13 Sep 2023

Virgin Media O2 Business: Creating a new public sector IT legacy for the next generation #techUKSmarterState

Guest blog written by James Wells, Local Government Lead at Virgin Media O2 Business, as part of Building the Smarter State week. #techUKSmarterState

The terms digital transformation and legacy IT have been buzzing around the public sector for some time.  

Central government alone has published eleven digital strategies in the last 25 years – all seeking to address how legacy systems affect efficiencies within each department. 

So, what makes a ‘legacy’ system? According to a recent Cabinet Office report, these are out of support, not cost-effective, hard to maintain, above an acceptable risk threshold or an end-of-life product. 

For example, our government’s Digital, Data and Technology Playbook outlines that legacy systems are a burden on the public and have a significant impact on cyber and national security, operational resilience and value for money.  

The 2023 Digital Transformation in the NHS report states that out-of-date ‘legacy’ IT hardware and systems can’t handle the demands of a modern digital health service. 

How do you go about changing things in a sector with limited budgets and rising costs? 

Learning from the past to create a better future 

Gartner agrees in its top 10 government technology trends for 2023 that organisations are under pressure to break down legacy siloed systems and data stores to modernise IT infrastructure and applications so that services are more resilient. 

Preventing future legacy IT issues and remediating what already exists is key to the Digital, Data and Technology strategy. It’s important to review legacy systems and processes so financial and other inefficiencies aren’t repeated in the future. 

The Cloud guide for the public sector, supported by the Cloud First policy, already sets out that properly implemented cloud technology can improve the speed of service delivery, increase security and create opportunities for organisations to innovate.   

Its cloud principles are designed to support public sector cloud transition strategies to strike a balance between delivering technology quickly and subsequent costs, resources and risks involved. 

Across central and local government, healthcare, education, policing and more – legacy systems are responsible for many recurring issues.  

So how do these old and outdated systems compare with taking a cloud-first approach that will hold up for many years to come? 

Difficulty sharing information vs real-time access and services 

Many legacy systems do not speak to others in the same department or region. This creates inefficiencies due to the duplication of tasks and files. 

Siloed systems and unreliable network connectivity also make access to critical information more difficult. This can hinder clinicians or police in emergency situations, for example.  

The drawn-out process of accessing patient data can also contribute to long healthcare waiting times. 

Moving to digitally enabled networks and centralised systems automatically streamlines the way you work. This gives colleagues access to the same files or records, wherever they are, in real time. 

For the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, disruption to its services could impact up to 900,000 people. It needed a digital infrastructure to support its Care Quality Commission ‘outstanding’ rated standards of care. 

Our cloud service has connected 3,000 staff – more than 80% of these clinicians working directly with patients. There has also been a tenfold increase in the speed and resilience of the core network. 

Risk of cyber-attack vs cyber security transformation 

Public sector legacy systems are often less secure than modern digital infrastructures and more at risk of being attacked and leaking sensitive or confidential information. 

On top of protecting data and systems from attacks, most organisations need highly secure measures, like encryption and the ability to sign into devices and applications securely. 

A vital part of public sector digitalisation is working with a partner with a track record in delivering cyber security transformation as standard with connectivity. This will provide peace of mind of enhanced protection against threats and data loss and highly secure digital access.  

A drain on budgets vs lower operational expenses 

Being outdated and creaking at the seams means IT outages happen more often than not with legacy systems. That means more time spent on fixing issues and expensive hardware replacements. 

Moving to the cloud and a more modern network increases reliability and reduces operational expenses as organisations move to lower-cost software-as-a-service solutions. This also gives applications and systems the bandwidth they need to work efficiently. 

Again, it’s beneficial to work in partnership with a provider that actively listens to and understands its customers’ challenges so that solutions are aligned to your organisational and financial needs. 

We developed a roundtable of professionals to establish the key concerns and barriers to digital transformation in the police force, for example. 

Too cumbersome to scale vs ready for anything 

As digital evolution snowballs across the public sector, out-of-date systems simply can’t keep up with the flow of new applications and data streams. 

Organisations need a flexible and scalable infrastructure to support their latest initiatives and innovations. Falkirk Council, for example, needed an ‘anytime, anywhere’ connectivity solution for devices in all school buildings across the region. 

With the council invested in improved network infrastructure, they are now helping schools across Falkirk engage, inspire and achieve. Not to mention saving £230k in transport and meeting costs per year. 

Better connections are vital for the NHS’s constant innovations. Clinicians at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London can now conduct more than 600 video appointments each week via smartphone, computer or tablet. 

Moving to the cloud and enabling building rationalisation and remote working and consultations is an effective step in helping reduce public sector carbon footprints. 

Cloud infrastructure to serve future generations 

At Virgin Media O2 Business, we were proud to have partnered with Greater Manchester Combined Authority in early 2020 to deliver a new fibre optic broadband infrastructure, connecting 1,500 public sector sites throughout the city-region. 

The Local Full Fibre Networks Programme (LFFN) was offered by the Chancellor to thirteen regions. It focused on collaboration and creating services designed to serve Greater Manchester now and in the future.  

Securing an infrastructure that considered where we will be in 30 years was vital. We helped the authority to empower school children, tackle homelessness and improve digital skills. 

The programme brought local and central government together for a common goal, supercharging digital capacity and helping public sector sites continue delivering the best possible services to local residents. 

Together we’ve unlocked advanced connectivity that will help shape the public sector digital landscape for generations to come.

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James Wells is Local Government Lead at Virgin Media O2 Business.

From 11 – 15 September techUK is running our annual Building the Smarter State Week in the run-up to the ninth edition of our flagship public services conference, Building the Smarter State, on Wednesday 27 September. Book your tickets here.