Local authority cloud adoption report ‘misleading’, say experts

Sandra Vogel

5 Jul, 2018

Local government is strapped for cash. Across the UK local authorities are shedding staff and cutting services, and perhaps at times like these, investment is the last thing on their minds.

But clever investment can reap rewards, as cloud services can increase efficiency and improve public access to information. It’s also an essential component of anything falling under the heading of ‘smart cities’, and smart city initiatives themselves can save local government money while creating infrastructure and services fit for the 21st Century.

So, what’s stopping local authorities from doing more with cloud, and why should those who are lagging behind think again about their reluctance?

Whatever happened to Cloud First?

Back in 2013, the Government introduced its Cloud First policy. This is based around a very clear statement that any new project should consider cloud first and foremost above all other solutions.

“When procuring new or existing services, public sector organisations should consider and fully evaluate potential cloud solutions first before considering any other option,” the policy states. “This approach is mandatory for central government and strongly recommended to the wider public sector.”

A recent Citrix report suggests progress towards a ‘cloud first’ policy is painfully slow, with 80% of councils still using on-premise infrastructure, either in isolation or together with a cloud service, to access and manage citizen data. Despite this, 75% of authorities said they were planning on investing in cloud over the next 12 months.

But that’s not the full picture. The research was based on a Freedom of Information request sent to 80 local authorities across the UK, 50% of which responded. According to the Local Government Association, there are 418 unitary, upper and second tier councils in the UK, and, an LGA spokesperson told us that the FOI requests “represent only a tenth of local authorities across England and Wales” and that the research omits the fact that “various council departments have a statutory duty to use specific IT systems in order to carry out their functions”.

An example of this can be found in adult social care where councils still use NHS Mail and N3, a private broadband network currently being phase out in favour of the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), to share patient data with the NHS.

However, Georgina Maratheftis, programme manager for Local Government at techUK, maintains that while “there are lots of councils across the UK that are realising the benefits of adoption and using cloud services within their organisations,” but that “there are a lot more that are not and should be looking to move to the cloud”.

So what’s the problem?

There is no one single reason that some councils aren’t getting on board with cloud, but there are some fundamentals that can stand in the way of a transformation, and, indeed, of even thinking ‘cloud first’.

Maratheftis suggests there’s “difficulties in gaining the buy-in of senior leadership to see and understand the long and short-term benefits of cloud”, and that many become overly fixated on concerns around the change of working culture or overcoming the skills and capability barriers as a result of moving to new technology.

Ingrid Koehler, service Innovation lead at the Local Government Information Unit, a London-based think tank and charity, argues that authorities should be forgiven for being a little sheepish.

“Local government is naturally risk-averse and even in good times may hesitate to innovate for perfectly rational reasons,” says Koehler. “In times where finance is pressured, it can be even harder to invest in change and transformation even where savings can be calculated.”

Crashing through the barriers

With the Cloud First strategy entering its fifth year, it’s about time these barriers were overcome.

Operating through disparate systems is much less likely to afford councils a ‘single view’ of citizen data, making it tricky to provide joined-up services. Cloud services can combine both internal and public facing elements, such as helping to streamline both internal bureaucracy and public access to information.

“Local government needs to transform and use digital as a tool to both support transformation and shift thinking about how we can work with citizens and service users in a more agile way,” says Koehler.

Intranets can be revolutionised, document collaboration finally removed from the clutches of clunky email shares, and even things as apparently dull as room booking can be transformed through access to cross-council, multi-site cloud systems.

Importantly, these possibilities can reduce the internal administration burden, which in itself frees up resources and money that could otherwise be used on other areas of councils’ remit. That’s essential given the estimated £5.8 billion funding gap that local authorities are expected to have to deal with over the next decade.

“The more progressive councils will see cloud as an opportunity to reimagine how future services can be delivered,” says techUK’s Maratheftis, “as well as gain value in reducing demand on services, improving efficiencies and enhancing the customer experience.”

However, with the Cloud First strategy clearly having minimal impact, a change in culture may require more heavy-handed intervention from central government.

Image: Shutterstock

Puppet secures $42 million in series F funding to help with automation push

Software delivery and automation provider Puppet has raised $42 million (£31.9m) in series F funding to complement its recent expansion.

The round, which was led by Cisco Investments, alongside EDBI, Kleiner Perkins, True Ventures and VMware, comes only a few weeks after Puppet announced the acquisition of Reflect, a company which provides data visualisation as a service. Total funding for the company now stands at $149.5 million across seven rounds in total.

