Less than three per cent of IT spending among councils last year was on cloud technology, according to CRN research, which shows authorities are splashing most of their cash on on-premise kit.
CRN sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 435 UK local authorities in June and received replies from 113 within the four-week period within which they are obliged to respond.
In total, 45 per cent of those councils said they spent some money on cloud in the 2014/15 fiscal year. Another 34 per cent did not spend a penny on cloud over the same period, and the remaining 21 per cent did not provide a breakdown.
Although it appears more councils use cloud than don't, the amount spent on the technology was minimal.
In total, the councils which responded and provided a breakdown of their cloud vs on-premise spending spent £261m on IT in FY14/15. The vast majority of that spend (75 per cent) went on on-premise kit, with the bill for the technology reaching £197.4m. Less than three per cent (2.9 per cent) went on cloud technology, after councils spent just £7.7m on it. The remaining portion of spending went on "other" expenditure relating to IT, such as staff costs.
The revelation that such a small slice of councils' spending is on cloud has been branded "disappointing" by the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF).
"What's stopping people [in the public sector] adopting cloud in the same way people are doing so in the private sector quite dramatically?" said its chairman for industry standards Ian Osborne. "There is a question to be asked there. Is this money being wisely spent? What is stopping the sharing of these cloud services [across councils]? I am slightly puzzled as to why there isn't more sharing, particularly when they are being asked to reduce their budgets so much.
"It's a bit disappointing... that we haven't seen more economies of scale in local councils."
The council which spent the biggest portion of its budget on cloud was Renfrewshire. The Scottish authority spent £1.2m on IT in total in FY14/15, 21 per cent of which went on cloud tech. But councils that spent more than 10 per cent of their IT budgets on cloud accounted for just 14 per cent of those councils that provided us with the data. Nearly half – 47 per cent – of those spent up to just two per cent of their budgets on cloud technology.
Promoting cloud services in the public sector has been a government priority over the past few years, with frameworks such as G-Cloud being set up to encourage adoption. Just yesterday, the government issued a progress report on the Digital Marketplace, which is home to G-Cloud, and said more local and central authorities than ever have signed up for government buyer accounts since March.
CIF's Osborne said there is no reason why councils – and the wider public sector – should snub cloud.
"The challenge is the change in buying behaviour as much as anything else," he told CRN. "There are lots of services, lots of capacity and lots of capability so after the first year or two, there's a substantial amount of government-accredited storage capability too. So there is not much excuse for not adopting [cloud] services."
CRN asked the authorities to provide the same data on their cloud vs on-premise spending for the 2013/14 fiscal year as a comparison. Cloud technology accounted for just over one per cent of the IT budgets of those which responded in FY13/14, signalling an annual boost – albeit a small one – in popularity of cloud services among councils last year.
Osborne said behaviour change is necessary for the figure to rise any further.
"I think the problem is the change of behaviour required," he said. "It has often been the case in central government that it's easier to do something with the incumbent systems integrator than it is to get a quote and do it in the CloudStore [government cloud catalogue]. That behaviour is slowly changing. The amount of money [spent on cloud] is going up, but it is still modest compared with the scale of the IT budget."
In a statement, the Cabinet Office said: "G-Cloud framework spend hit a record £639m in May 2015. [The] use of the Digital Marketplace from both central and local government is increasing. We have an engagement plan in place to increase awareness of the Digital Marketplace and we'll be providing greater help and advice to central government departments and the wider public sector."
Public vs private
Eurocloud board member Ian Moyse said there is a notable difference in cloud uptake between private customers and those in the public sector
"These results show what is likely to be a lethargy and resistance, [which is] often led by lack of understanding and fears around data privacy and security issues, which are the top two worries of cloud adoption in all surveys that appea," he said.
"Tactically, IT people often resist cloud [due to] fear of change, the perceived impact on their roles and a need to re-skill. It feels easier to do it the way you always did. In the commercial world, take that attitude and you could quickly be displaced and surpassed by a new competitor - take Blockbuster replaced by Netflix and Lovefilm.
"Cloud poses a disruptive threat to the status quo, giving the end customer more commercial, technology and skills flexibility to achieve a more agile and less-locked-in IT environment, which is how it should be. In reality, behind closed doors, these are all things the traditional incumbent IT influencer may not be so keen for councils to achieve."
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