A growing number of councils are moving their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions to the cloud, with many more planning their move. I am a firm believer that cloud technology will significantly improve council’s connection to the community as well as the long-term sustainability of councils. I also believe that while there are many benefits to embracing cloud, there are pitfalls to watch out for as well.
Councils face a number of challenges not experienced by commercial businesses in getting full benefit from going to the cloud. Namely the complexity of council business, the geographical spread of local government, the way current systems have been built, and the expectations of councils (and community).
Old software not performing in a cloud environment
There is a deeper problem however, which is that most solutions in the Local Government ERP market are not native cloud solutions. They are 20+ year old software applications that have been modified to be hosted on virtual infrastructure but, with most of their development done well before the cloud was created, they fundamentally fail to deliver the key capabilities that make cloud great. They are not architected for low bandwidth, open integration, or true elasticity for high resource processes. These are the tangible benefits that a native cloud application delivers, creating the framework for a true Smart City ecosystem. The catch is, they are only fully realised when the solution is crafted using designs, technology and componentry built for the cloud.
Unpleasant performance and cost surprises
Solutions that are not native cloud can help to reduce the council’s on-premise infrastructure footprint, but that often doesn’t lead to any overall savings. A common example of this is bandwidth capacity – a “fake cloud” solution can create indirect costs for councils through requiring network upgrades. If the council is regional, the cost to increase bandwidth can be astronomical. We are aware of several councils that implemented “fake cloud” solutions and, after experiencing significant performance problems post go-live, were forced to increase bandwidth to make the solution workable, creating a significant unbudgeted extra cost!
A substandard user experience
Another potential issue can be the impact on the User Experience (UX) when a solution designed for on-premise deployment is shifted to the cloud. User Interface (UI) design for browser delivered apps is very different from old school forms-based software, and simply shifting existing UI design to cloud delivery can go against standard web UX design paradigms.
Simply put, the software can be difficult to use, or at least, not very intuitive. This may lead to staff disengagement with the software, and consequent loss of productivity for the council. This can often more than offset the infrastructure savings
The cloud doesn’t lock you in
My belief is that councils need to understand what they are getting into and ensure they are going to get the value of a true Software as a Service (SaaS) solution before locking themselves into any long-term contracts. If a solution is truly native cloud, it will be open and usable, allowing the council to try out data entry, processing, printing, and most importantly to get a feel for the organisational change opportunities that it will enable.
Open standards and connected systems
Another key aspect of native cloud technology and design is “openness”. Native cloud enables and encourages simple, quick integration. It provides the framework for creating ecosystems that will allow councils to quickly and easily adopt new software and technologies such as Internet of Things (IOT) devices and sensors. This supports data-based decision making and encourages innovation and growth in a community.
Open design also gives councils the ability to use specialist software of their choice rather than be shoehorned into more generic software packages that try to be all things to all people. “Fake cloud” doesn’t provide this capability, so companies that push old solutions that will often try to sell everything pre-bundled because they find integration difficult when not in their hosted environment.
Cloud solutions for councils - worth the wait
I believe that the long term benefits councils can extract from native cloud solutions far outweigh any advertised quick wins from shifting a ‘designed for on premise’ ERP onto hosted infrastructure. This is key because, in the end, the application hasn’t fundamentally changed – it is still the same architecture with all the same constraints and challenges.
Councils need to be patient, as native cloud is very new, and the complexity of ERP solutions means they take time to build. If you want to invest for solutions that will realise the full benefits of the cloud, and not just the quick reduction of infrastructure cost, look for native cloud solutions. They use less bandwidth, create an open software ecosystem, and provide a great experience for the user without being locked in to a long-term contract
The benefits of native cloud far exceed that of on premise solutions, so if you are moving to the cloud, make sure you know how it was architected in order to realise the benefits of this paradigm shift.