Warwickshire County Council's move to the cloud

Warwickshire County Council CIO Tonino Ciuffini talks about why moving to an on-demand services model is the best way for councils to slash costs.

Tonino Ciuffini, CIO at Warwickshire County Council, talks to Computer Weekly about his work on the government's G-Cloud programme and why moving to an on-demand services model for IT is the best way for councils to slash costs.

 “We’ve got to make 30% of cuts and the only way to deliver that is through the cloud,” says Tonino Ciuffini (pictured), CIO at Warwickshire County Council (WCC).

Warwickshire is one of half a dozen foundation delivery partners working on the government’s G-cloud programme to set the public sector’s accreditation and procurement route for the cloud. The council recently signed a pilot with Google to provide email services, in a move it expects will save around £250,000 per year in licensing costs. “It’s not about building an infrastructure but using what already exists,” says Ciuffini.

The council currently has 150 people on its e-mail pilot, which will eventually be rolled out to 4,500 staff. WCC is hoping to sign a deal with Google in February when the government releases its cloud framework.

“This is not just about changing our e-mail provider, but better flexible working and systems for staff.  We want to give them access to Google from any device, putting IT consumerisation into practice. With this system sharing information becomes easier, staff can just hit the share button with Google Docs enabling much greater online collaboration,” he says.

Some councils have raised concerns that under the government’s Code of Connections policy public sector staff are unable to use home devices to log into e-mails. But Ciuffini says using a Google e-mail account enables home working because staff are not connecting to the government’s intranet and so are able to use a greater range of devices.

However, not all office tools will move to Google Docs and Ciuffini is taking a pragmatic approach to cloud deployment. “Accountants will always want to use Excel. So we are operating the 80-20 rule in the roll-out,” he says.

Going to market

When choosing a supplier to pilot the scheme, the council looked at three private and public cloud options, including Microsoft Office 365, Google and IBM, Cable and Wireless with Exchange, SCC with Exchange, and open source offering Zimbra via supplier Savvis.

All providers could have offered something suitable but WCC chose Google because it was the most cost-effective option. “The private cloud options were significantly more expensive for e-mail services - double the public cloud, and more expensive than our in-house e-mail,” says Ciuffini.

Google is able to provide security protection to Impact Level 2 - the security level required for information not deemed compromising to the workings of government if leaked. Around 95% of the council’s e-mails do not need to be secured to a higher level, he says.

For the 5% of emails which require a greater level security, WCC will see if Google is able to get accredited to Impact Level 3, as the Cabinet Office revises its security levels on the Government Protective Marking System later this year. The private cloud could also offer a solution, but educating staff about information usage will also be key. “In many cases this could just involve making staff more aware of how they use information,” he says.

But the move to cloud is not without its downsides. “With this model we will have what Google give us - we will get upgrades when Google decides and we will no longer be a unique customer, such as having the council’s crest on e-mails, for example. These are things we must accept,” says Ciuffini.

The future of the cloud

The estimated £250,000 in savings is just the beginning in driving through efficiencies, says Ciuffini. Further savings will be made through the use of Google’s video conferencing facilities, for example.

Ciuffini believes a joint system between councils could be powered through the cloud, and says the council will be looking at a range of systems over the next year.  At least half of its IT will be delivered through the cloud in the long-term, with a private cloud used for areas which require greater levels of security such as social care, he says.

“Cloud is the ultimate shared service, as procurement and service management costs decreases with the more organisations using those services,” he says.

Ciuffini is confident that Warwickshire is at the beginning of the journey to widespread uptake of cloud services across the public sector. “More councils will get on board when they see how easy procuring services such as e-mail through the cloud are, he says. “If you can stand it up, other people will follow. And I really believe we can.”

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