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 cloud technology will significantly improve a council’s connection to the community and its long-term sustainability. I also believe while there are many benefits to embracing cloud, there are pitfalls to watch out for as well.  

Unlike commercial businesses, councils face a number of challenges when moving to the cloud, including handling 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 – most solutions in the local government ERP market are not native cloud solutions. Software applications can be more than 20 years old and modified to be hosted on virtual infrastructure. But, with most of the development done well before the cloud was created, these solutions fundamentally fail to deliver the key capabilities that make the 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 truly smart city ecosystem. The catch is these solutions are only fully realised when they are crafted using design, technology, and componentry built for the cloud. 

Unpleasant performance and cost surprises 

Non-native cloud solutions help to reduce a 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 by requiring network upgrades. If the council is regional, the cost to increase bandwidth can be astronomical. I am aware of several councils who have 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 

User experience (UX) may also be affected 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. 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 any infrastructure savings.

The cloud doesn’t lock you in 

I believe councils need to understand what they are getting into to 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 and quick integration. It provides the framework for creating ecosystems which 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 which try to be all things to all people. “Fake cloud” doesn’t provide this capability, so companies who push old solutions will often try to sell everything pre-bundled because they find integration difficult when it is not in their hosted environment. 

Cloud solutions for councils – worth the wait 

I believe 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 the complexity of ERP solutions means it takes time to build. If you want to invest in solutions that will provide you with 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 into a long-term contract 

The benefits of a native cloud far exceed that of on-premise solutions. If you're moving to the cloud, make sure you know how it was architected in order to realise the benefits of this paradigm shift.

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