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Knowledge is power: why collaboration is vital for the UK public sector

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Across the world, the geopolitical landscape is increasingly fragmented; as such, sharing information among nations is more important than ever. If Brexit hinders how we share information with key European partners -- for example, the UK universities and UK research community with their European counterparts -- then it becomes much harder to both collaborate and innovate.

While the outcome of Brexit remains uncertain, it's worth casting our minds back to last year, when Theresa May announced the Fusion Doctrine as part of the National Security Capability Review. This called for the harnessing of our national capabilities throughout the UK, from across government to industry partners.

To achieve this, it's vital to encourage better collaboration among public sector organisations to derive faster insights from collective data sets. There's no doubt that collaboration and mutual knowledge must be at the top of every public sector organisation's agenda in order to connect its various capabilities -- which is where the power of the cloud comes in, delivering better services for everyone. 

There’s no single silver bullet for this; I believe that public sector customers value the diversity and choice that comes from a community of providers, as competition breeds value and innovation. Thankfully, the G-Cloud 10 framework (soon to be G-Cloud 11) provides public sector organisations with a wide range of cloud services and support, underpinning hundreds of digital programmes across the UK public sector -- from large central government transformation programmes to specialist applications used by NHS trusts or local authorities.

The benefits of collaboration

Cloud services will prove the engine to power life-changing technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning, driving digital transformation for all. We’re already seeing social care workers collaborating better with NHS staff. And we need to see our police and security services sharing knowledge more effectively in order to keep our nation safe. Fraud and error is another area when cloud can help, for example, joining up data between the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), HMRC, and the Home Office to help enhance accuracy with claims. What this means is that, after decades of silos, we should start to see increasing numbers of joined up public services – such as what we’re currently seeing in Health and Social Care.

Still, despite government reports on the data-fuelled future of health, robotics and AI, and other emerging digital innovations, most public sector organisations are still tied to legacy technologies -- a fact that must not be overlooked. Across the UK, healthcare, local government, and education organisations are still grappling with jurassic software and hardware. Collaborating with British SMEs and their inherent agility helps accelerate migration away from legacy and drive the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness that characterises digital, and which are the three key criteria the National Audit Office uses to assess value for money.

Collaboration is also crucial because there’s safety in numbers. Some public services are more critical and sensitive than others; for these systems, public sector organisations should look for the diversity of specialist service providers combined with the safety and neutrality of government-grade services, which can be found on the Crown Campus.

Transformation methods

Now, while the rewards of a cloud-focused culture shift across the public sector are demonstrable in specific projects, the next step is making it happen at a broader scale. Industry goliaths have dominated IT services in the technology industry and have historically been the main suppliers to organisations now facing the need for digital transformation.

In the UK, however, startups, SMEs and scale-ups are increasingly providing technology services to the public sector. Such collaborations take the cost, risk, and waste out of public sector IT to improve the front-line public services delivered to UK citizens and businesses alike. Even the largest public sector organisations struggle with the skills and resources required to transform every system to a truly cloud-native application. Moreover, the delivery of these services is shifting from traditional software product vendors into Software-as-as-a-Service (SaaS), enabling swifter and more seamless services that can be scaled up or down, depending on requirements, rather than being limited by licences.

To this end, multi-cloud environments are vital, as they enable the public sector to modernise existing systems while transforming new ones. As a result, organisations are now able to carry forward the tools, skills, and applications that they’ve already invested in as they begin to benefit from the cloud. And importantly, a multi-cloud strategy enables organisations to avoid the risk of lock-in with the proprietary technology – ensuring the technology giants can’t return to oligopolistic behaviour.

Staying safe

Of course, as organisations begin their digital transformation by adopting various cloud platforms and software services, in tandem with managing their existing IT infrastructure, good cyber security hygiene is a must. It’s no surprise to hear that the average cost and impact of a successful cyber attack continues to increase, with the recent Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019 estimating that only 31 per cent of medium-to-large businesses have done a cyber risk assessment in the past 12 months. In 2019, the average costs faced by businesses range between £9,270 for medium firms and £22,700 for large firms.

For the public sector, it’s undeniable that the NHS simply cannot afford another WannaCry. To exacerbate the issue, a cyber threat to national infrastructure is as immediate as any other form of threat facing the nation. UK public sector organisations face the dual challenge of expanding the variety and accessibility of new services, all the while ensuring that they remain on top of incoming threats. As such, when looking for a cloud provider, organisations must ensure that cyber health is at the top of a chosen supplier’s agenda.

Still, public sector innovation shouldn’t rely too heavily on technology, which can only tell half the story. Instead, true innovation happens when people harness the power of technology to develop, test, and implement new ideas and methods that drive real change. Due to cuts in staffing and resources, what needs to be focused on is what can be achieved by investing in the right technologies, and what will support front-line staff.

Ultimately, the public sector needs to prioritise safeguarding important data and making it accessible to the right people, for the right reasons. To complement this, organisations must be equipped to share knowledge more efficiently in order to protect the UK -- its people, its interests. Gartner’s Nexus of Forces concept illuminates clearly how the convergence and mutual strengthening of social media, mobility, cloud computing and information patterns create new business opportunities in the private sector. It is only by similarly connecting the countless capabilities throughout the public sector that services can be improved for citizens, patients, businesses, and the heroes that deliver front-line public services.

Leighton James, CTO, UKCloud (opens in new tab)
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Leighton James is CTO at UKCloud, the multi-cloud provider specialising in the public sector. In his role, he provides leadership, strategic direction, and proposition development for UKCloud.