Service integration is best based on cloud technology, says consultant

14 Jun 17

Integrating public services is best done through cloud computing, an IT expert has said.

John Thornton, director of consultancy e-ssential resources, said people were increasingly using smart systems and smart monitoring, which were generating huge amounts of data, ready to be harnessed.

There had been an “explosion of data” that different bodies and organisations needed to be able to share if they were to provide public services efficiently, he said.

He said one example was the NHS, which had generated vast amounts of information, enabling bespoke care for individuals, speaking at CIPFA’s 2017 local government conference in London on Monday. 

“With the NHS, you are getting masses of data being generated. You are getting analysis of big data which is beginning to tailor services to the individuals, to individual genomics, to make medicine a lot more personalised,” he said.

Thornton said the starting point for integrating health and social care needed to be a common health record that could be accessed by both the NHS and local government.

He added: “A lot of these things only become possible if you have the underlying technology.”

Thornton outlined some common barriers to adopting cloud computing, which involves technology services being provided over the internet rather than from an onsite data centre.

He noted that there was perception of a loss of control by having data stored on the cloud rather an in hardware inside an office. However, Thornton stresses this view was misguided.

He said: “If you look at security and resilience, the big suppliers in cloud [technology] are Amazon, Google and Microsoft – actually they employ world-class security specialists.

“They can afford to employ and operate security much better than you could in your own data centre and, while it feels you are losing control because of the cloud, you are probably struggling in the current market to get really good security professionals to keep on top of security.”

He added that cloud systems also offered “significant savings” of potentially up to 30%. These came primarily from not running expensive infrastructure and employing technical staff, thereby reducing operation costs.

Another benefit was the ability to keep up easily with the latest software updates.

The average local authority carried out a a major overhaul of its systems every five or so years, applying software patches in between to keep up to date, he said. This was not necessary with cloud computing.

He said: “You’ve seen from the WannaCry ransomware bug that not everybody is doing their patching, not everybody keeps up to date all the time but, if you look at something like the Office 365 [cloud service] then that’s updated probably twice a day. So, instead of being updated every few weeks, months or years, you are getting stuff that is being updated as you use it.”

Adopting cloud technology would also make remote working easier, as employees would just need access to a computer with a high-speed internet connection.

The take-up of cloud technology remains slow in local government. Thornton cited a 2016 survey which showed that 61% of councils had no cloud IT policy and 89% of councils still had on-site data centres.

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