Heading into the cloud: Cloud and mobile technology is key to driving efficiencies across the public sector

By Michael Burton

This article originally appeared in January 2015 edition of The MJ.  

The first MJ of the New Year is as good a time as ever to do some crystal ball gazing though for this I draw on an event that took place towards the end of 2014 called Future Decoded.

This was a forum organised by Microsoft in London’s Excel for its business partners and customers attended by some 10,000 people which gathered top thought-leaders - from Jeremy Paxman and Sir Martin Sorrell to Sir Bob Geldof and Dame Stella Rimington as well as Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella - to give their views on the future. In addition a series of workshops looked at key sectors including local government whose session was addressed by Norfolk CC managing director Wendy Thomson. Norfolk itself is also pioneering a cross-sector technology programme based on the cloud.

Technology is the key to maintaining public services through austerity and meeting the needs of a more demanding public. At Future Decoded Microsoft’s chief executive Satya Nadella predicted that future technology for both public and private sectors lies in the cloud and the mobile. His views were echoed by another speaker, Ronan Dunne, chief executive of Telefonica UK who said: ‘More people have access to mobiles in the world than to clean drinking water. The mobile will power digital Britain. Future economic growth will be driven by digital. There will also be a growth of self-service with the customer in control.’ He pointed out that the UK would need another 750,000 digitally skilled workers in the next five years and there was a need to train young people now, especially those who were out of the workforce, yet used to computers. He added: ‘We need to lobby for better digital educational connectivity to enable the next wave of change.’

As Derrick McCourt, Microsoft UK’s public sector general manager tells The MJ: ‘Our public sector customers are falling off a cliff in terms of funding. The only way they can maintain a level of service is to ensure there are appropriate digital channels. Their own customers want 24/7 not nine to five.’

The fast-evolving devolution agenda, especially the combined authorities, will drive greater greater collaboration and cross-sector partnerships sustained by technology. Microsoft is already working with UK local government through its CityNext programme. Derrick McCourt adds: ‘We’re not so arrogant that we claim to have all the answers. The typical authorities we work with have the right kind of leadership in which to invest our time and knowledge. Austerity is a common theme so the question is what support we can give to deliver cost-effective, top quality services. Every chief executive wants to ensure economic development but how does a city attract investment or young people? The challenges in western economies are very similar. A lot of learning we bring to the UK is global. The biggest cities in the UK are looking to benchmark themselves against global cities.’

Future Decoded was addressed by one of its clients, Norfolk CC’s managing director Wendy Thomson. The council is developing a cloud-based information hub from Microsoft, HP Enterprise Services and Vodaphone to transform the delivery of integrated services using technology to drive efficiencies. By using the economic and social value of the data held by Norfolk and its partner agencies, the new information hub, Digital Norfolk Ambition, aims to help the council create a local knowledge economy, improve education standards and attract further investment. It will provide a desktop, data centre and collaboration infrastructure bringing together disparate data from multiple agencies to enable staff to make evidence-based decisions, reduce costly duplication and meet rising demands for services.

Dr Thomson, who previously chaired an expert health panel on patient-based funding in Quebec, Canada, says that health systems across the developed world have the same health and care challenges. She adds: ‘Everyone has the same issue which is how to move health and care systems from dealing with acute into chronic care, from hospital into the community and IT helps you. Between the ages of 65 and 85 health often depends on the individual and we need to recognise this. We need to target the right services to the right people and we believe at Norfolk we’re ahead of the pack.’