As public sector services struggle to handle an increasing workload and diminishing resources it is worth considering if there are ways to make it easier for them to cope at least when it comes to a more effective IT infrastructure. And the truth is that in the past five or so years a solution has emerged and that is none other than cloud software.
Although there might be some distrust towards this new type of technology there is also a clear increasing trend in adopting cloud solutions - a clear indication it is here to stay and that soon it will all be about it. It's no wonder that's the case - the pros are too many and far outweigh the few cons.
Gone are the days when to handle e.g. the inventory management of a service you had to wade through obsolete filing systems and obscure windows where a manual reference was required before every click. Cloud enterprise applications have taken after their brothers in the consumer world (Facebook, Gmail, etc) and are ready to be used out of the box with little or no training. Intuitive and full of usability features they are easy to learn and actually fun to work with.
Running out of a single server, with similar installations which have costs spread over usually a large number of clients, cloud installations are cheap. Maintenance is easy on the part of the vendor and there is no need to employ an army of consultant to implement, support and maintain the software - all costs which would otherwise be transferred to the public sector buyer. The end result instead is a very lean and light piece of software which costs much less than previous generation â€˜on-premises' solutions.
Fast and light
Running through the window of a browser, cloud software is light and can be handled even by the oldest hardware out there. As such without the need to upgrade the infrastructure (another measure towards cost-effectiveness) civil servants have really fast access to the services and avoid delays and frustrations usually associated with installed software in bloated PCs with obsolete hardware. The browser and the service delivered through it works fast regardless of anything else.
Contrary to popular belief running your service in the cloud (Software-as-a-Service as it's sometimes called) is more secure than running it in-house. Public sector data are very sensitive and need to be protected by field-hardened experts - who are much more probable to be found in the server rooms of a specialized vendor rather than as part of civil service personnel. Even if physical proximity with the data center is compulsory though, most cloud software vendors can customize it to run as a service from a public sector server.
All technical maintenance takes place transparently by the vendor and their consultants and technicians with little or no disruption to the actual service. Support and assistance for issues that may arise can also most probably be handled remotely further cutting costs and downtime - it's typical for vendors to offer very high levels of uptime.
And of course it is very easy to channel resources as necessary and increase or decrease software usage practically on the fly. Software can be expanded to accommodate more employees e.g. in periods of high workload (end of tax year, start of academic year, etc) and can be subsequently scaled down when the employees' time can be more effectively spent elsewhere.
There are of course potential problems with online software. Issues such as where the data is stored, personnel who have access to it, format they are in and to what extent they are available to the general crowd upon request are all points which need to be addressed before the software can get the OK to be used in the public sector. Regulations and the safeguards they require may mean certain alterations and improvements are necessary so that the software compliance is assured.
Finally, online software is not always the best candidate for optimisation as vendors operate in a different model where they provide the same piece of software to all clients. Again however custom packages can be made available - especially in conjunction with the aforementioned compliance concerns - in a hybrid approach that is a win-win for all parties involved.
Overall, it is quite clear that the cloud is the direction enterprise software is moving and it is only a matter of time before the public sector follows. Perhaps with a bit of customization here and a bit of relaxation in compliance requirements there, it's something we should start getting used to because it's here to stay.