Puppet certainly has reasons to be bullish about its scope. According to the company’s 2017 DevOps report, 66% of DevOps engineers and 69% of software engineers polled in the US get paid more than $100,000 per year, with the overarching message being that enterprises are getting to grips with new ways of delivering IT services and software.

It is evidently this route of giving users insights to deliver better services – whether it’s through data visualisation, as in the Reflect acquisition, or otherwise – driving Puppet’s recent gains. The company cited Gartner figures from earlier this year which argue that by 2020, 90% of the top 100 global companies will be using DevOps practices to significantly cut operational inefficiencies.

“Our rapid growth and international expansion is a testament to the rising demand for DevOps transformation, software automation and the pressing need for enterprises to navigate the new world of software delivery,” said Sanjay Mirchandani, CEO of Puppet. “That’s why we’ve been so focused on expanding our product portfolio – to empower customers to discover, deliver and operate software across their cloud and containerised environments.”

The company opened five new offices over the past year, in Seattle, Singapore, Sydney, Timisoara and Tokyo. When this publication focused on Puppet in May last year, the first three were in the pipeline, with the company saying there was ‘global momentum’ in its results.

SD-WAN: It’s time to become the master of your network

He-Man may have been a master of the universe, but us mere mortals may have to set our goals slightly lower. For many network managers, the network is their own mini universe, but unfortunately, they often don’t have the control or visibility over it that they would like.

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) has been identified by some as the solution to this problem, solving businesses’ digital transformation and legacy infrastructure woes. But it is important that this, like any hyped B2B technology, doesn’t attempt to be a silver bullet solution to these complex issues. Prince Adam used the “Power of Grayskull” to transform into He-Man, but sadly the business world is a bit more nuanced.

For me, SD-WAN is really about the agility and flexibility that application level control of the network enables. Today’s IT managers demand control and visibility for good reason. With many businesses embarking on digital transformation strategies, it is crucial to have real-time actionable insight into network performance, and the adaptability to support the future demands that users will place on the network. Without this, poor performance or even outages could arise and you risk losing the customer loyalty that you’ve worked so hard to build up.

The race towards digital transformation

He-Man was known for his great speed and strength, but he would defend with his intellect and strategy. Businesses across all sectors are committing to fast-developing digital strategies to enable a more engaging and positive customer experience, but need to support these broad objectives with the finer details that will enable long term success.

Perhaps the most crucial of all these details is the network. In the case of many network managers, legacy technology is holding back their organisation from their digital transformation goals. Yes, a lack of skills and a resistance to change at board level can also lead to a digital transformation roadblock, but so many businesses are embarking on bold digital strategies with a network that just isn’t fit for the modern day.

Connecting your application “islands”

By simply embarking on a digital strategy without the right network to support it, you’re essentially building intelligent “islands” that communicate with each other in a very rudimentary manner. To work towards real success in digital transformation, the network must be a central component of the whole process, not just an afterthought. Replacing legacy equipment and improving your mastery of the network with next-generation technologies such as SD-WAN can help businesses achieve their digital strategy goals.

At a basic level, digital transformation creates an entirely new set of applications for the network to deal with. If the network cannot differentiate between those services, then your business is essentially being held back by part of your infrastructure. Deploying application-centric networking such as SD-WAN allows you to, in effect, tune your network, allowing the priority traffic to behave the way it needs to.

Master of the universe (or maybe just your network?)

Many IT managers want more control and visibility over their networks. Currently this visibility often solely extends to a report at the end of the month detailing how much bandwidth you’ve used, or what applications have been used the most. However, this is retrospective and doesn’t give enough insight to allow you to tune your network as you go. Next-generation WAN enables reporting that tracks and analyses end-to-end application performance in real time, so the network can quickly react to any changes.

Customer complaints about slow application performance are a major and frequent problem, which means that major network improvements must be made if businesses want to improve customer experience. SD-WAN works in conjunction with next-generation applications to help them operate properly, so that the business receives the full benefit of adopting those applications in the first place.

The power of a software-defined future

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that the early adopters of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will dominate the business landscape in years to come. However, there are also intriguing use cases for processing the masses of data points produced across the network and made visible through the analytics engines that many SD-WAN solutions have inbuilt.

As a result of the application visibility and analytics capabilities of SD-WAN, some businesses are now collecting millions of pieces of information from every part of the network. When harnessed and analysed correctly, this information is invaluable when it comes to understanding the impact of new services, and monitoring the usage and performance of applications, allowing greater insight and leading the way to future automation.

