SOCITM (Society of Information Technology Management)
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Cloud is good; SuperCloud is better

‘Federation of networks’ could best serve public services in the future, but only with right leadership approach, says Socitm

While it may be anchored in the capital, the London SuperCloud is an important lesson for local government and public sector organisations throughout the UK – but only with the right leadership approach, says Socitm.

In the latest briefing from its Insight research service, Socitm highlights the ‘imaginative and innovative vision’ behind the London SuperCloud, the brainchild of the team behind the London Grid for Learning (LGfL).

But the briefing warns that while the SuperCloud is an exemplar of what the public sector can do with the technological infrastructure for the benefit of citizens, it will take a focused meeting of minds at a leadership level to achieve this aim.

LGfL was founded in 2001 and has, according to the trust that runs it, a client base of more than 3,000 schools, academies and councils in some 60 local authority areas. Its CEO, John Jackson, describes LGfL’s dedicated fibre infrastructure as one the largest educational and public sector networks in the world.

Using this network, LGfL provides authenticated users a wide range of safeguarding and communication services. In the latest admissions round, says Jackson, LGfL processed 225,000 applications for secondary school places, delivered 565,000 SMS text messages to parents, and sent more than 50,000 mobile application alerts via its mobile app. There is also the possibility of AI being introduced, which could support and benefit the often non-linear nature of public service relationships.

However, the briefing continues, the SuperCloud is about much more than tech: it is essentially a massive change programme. And naturally, such major initiatives require joined-up thinking – as the briefing puts it: “Jackson warns that SuperCloud will only succeed if there is alignment in leadership, behaviours, strategy and technology planning”. 

For the part of central government departments, devolved governments and administrations, the briefing points to a notable, recent blog from the Government Digital Service, which says that following consultation through its Technology Leaders Network, “we could just use the internet. For the vast majority of the work that the public sector does, the internet is ok.”1

But is just ‘ok’ adequate? In reviewing the work of LGfL and its SuperCloud, Socitm’s observation is that there are many reasonable, and even practical, ways forward to build some kind of federation of networks to best serve the many diverse and complicated needs of public services of all kinds.
Socitm Head of Research Andy Hopkirk notes that such a plan could emerge by accident or by design: “All of those who would advocate ‘design’ need to be getting together to work out the details of that design.

“Decision-making leaders networks that are not inclusive of all the parties involved are self-limiting and only ever going to be partially useful in designing the grand scheme of things. Better to be wholly inclusive instead, else important suggestions and caveats only known to the excluded may remain hidden until too late in the day.

“And design and implementation take time, yet needs for better and transformed services are with us right now. So we also need to be immediately proactive and make the very best of what we have in hand or near so – this would be ‘emergence by accident’, in effect.

“Initiatives such as the SuperCloud advocated by Jackson could be part of that very near-term mix, and best built with an eye towards their inevitable incorporation into their successors.

“We need to be intelligent enough to make a good blend of several opportunistically-managed accidents and wide-scope design. That’s a cross-sectoral leadership challenge.”

 

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