During our many many visits to local authorities across the UK, there is one question that we get very frequently: When is the right time to start taking action regarding the cloud? Generally, every ICT and business professional within Local Government in the UK that I have met has acknowledged that Cloud computing, in its variety of forms is a very useful concepts for UK public sector. There is little disagreement regarding the potential. Nonetheless, hardly anyone agrees on maturity level of applications, the right approach, the roadmap, integration issues, or even the attitude of the central government (especially given the elections).
So lets recap what we DO know:
The only real difference is the commercial model, and the model is here to stay. All the big vendors (outside the uncompetitive colluded club that is public sector ICT marketplace in the UK) have accepted and formally acknowledged their change of strategic direction.
Cloud is different, and it will take time to properly understand and realise the benefits as well as avoid the pit falls, and the learning curve is steep. It will take years to fully adopt it.
ICT is a medium to long term investment industry - you can make decisions that will lock you in for years, or even a decade.
SO, given the above, the time to act is NOW. Test you strategy against Cloud, have a look around the market place to see what quick wins are there. Challenge you service providers to be vendor agnostic and ask them not to lock you in for many years - certainly don't sign anything over 1 year commitment.
Make sure that your service delivery team is getting closer to the business. In practical terms this means spending more time at their customer's desks that in the ICT office. They need to understand not only what systems are used, but also, how users use then, and what features they DON'T use (in the cloud model you can pay extra for features).
Understand your costs. All of them. If your annual budget is 5 million, you need to know how this slots (or at least 80% of it) into the 500 or so apps that you are running (we have a neat service that does this for you). Un-bundle services, and change internal re-charging to match the usage as much as possible (we can advise on that).
Finally: PILOT - new and replacement apps, e-mail, productivity, storage, hosting, DR, CRM, HR, document management, collaboration, new process flows, neat niche apps. Pilot all of it - this way, when you do come to a major refresh decision next year, or 2 years from now, you would have de-risked your move to the cloud by 90%.
The better, more flexible and client centric work of cloud is almost here for the public sector. Watch our website for developments!