Galactic Guardians: The importance of a trusted partner

A common catalyst for implementing SD-WAN is a desire to cut costs within the business. However, to view it simply as a money saving exercise is to miss the point slightly. We find that businesses that are becoming increasingly application-centric are successfully embracing SD-WAN because of the control and flexibility it gives their network.

But the transition can’t be done alone. If you are migrating existing services and existing networks from an existing service to an SD-WAN service, this requires a lot of project management and consultancy to make it a success. As part of the process, it is crucial to properly plan out what you want from it as a business, and track this with sensible metrics. A slightly inferior solution, implemented properly, will be better for you as a business than a technically superior solution implemented poorly. Therefore, selecting the right partner is all-important.

When deployed correctly and for the right reasons, SD-WAN can be your guide towards digital transformation, and in the shorter term, control over your network. However, with great power comes great responsibility; use it wisely! And watch out for Skeletor…

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Digital skills are evolving – without IT organisation engagement

While there's less commentary about the challenges of "Shadow IT" projects within the enterprise market, the underlying issues that created this phenomena are still very apparent in the workplace. Bypassing the legacy IT organization is a common practice. It's now somewhat expected.

As many IT workers develop greater technology skills and apply them to advance their careers, savvy digital workers in non-IT departments believe their CIO is out of touch with their technology needs. Less than 50 percent of workers (both IT and non-IT) believe their CIOs are aware of digital technology problems that affect them, according to the latest worldwide market study by Gartner.

The Gartner survey further revealed that European workers said that their CIO is more aware of technical challenges (58 percent) than U.S. workers believe they are (41 percent). Clearly, it's a big problem.

Ongoing indifference to legacy IT

"Non-IT workers aren't likely to use the IT help desk as their first source of assistance, and are less likely to believe in the value of their IT organization," said Whit Andrews, vice president at Gartner. "Only one in five non-IT workers would ask their IT department to supply best practices for employing technology."

The survey findings revealed that savvy millennials were less likely to approach internal IT support. About 53 percent of surveyed millennials outside the IT department said that one of their first three ways to solve a problem with digital technology would be to look for an answer on the internet.

Non-IT workers were overall more likely than IT workers to express dissatisfaction with the technologies supplied for their work. IT workers express greater satisfaction with their work devices than do workers outside IT departments.

Only 41 percent of non-IT workers felt very or completely satisfied with their work devices, compared to 59 percent of surveyed IT workers. According to the Gartner assessment, many IT departments will be more successful if they are able to provide solutions that workers say they really need or want.

IT workers feel more confident than non-IT workers at using digital technology. The survey found that 32 percent of IT workers characterized themselves as experts in the digital technologies they use in the workplace. Just 7 percent of non-IT workers felt the same.

Sixty-seven percent of non-IT workers believe that their organization does not take advantage of their digital skills. Moreover, about three in four digital workers either somewhat agree (48 percent) or strongly agree (24 percent) that the digital technology their organization provides enables them to accomplish their work.

The most common types of workplace application used by survey respondents were real-time messaging (58 percent), sharing tools (55 percent), and workplace social media (52 percent).

Generational differences are commonplace

However, huge distinctions exist in the workplace. Millennial digital workers are more inclined than older age groups are to use workplace applications and devices that are not provided by their organization — whether they're tolerated or not by the CIO.

In addition, relative to the total workforce, a larger proportion of millennials consider the applications they use in their personal lives to be more useful than those they are given at work. The survey found that 26 percent of workers between the ages of 18 and 24 use un-approved applications to collaborate with other workers, compared with just 10 percent of those aged between 55 and 74.

Given this backdrop, it's very disconcerting for a CEO that has approved the IT budget for a significant digital transformation investment. If the IT infrastructure is deemed to be inadequate to meet the needs of the workers it's intended to benefit, then this is a major setback for the incumbent CIO. It's one of the key reasons why CIOs are still at risk of being disregarded by Line of Business (LoB) leaders.

Microsoft adds post translation and QR code features to LinkedIn

Bobby Hellard

29 Jun, 2018

Microsoft’s LinkedIn unit has rolled out a new translation feature for the employment networking site that uses Microsoft’s cognitive services.

The new dynamic feature is called “See Translation” and will create immediate translations for posts on the site. LinkedIn has over 500 million users worldwide, which is almost double the number of people using Twitter.

“The need for economic opportunity is global, and that is represented by the fact that more than half of LinkedIn’s active members live outside of the U.S,” engineer Angelika Clayton and tech led Bing Zhao wrote in a blog post.

