Municipalities: The Cloud Gains Ground
Almost a third of the municipalities already use cloud services to some extent. Though the adjustment is slow and on average the cloud services still only amounts to less than 4 percent of the municipalities’ IT budgets. According to a study from SALAR, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, every fifth municipality has no e-services at all.
That the rate of adjustment is low is inefficient. According to the Radar report IT i kommunerna 2014 (IT in the municipalities 2014), the municipalities allocate twice as much of their budgets to operations and management of their IT systems as the average in the private sector. If you see municipality IT solutions as antiquated dinosaurs you might have a field day.
A lot to integrate
“But that is quite unfair”, says Lena Rosengren at Tieto Healthcare & Welfare. She is a business operations developer, and an expert on e-services in the area called family care.
“You can’t have the same expectations of a municipality as of a private business”, she explains. “The municipalities are by rule much more complex organizations than most of the businesses in the private sector, there are lots of different IT systems that need to be integrated.”
The municipalities’ e-services can include everything from managing school timetables to building permissions or electronic forms for something completely different.
“A large part of what the municipalities themselves call e-services are still fairly undeveloped”, Lena Rosengren says. “When we at Tieto studied a number of municipalities, we often discovered “e-services” that only meant that the user should download a form from the municipality web site, print it, fill it out with a pen, send it as a letter. Then you might assume that an executing officer from the municipality have to manually enter it into the IT system again. How efficient is that?”
Pilot projects in Malmö and Sundsvall
Though some municipalities are further along. A pilot project was recently carried out within the individual and family services area in Malmö and Sundsvall. It goes to show that the municipalities can save a lot by developing their IT systems. The system is implemented and operational today, and provision e-services for social allowance and give the citizens an opportunity to follow their cases through a portal.
This leads to a decreased amount of visits and telephone calls to the municipality, since those who are in need of social allowance can check out if any decision has been made or if and when payment are to be transferred by themselves. Above all it leads to shorter handling times, which frees valuable staff time and increases the municipality citizens’ satisfaction.
“You can’t completely eliminate visitors and telephone calls at the municipality”, Lena Rosengren states. “There will always be some people that have a need to meet an executive officer in person, but we don’t see that as a problem. In fact it’s the opposite, since the IT support relieves the executive officers so much that they actually are able to spend more time on those who need it.”
IT emergency planning in the municipalities
The increased use of e-services seems to bring a lot of advantages, but in spite of that, certain reluctance to the outsourcing itself is noticeable in some cases. Even though the municipalities’ in general have inferior emergency planning for operational downtime and major operational jams. Only every third municipality has a plan for so called disaster recovery, and a third lacks any emergency planning at all.
“There is an historic reason to why it is like that today”, says Roland Granlund, Head of Welfare Nordic at Tieto. “Most of our municipalities are used to take care of the management of their own IT solutions themselves and have done so for many decades. But that is changing. In the long run I don’t think that there will be a lot of server halls in the municipalities. The major driving forces are cost savings, 24/7 operation, and the difficulties in finding people with the right skills.”
“When it comes to the fear that sensitive material should leak, just because the e-services are outsourced, it is unjustified,” Roland Granlund continues. “As an IT supplier, our systems have much higher technology security in general, than a single municipality can achieve. If you have more specific requirements, you can specify them in detail in an agreement.”
Are the municipalities’ IT departments needed?
Some municipalities are already looking this way. The IT manager in Ystad municipality shared his vision over a year ago in CIO Sweden magazine:
“In a couple of years there will be no need for an IT department in a municipality. The important thing is to have buyer competence. The rest you can outsource and order by demand. Everything else is wasting the tax payers’ money.”
Lena Rosengren agrees:
“The buyer competence is extremely important, it’s the starting point. But the next step is to understand that the supplier has operational knowledge. As suppliers, we have to learn to understand the clients, and which requirements they base their work on, what routines they have, and the legal framework their operations have to follow. In short, the technology itself is seldom the central part.”