shift on their part. It means a significant shift around understanding user needs, UX, service design and so on. And it almost certainly requires a shift in culture towards more agile and lean ways of working. It means that they have to be able to attract the kind of people who can do that — and it means transforming current staff so that they can understand the changes happening around them.

Organisations that simply see a move to the cloud as being a lift-and-shift of servers probably aren’t going to be transforming themselves culturally. The mindsets aren’t really going to change. The kind of people they will attract won’t change. They might manage to save some money in the process, though not necessarily, but there isn’t going to be a wider impact for the public good. Choosing a cloud provider that doesn’t offer much in functional terms beyond what an organisation can already do in-house doesn’t encourage a change in thinking — it simply represents the status quo in a new setting.

I see the choice of AWS or Azure against other possible non-public cloud choices in the market as being at least as much a cultural decision as it is a technical one. For me, it represents a belief that things are going to be done differently.

And that belief is what will change organisations and the services they are capable of delivering for the better.