Socitm keen on SuperCloud’s public sector transformation potential
Briefing note argues “emerging exemplars and unrelenting austerity” can help drive creation of a SuperCloud that extends beyond education to embrace public sector as a whole
A report into the London Grid for Learning’s (LGfL) innovative SuperCloud development has painted a positive picture of the initiative’s nationwide reach and its potential public sector impact.
SuperCloud is a dedicated fibre infrastructure that is one of the largest educational and public sector networks in the world, with, its proponents say, the scale to provide secure services to schools and the rest of the public sector, and at the same time, underpin next generation cloud services.
Although public sector technology and digital leaders group Socitm described the underlying technology of SuperCloud as impressive in its scale and reach, it was most positive about its infrastructure could mean for citizens.
The briefing says, “What sets this infrastructure apart is the imaginative and innovative vision of what the public sector can do with the technological infrastructure for the benefit of citizens, and to reduce financial pressures and bureaucratic overload on its client organisations. Readers ought not to dismiss this as yet another London-centric initiative: its reach is nationwide with a growing and expanding customer base.”
The briefing refers to the vision of LGfL chief executive John Jackson of the delivery of a SuperCloud that extends far beyond the education community to embrace the public sector as a whole.
LGfL first started in 2001, working with the education community with the aim of driving up teaching and learning to deliver improved achievement outcomes through the effective use of technology. It is actually a charitable trust under the governance of local authorities.
LGfL’s client base now extends to more than 3,000 schools, academies and councils of more than 60 local authority areas with Liverpool City Council, Sandwell MBC’s School Improvement Service and academy chains some of its recent customers.
Socitm's briefing explains that for schools, the LGfL SuperCloud provides authenticated users with a secure filtered broadband connection complemented by a wide range of associated safeguarding and communication services, as well as online content processing a billion URLs every day. In the latest admissions round, 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 ParentComms.
Beyond schools, LGfL also delivers access to the Public Services Network (PSN), the Further Education network JANET, NHS N3 and national government departments. As it provides its own dedicated core network, it can control and manage contention rates and access as well as delivering public, hybrid and private cloud. There are also discussions underway to deliver a 4G overlay onto the fixed network to make secure cloud services available, including filtering, on demand, to any connected device, at any location.
Discussing how SuperCloud has the potential to transform the public sector, Socitm’s briefing points out that Jackson, who before joining LGfL was chief information officer at the London Borough of Camden , “has no wish to join the ‘gold rush’ to commoditise ICT.”
Although the SuperCloud follows the path led by other service aggregators in making it easy to access servers, storage, and commonly configured apps, the real ambition for cloud is to rewire government and its relationship with citizens. Cloud, in Jackson’s view, says Socitm, is about enabling the public sector to do things that it either could not, or would otherwise find difficult to do.
Jackson has spoken with Government Computing previously about how digital innovation and cloud-enabled transformation can help the sector save at least a billion pounds a year and boost growth through service redesign, business process automation and breakthrough collaboration. Potential areas are: integrated care across sectors; sharing and aggregating services; seamless, joined up customer transactions; and effective multi-disciplinary teams using the connectivity provided by a public sector SuperCloud.
“At LGfL we have realised we have an asset that should be applied more broadly in London as an ‘aggregator’ not just cost because of our scale, but also because of the connectivity our network offers”, Jackson says. Connecting people is congruent with Socitm’s mantra of Simplify - Standardise - Share, the public sector technology leaders group says.One suggestion is that with the NHS N3 network in London due for contract renewal, by using the LGfL SuperCloud the NHS could reap the economies of scale and more importantly, avoid the costs and risks associated with building another regional network.
A cross-sector SuperCloud would also enable one of the new services that Jackson believes will emerge soon, Socitm says. The various parts of the public sector between them have huge information resources that can be trawled for patterns and trends, helping match scarce resources to demand.
Rather than having lots of disjointed systems and fragmented data, Socitm points out Jackson's belief that cloud could enable data aggregation and access to common platforms at a scale that delivers major benefit. For example, an integrated bed booking and availability service could be made available securely for London as a cloud service that would free up the precious time of professionals, particularly as NHS resources are so severely stretched.
In developing joined-up thinking, Jackson has acknowledged the leadership role of Nick Roberts, formerly head of ICT at the London Borough of Croydon and now deputy director of digital services at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Roberts is a former Socitm president.
Anti-fraud and AI
According to Socitm’s briefing, the pan-London anti-fraud initiative as an example of how new, cloud-based platforms can transform the public sector. Socitm says, “London has taken an ambitious decision to buy into a payment-by-results cloud service for fraud rather than purchase an IT system that simply pools data across local authorities and other sectors. Cloud-based data aggregation facilitates the application of advanced analytics which in turn enable the identification of complex and otherwise difficult to spot frauds such as cartel activity. Efficiencies from this new cloud and data aggregation services could amount to well over £100m."
The briefing also points to the potential of introducing artificial intelligence (AI) into the SuperCloud. “This could create a ‘conversation as a platform’ within a public service environment, providing non-linear relationships – he (Jackson) sees sharing through a workflow engine as a strictly linear kind of relationship. He cites the London Borough of Enfield’s automated call centre as an example of an existing facility that could be built upon and provisioned through a cloud service.”
In summary, Socitm argues that SuperCloud is more than simply technology. “The SuperCloud is really a massive change programme. Jackson warns that SuperCloud will only succeed if there is alignment in leadership, behaviours, strategy and technology planning. He believes we won’t deliver billion-pound savings or better outcomes unless political will and executive decision makers drive aggregation and the move to cloud," the briefing states.
Five years ago SuperCloud would be impossible, Socitm add. But, it goes on, "Jackson believes that the emerging exemplars and unrelenting austerity now make it possible, and arguably a necessity, to build something like a SuperCloud that extends far beyond the education community to embrace the public sector as a whole. At this point, however, to experience a welcome embrace, we’d have to note that the aims and aspirations of the other major groupings in that wider public sector community have to be successfully incorporated too."
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. Such could emerge by accident or design, but which is it to be?," it asks.
“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 will not be uncovered 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 successor(s). 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,” it concludes.