With plenty of public and private sector examples to point to over the past few years, it's clear cloud services have become a mainstream option for Australian organisations. Benefits such as cost savings and more predictable IT expenses, IT agility and flexibility, and the opportunity to focus on strategic IT initiatives rather than staff being consumed by maintenance and administration are just some of the reasons councils are being attracted this alternative delivery model.
Early concerns about data control and ownership, service reliability, security and compliance have subsided as organisations have realised that just as in any other major investment decision, much of the solution lies in choosing the mix of services and the right service partner. While the number of vendors vying for business may make the choice appear confusing, the following eight tips are designed to help local government authorities define their needs and narrow options, so that they can find their perfect cloud services match.
1. Be clear about your reasons
It's always a good idea to start by identifying the exact reasons why you are interested in moving to the cloud, for without this information, how will you ever be able to evaluate whether the decision was a success? In most organisations, the decision is prompted by one of three things – changing circumstances, such as the need to refresh hardware or deploy new applications; budget renewal time; or when preparing the annual risk audit.
2. Know your needs
Once you know why you are interested in the cloud, it's time to put some parameters around those reasons. For example, if your organisation is seeking cost savings, how big a saving do you need to make and in what areas of the IT budget? Do you want to have the cloud deliver all information systems or is your intention to run a mix of on-premise and cloud software? If your driver is business continuity, what specific risks are you seeking to alleviate and what do you expect in terms of system recovery time?
3. Choose integrated, specialist systems
Your move to the cloud is great opportunity to upgrade or even change your core information systems. Consider whether your systems still meet your business needs, or whether the organisation could benefit from updated technology. If you decide to look at new systems, make sure you select an integrated application suite that makes it easy to capture and share information, and create automated workflows across the organisation.
For a local government authority, typical functionality needs to include asset management, land information, customer request management, document and records management, financial management, executive management systems, HR and payroll systems, mobile applications and more.
4. Seek experience
Local governments have very specific quality of service and application requirements. To get the best results, look for a partner who understands the sector, who knows the variety of internal and external demands on IT, and who has experience in administering and maintaining business critical local government information systems. Don't just take the vendor's word for it either. Ask for references in the local government sector.
5. Choose a local data centre
To ensure no problems with compliance regarding data management, look for onshore delivery of service and an Australian data centre.
6. Make sure the partner will be there for the long haul
You don't have to stay with your services partner forever but in case you do decide to stick with them, it's nice to know that they'll still be in business two, five or ten years from now. Therefore, make sure their business – and business model – is sound.
7. Set appropriate service level agreements
Service comes at a cost, so it pays to be realistic in your service level agreements. Don't cut corners to keep costs down, because slower than required response times or an inability to scale will only hurt your business. At the same time, don't select – and pay – for premium services for all aspects of your IT, unless you need them.
8. Obtain defined costs
You wouldn't hand a supplier an open cheque, so don't consider open-ended costs. Carefully evaluate the contract and fees. Usually, this means a tightly defined term contract that details all applications and service commitments. Make sure there are no capital costs and that the arrangement is based on a predictable fee.
By knowing exactly what you need and your desired outcomes, you can start to whittle down the list of potential cloud services suppliers. Once you've created a short list of suitable candidates, the final step is to consider their cultural and personality “fit” with your people and processes, because there's one thing for certain: to get the most out of the relationship, you need someone you can trust and who you feel comfortable working with. After all, you're about to entrust some of your organisation's most valuable assets to this partner, so the two of you can expect to be working very closely together in the months and years ahead.
Michael Preedy is the managing director of Local Government Solutions at Civica.