Darren Watkins, Managing Director of VIRTUS Data Centres explains his thoughts on overcoming the obstacles to digital transformation
In the UK, there is an increasing number of government transformation programmes underway, designed to manage the introduction of new technology and associated changes. Whether it’s an online portal for tax returns, chatbot apps for customer interactions or large-scale smart city services, technology is now a vital part of public life. Today, there are at least 19 such digital transformation programmes in operation, together costing the taxpayer almost £38 billion.
Despite the UK Government’s clear commitment to using technology to improve services and save money, it’s accepted that squeezed public sector budgets and complex requirements make adopting digital technologies on a large-scale difficult. Compounding the complexity in this highly regulated world, any tech initiative must be trusted, secure and reliable.
However, whilst the government recognises that digital transformation programmes are “extremely challenging” (1) the risks in not transforming are also significant, jeopardising the future quality, value for money, relevance and quality of public services.
A smarter approach
Digital transformation is necessarily complex and high-risk. However, many reports (2) show that the UK is still at the early stages of its digital journey, where the primary aims are to cut costs and make savings, rather than to embrace the truly transformative potential of digital disruption.
At the moment, there is a focus on discrete initiatives, such as a move to more digital communications with the public, or workplace programmes that aim to provide government workers with digital skills. What’s needed is a broader strategy that harnesses the power of technology to provide for all in an inclusive, accessible and sustainable way – it’s here that the “smart city” approach comes in.
There are a range of definitions of a smart city, but the consensus is that smart cities use IoT sensors, actuators, and technology to connect components across the city. This connects every layer of a city, from the air to the street to the underground. It’s when you can derive data from everything that is connected and employ it to improve the lives of and communication between citizens and the government that a city becomes truly smart.
In Helsinki’s Smart Kalasatama district, for example, connected applications take centre stage. Its residents are the initiators and testers of new technology and smart services – and the local authority reports that it wants to become so efficient that its residents gain one hour of extra time per day. Smart projects in the district include parking places with car charging facilities, as well as automated waste collection systems that reduce the traffic of garbage trucks by up to 90%. Added to this, the municipality is embracing smart grids and real-time energy monitoring pilots that aim for a 15% reduction in energy usage, and apps that plan the most efficient traffic routes with any type of transportation method.
Businesses too are benefiting from a smart city environment, seeing greater efficiency in their operations and ultimately better service to customers. Improved traffic management, for example, with better supply chain and logistics for online retailers, whilst smart lighting may improve footfall around physical shopping centres, boosting sales for local businesses.
Getting the basics right
A broad and collaborative approach to smart living is vital to public sector digital transformation, but truly transforming government through the power of digital technologies will be a journey and schemes like those in Helsinki and beyond are only possible when the IT Infrastructure is in place to support them.
Digital infrastructures must be able to physically link dispersed machines and sensors, so they can exchange information in real-time – and to tap into the potential value of big data, interconnections between people and applications, data, content clouds, and networking needs to be seamless.
Being able to store data effectively and access and interpret it as meaningful, actionable information, is vitally important to organisations across the board. It will bring huge advantages to the institutions that do it well. However, the implications of not getting it right are significant. Failures in the network could result in transport systems being shut down, power outages and a huge disruption to citizens.
The right infrastructure to support the demands of technology- powered living means lots of connectivity, storage and computing power, and this is facilitated by the data centre.
When it comes to getting the data centre strategy right, government departments and local authorities have significant challenges to overcome. Most will have to mix the old and the new – dealing with legacy infrastructure as well as creating new facilities. For some, this might mean that traditional “core” connectivity hubs will have to work alongside smaller data centres optimised for edge computing. As more and more applications are required to service immediate engagement – such as media streaming or payments – data centres must be placed correctly for this type of need too.
Ultimately the extensive nature of digital transformation needs something beyond a company or government department’s in-house storage capabilities, and this presents significant opportunities for data centre providers to help. Already we are seeing many government departments and wider organisations are turning to third-party IT suppliers to help them navigate their data centre strategies – engaging with colocation facilities that provide the best in interconnectivity, flexibility and scalability – and this is a trend which looks set to continue and grow.
So, for any wide-scale digital transformation to succeed, it’s vital to start with getting the basics right – ensuring the impact of new technologies on infrastructure is managed.
Digitally savvy public sector organisations must look at the infrastructure. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that as our UK cities grow, whether they thrive and deliver a good quality of life to millions of citizens is down to the IT backbone that underpins them.
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