Essex County Council’s cloud options limited by lack of rural broadband

The lack of broadband in rural areas is a significant barrier to local government adopting cloud computing, the CIO of Essex County Council has said.

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The lack of broadband in rural areas is a significant barrier to local government adopting cloud computing, the CIO of Essex County Council has said.

Despite its proximity to London, where broadband is commonplace, CIO David Wilde said this will continue to be a problem for the council until 2017, the deadline by which the government hopes that 95 percent of the UK population will have superfast broadband.

“We’ve moved 20-odd percent into the cloud,” Wilde, who was previously CIO at Westminster City Council in the capital, told the Think Cloud for Government conference in London this week.

“We’ve got a lot of countryside. Cloud doesn’t exist in rural areas where broadband doesn’t exist. Cloud is only as good as the broadband capacity that exists. In urban centres, in Westminster, we had broadband coming out of our ears. When you go out to Dedham - it’s well-named in terms of broadband.”

He added: “Those kind of realities mean that thick-line local solutions are going to be a fact of life for us probably until 2017.”

Nonetheless, Essex council has recently selected a supplier for a major new system that will be “mainly cloud-based”.

Although Wilde did not specify who the supplier was, the council published a tender document in November 2012 for a cloud-based geographic intelligence system (GIS) to replace an Oracle Spatial “ViewEssex” platform. Separately, in February it signed a £16.6 million, seven-year deal with Fujitsu to implement a fully-managed ERP service covering Oracle E-Business Suite, Hyperion, OBIEE and Taleo.

Melton Borough Council

Representatives from Melton Borough Council and the London Borough of Hounslow were also on the Think Cloud for Government panel to share their experiences of cloud computing.

Christian Coltart, transformation programme manager at Melton said that the council has been using G-Cloud to help speed up its ‘digital first’ programme.

For Coltart, the barrier to cloud adoption has been the council’s procurement function and helping them to understand the G-Cloud and the business benefits.

“We’ve had to push them along,” he said. “We’ve had challenges around procurement processes with G-Cloud, and how to not get round them, but to make sure you tick the right boxes.

He added: “Ultimately, the business benefits for us is that you can [bring to life] your idea much, much quicker.”

London Borough of Hounslow

Hounslow council’s director of corporate resources, Anthony Kemp, meanwhile, suggested that suppliers need to help procurement staff understand what the G-Cloud is in their "own language".

“[Suppliers should] make sure the service descriptions are clear and precise, and make it easy for people to find [what they want], because then you don’t need a technical person to understand it,” he said.

Hounslow set a strategy in 2012 to be infrastructure-free in four years’ time, and to be Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) by default. Where it cannot use SaaS, it is adopting Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

The technology it uses includes Salesforce.com for its CRM, the Salesforce social customer service application Service Cloud and Box as its collaboration tool.

The council believes that using G-Cloud is a no-brainer, having purchased around £5 million of products and services through the marketplace.

“I don’t see how you can be a fan of cloud computing and not use G-Cloud,” Kemp said.

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