UNIT4 Business Software Ltd. has published independent research it commissioned which reveals how local government and emergency services are utilising the technological solutions and business tools recommended by the Government to address cuts in funding. The survey, New Ways of ICT Working, reveals the extent to which shared services, cloud and IT strategy are helping to maintain services in the face of shrinking budgets and citizens' rising expectations. Managers were also asked about their expectations for the future and what threats they feel are most dangerous to their ability to maintain service standards.
The findings underlined the importance of shared services. Operating or being part of a shared service is the most common strategy being pursued by managers looking to reduce costs when measured against mobile, procurement frameworks and cutting staff overheads. 63% of respondents said that shared services was a priority to help reduce costs, compared with just 29% who prioritised frameworks like G-Cloud.
Although cost reduction was an important factor in shared services involvement, so was improving customer services. 83% of those interviewed thought shared services was either important or very important to improving services.
The strong positive perception of shared services is borne out in its take up, with more than half the respondents (53%) working for public bodies which already participate in, or run a shared service. A further 25% are in the process of implementing one.
Selection of comments from respondents:
"We are already sharing many areas and perhaps we now need to pause to ensure that they are all working satisfactorily both by saving money but as important delivering as good if not better service than before," Deputy leader of a large district council in the north of England.
"Any service could be a candidate for shared services, the questions are: with whom? Can we maintain quality? Does the model stack up financially?" HR manager of a London borough council.
Cloud and G-Cloud
Only 37% of interviewees used cloud computing services, with another 30% planning to initiate projects in the next 12 months. Given its growing importance as an accepted technology delivery model, it is surprising that 16% said they had no plans whatsoever to deploy cloud services. A quarter expected to save between 11% and 24% of their IT budget by using cloud, while the majority (83%) expected this figure to be below 10%.
Nearly half (47%) of the organisations questioned said they had no plans to use the G-Cloud – the Government's framework for procuring cloud-based services through a marketplace called the CloudStore. 35% plan to use it while only 20% have used it already.
"Some of the findings around cloud were particularly surprising," said Anwen Robinson, Managing Director of UNIT4 Business Software Ltd. "Without large ongoing capital costs of on-premises software deployments, we see cloud as an advantage during a time of swingeing cuts. We work closely with prospects and partners on Return on Investment and our calculations invariably point to cloud as the most efficient deployment option. I believe vendors and the Government must continue to create awareness and interest in the benefits of a cloud-first policy."
Strategy and Threats
Despite the worries played out in the media managers displayed confidence that they could maintain standards of service delivery. A little fewer than three quarters felt confident (54%) or very confident (20%) in their ability to resist service standards slipping, while just 3% were not confident at all.
Darren Hunt, Sales and Marketing Director at UNIT4 Business Software said: "These results give a snapshot of a sector that is seeking creative ways of addressing the funding cuts. Despite some of the negative headlines, it is very clear that the sector acknowledges the importance of shared services.
"We expect innovation to gather pace with public bodies increasingly opting for cloud software and shared services between organisations instead of single solutions between single entities."
Conducted by iGov Survey, researchers questioned 201 senior local government (83%) and emergency service managers (17%) in December 2013. Respondents included chief executives, chief constables, chief fire officers, heads of ICT, finance, transformation, strategy and procurement.
All the findings can be found in the research report at http://www.igovsurvey.com/surveys/view/33