IT — 5 May 2016

Take control – how the public sector can embrace change and thrive

The cloud is here; and there’s a very good chance workers inside your local authority have already adopted it.

Dropbox usage across the UK government has doubled since 2014. And if we dig a little deeper into our data we see 1 in 3 local authorities have employees using Dropbox inside the workplace right now.

That’s just Dropbox.

“It doesn’t surprise me in the least”, Jos Creese told me – an independent digital consultant and ex-public sector CIO that we met at last month’s SOCITM Conference. “Certainly the evidence I see is that if you go into these organisations and start asking staff if they’re using some of these cloud based apps, the answer is always ‘yes’. The central IT department might not know about it but I always advise them to wake up to the fact it will be happening in their organisation. It’s the way things are heading.”

Large-scale digital transformation is a tough job for any business, but in the public sector, perhaps, the stakes are a little higher.

However, the benefits of adopting the right solution are transformative in themselves. We’re all aware of the advantages of cloud, but that’s not the issue, is it? For many organisations we talk to, it’s getting there that’s the tricky bit.

What we say is that going with the consensus – adopting a popular tool, that users are already familiar with – can save you half the battle. With tight budgets and a focus on spend, buying into the right solution is essential – so opting for a tool with a long deployment date and low adoption is risky. If people within your organisation are already using a product, why waste the money on something new?

And it’s not a new subject; outside adoption is something many businesses are discussing right now. As are many journalists, including the Financial Times, whose recent article on workplace adoption used Expedia as an example of IT leaders embracing services like Dropbox.

Adrian Hancock is the CEO of SOCITM. He told me, “There is no doubt that Shadow IT is happening all the time in our members’ organisations. Our experience shows us that people, being people, find a way around things and every member of staff now has the technology in their hands to do that – so if something works, they’ll do it. The trouble is, Shadow IT practises are risky because it’s unmanaged, maverick.”

So if it’s happening anyway, what’s the next best step? As we see it, there are three options:

  1. You attempt to block it – Lots of CTOs we spoke at the conference told us that Dropbox was blocked within their office, and therefore it wasn’t an issue. The trouble is, comprehensively shutting down use of a cloud service just isn’t possible. And if users can’t access shared links and files at work, they’ll do it at home. Disallowing use or blocking a service is what forces users to take data outside the workplace.
  2. You embrace it –The alternative is to look at what’s already working for staff, and adopt it. Buy into the enterprise version (don’t judge a service on the limitations of the consumer model – enterprise solutions will be full of enhanced function and opportunity), bring it in house and secure. You’ll find adoption levels soar and the usability is there right from launch. Investment in adopting Shadow IT products can be a very savvy financial decision.
  3. You control it – If your organisation isn’t ready to take that purchasing step just yet, there is a safer, more secure, middle ground. This is all about control: allowing employees to use their own resources but legitimising it – providing comprehensive training, support and guidelines. Provide users with the digital literacy they need to operate securely and reduce risk.

Jos Creese has this advice. “The preferable way forward is to research what’s being used in your business and be honest with staff. Trying to block cloud services, even if possible, just makes the IT team seem like a barrier, not an enabler, and too much time is spent policing the technology estate. Employees need to know it is their personal responsibility to protect corporate data, not for IT to stop them doing something silly.”

“It is better to educate your IT users about the risks of free cloud services, so they use them with caution, and also to market the benefits and reasons for using corporate cloud versions, such as Dropbox for Enterprise. Otherwise you may push employee cloud use underground, with the risk of losing control of your information assets. But that requires a cloud policy and a redrafted IT architecture, with rules around which types of data can be moved between which services.”

“The role of IT has changed. It’s not just about dictating or providing solutions. Now, the IT department needs to focus on employee digital literacy to use the mix of public and private cloud services on offer wisely, providing guidance and support when needed.”

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