If they want large-scale digital transformation to succeed, public sector organisations must look at their infrastructure, says Darren Watkins, VIRTUS Data Centres.
With so many inspiring examples of smart city applications across the globe, it’s perhaps disheartening that many view the UK public sector as being slow in its digital transformation efforts.
Indeed, 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 – especially in a highly regulated world, any tech initiative must be trusted, secure and reliable.
However, while the government itself recognises that digital transformation programmes are “extremely challenging’, the risks of not transforming are also significant, jeopardising the future quality, value for money and relevance of public services.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many reports 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.
Currently, there is a focus on discrete initiatives, such as a move to more digital communications with the public, or workplace programmes which aim to provide government workers with digital skills. But what’s needed is a broader strategy which harnesses the power of technology to provide for all – in an inclusive, accessible and sustainable way.
For this, inspiration can be taken from recognised smart city successes.
In Helsinki’s Smart Kalasatama district, connected applications take centre-stage.
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 per cent.
Added to this, the municipality is embracing smart grids and real-time energy monitoring pilots that aim for a 15 per cent reduction in energy usage, and apps that plan the most efficient traffic routes with any type of transportation method.
Businesses in the region are benefiting too from a smart city environment, seeing greater efficiency in their operations and ultimately better service to customers. Improved traffic management in the district is making supply chain and logistics better for online retailers, while smart lighting improves footfall around physical shopping centres, boosting sales for local businesses.
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 being able to access and interpret it as meaningful, actionable information, is vitally important to organisations across the board – and will give a huge advantage 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 huge disruption to citizens.
All this means that it’s crucial that public sector organisations have the right infrastructure in place to support the demands of technology-powered living. A huge amount of connectivity, storage and computing power is required – and this is facilitated by the data centre.
The extensive nature of digital transformation needs something beyond a company or Government department’s in-house storage capabilities.
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. And, as more and more applications are required to service immediate engagement – such as media streaming or payments – data centres must also be placed correctly for this type of need.
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. Multi-tenant colocation facilities have been cornerstones of the Internet economy since the 1990s and will continue to be important as we enter into the age of the smart, tech-powered megacity environment, providing the best in interconnectivity, flexibility and scalability.
High Performance Computing (HPC) will also likely power smart city applications as it presents a compelling way to address the challenges presented by the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data and data centre managers will continue to adopt high-density innovation strategies in order to maximise productivity and efficiency, increase available power density and the physical footprint computing power of the data centres –vital in power heavy big data application.
For any wide-scale digital transformation to succeed, it’s essential to start with getting the basics right. Digitally savvy public sector organisations must look at the infrastructure. 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.