“Engagement across language barriers and borders comes with a certain set of challenges, one of which is providing a way for members to communicate in their native language. In fact, translation of member posts has been one of our most requested features, and now it’s finally here.”

See Translation incorporates three central components; language detection, machine translation and feed experience. It uses Azure Text Analytics programming interface, which can detect up to 120 languages and also the Microsoft Translator Text programming interface, which is another one of Microsoft’s cognitive services.

The Translator Text API provides the ability to customise the translation models for a certain domain, like a news feed.

LinkedIn also announced the global availability of a QR code feature, which allows users to quickly look up someone they’ve met without the need to swap business cards or contact details. Scanning other codes or uploading an image of one from your phone will take you straight to that user’s profile. The features are available in the LinkedIn iOS and Android apps.

Microsoft purchased LinkedIn in 2016 for a reported $26.2 billion but has allowed the site to largely run independently and allowed it to tap into Azure cloud services.

Pictures: Shutterstock and LinkedIn

Ensono now owns Wipro’s hosted data centres

Clare Hopping

29 Jun, 2018

Ensono has completed its acquisition of Wipro’s hosted data centre business, doubling its size and increasing its annual revenue to more than $550 million.

Ensono will use the acquisition to spread its reach in the UK and US markets, creating a new opportunity in India and launching a service in Germany. Clients will experience better support with a 24/7 support centre, more stable infrastructure and Ensono said the acquisition will speed up infrastructure innovation too.

Ensono will take on Wipro’s existing clients and with investment of $55 million from Wipro, Ensono can build upon its hybrid IT portfolio with new innovations to address demand.

“We’re proud to enter into a partnership with a company who has years of IT experience that’s able to fully meet the needs of international hosted data center clients,” said Raj Bagga, vice president of global infrastructure services at Wipro Limited. “Our combined company will bring solutions to clients across industries more quickly and at a larger scale than ever before.”

Ensono has made a number of similar acquisitions over the last three years, including Attenda in 2016 and Microsoft specialist Inframon last year.

“This acquisition is a strategic move to expand our global presence to offer clients more options and access to a larger group of talented associates that will help drive faster transformation and innovation for our clients,“ said Jeff VonDeylen, CEO of Ensono.

“Ensono’s growth over the last three years has been astounding, and this acquisition solidifies our position as a relentless ally to our clients and cements our position as a recognized global leader in hybrid IT.”

Google laments missing out on GitHub

Vaughn Highfield

28 Jun, 2018

Earlier this month Microsoft bought GitHub for a mighty $7.5 billion. Just ahead of the acquisition, rumours were floating around that Google was the one interested in snapping up GitHub, even though an offer never materialised.

Now though, it appears that Google was indeed eyeing up GitHub and one company executive is slightly miffed that the search giant missed out. As reported by Bloomberg, speaking at a Fortune Magazine event, Google’s head of cloud Diane Greene admitted that “I wouldn’t have minded buying them, but it’s okay”.

While not the salacious grovelling details you’d probably have liked to hear from a Google executive over missing out on the deal, any acknowledgement of it is interesting enough. Greene also expressed concerns about Microsoft taking control of GitHub, echoing those of many in the development community. “I really hope Microsoft can keep them totally neutral”, she said, though Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has stressed his commitment to “developer freedom, openness and innovation”.

Developers reacted to the news that Microsoft was to own the site by pronouncing the site’s death, with many upping sticks for rivals like GitLab and BitBucket.

But many also stayed, and under Nadella Microsoft has embraced open source software like longtime operating system rival Linux and the CEO has vowed that GitHub will “retain its developer-first ethos”.

It;s not the first time Google and Microsoft have reportedly been interested in the same target. Before Microsoft bought LinkedIn back in 2016, four suitors were involved in a furious bidding war for the social network platform. One of those was Microsoft, but another was Google, according to Re/code, which named another as Facebook.

Picture: Bigstock

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Jayne Groll Joins @DevOpsSUMMIT Faculty | @JayneGroll @DevOpsInst #DevOps #DigitalTransformation

The digital transformation is real! To adapt, IT professionals need to transform their own skillset to become more multi-dimensional by gaining both depth and breadth of a wide variety of knowledge and competencies. Historically, while IT has been built on a foundation of specialty (or “I” shaped) silos, the DevOps principle of “shifting left” is opening up opportunities for developers, operational staff, security and others to grow their skills portfolio, advance their careers and become “T”-shaped.

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