Interview: Agilisys’ Sean Grimes on the adoption of Cloud in the public sector

A headshot of Sean Grimes, Director of IT Services at AgilisysSean Grimes is a Founder Member and Director of IT Services with Agilisys, one of the UK’s leading providers of digital technology services to the Public Sector.

Digital by Default News sat down with him to talk about the recent launch of Agilisys’ Community Cloud solution, the results of a joint survey with Digital by Default News into the adoption of Cloud across public sector organisations, and what’s next for Cloud innovation from Agilisys.

How did Agilisys initially begin providing Cloud services? What was the impetus for that?

The IT services division of Agilisys was highly successful in growing based on a traditional model of IT outsourcing. We would typically win 60-70% of opportunities based on our ability to create successful partnerships.  Three years ago, we conducted some extensive research to determine how the market was developing and what our response should be. What this told us was that people were looking for new models of outsourcing, to run their IT on scalable, ‘elastic’ platforms and a level of service at a price point which was unachievable in a traditional environment.

So we set out to build our own Community Cloud. Our Cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a community of public sector organisations, which share many of the same concerns including security requirements, policy and compliance.

Over the last two and half years, we have added 35 customers to this platform.

I think Agilisys’ Community Cloud is really the next iteration of our platform – the approach remains exclusively focused for the public services community. It addresses all the information security and application needs of the public sector environment, with an ecosystem of suppliers and supply chain partners to deal with the major challenges that customers have within this specialist sector.

At the heart of our Community Cloud, is a hybrid computing environment which includes  the Agilisys public sector dedicated solution, but combines it with the benefits of a hyper-scale provider, Microsoft Azure as well as an ecosystem of connectivity and tooling partners. The approach is designed to address the major obstacles we identified for the public sector, of migration to, and realisation of, the benefits offered by the Cloud.

What sets apart Agilisys’ Cloud solutions from other Cloud offerings that are available?

If you look at the market as a whole, many providers just focus on infrastructure. Our view – which is supported by analysis from Digital by Default and others – is they don’t just need infrastructure. The feedback in our sector is that people need help to migrate and transform services, deal with security concerns, and with the capability required to operate and optimise in this new model.

Another major consideration for public services is how they can ensure they are making the right decision, especially in a world that is evolving and changing rapidly. Our Community Cloud addresses this issue with a collection of delivery and implementation, infrastructure, connectivity and tooling partners. We recognise that services are evolving rapidly, and we add capabilities that enable our customers to stay current. What is important to our customers is to get the right service at the right price, and that’s what Agilisys’ Community Cloud is there to do.

One of the key differentiators, I would say, is the amount we’ve managed to reduce costs. Our approach is intended to deliver reductions of being in the Cloud by circa 50%, and the optimisation we look to achieve after that, layers on a further 10 or 15% of potential cost reductions. I think that’s material, and it’s different to what other people are saying out there.

The other thing we’re seeing is where customers only partially migrate their services to the cloud –they still have the costs of managing a legacy environment and are struggling to deliver against the original benefits case. We’ve got a motto and capability to “Leave nothing behind.”

If cost is a big driver for you, ending up in this state where you’ve got a mixed economy can be expensive to run. We’ve got a way of dealing with everything; that means that you don’t end up in a halfway house.

Does Agilisys focus entirely on a hybrid approach, or is that just one of the approaches you take to Cloud adoption?

It largely depends on customers’ appetite for where they’re going. Historically, it was less hybrid; it’s becoming more and more hybrid in this ecosystem of partners that we’ve put together. Feedback from our customers is that this offers the flexibility they are looking to achieve.

In this Cloud world, you pay for the amount of processing power or storage you use. This approach has enabled up to a 50% reduction for some customers, while for others we have managed to optimise and reduce costs once migrated by nearly 20%. By optimising how things run, you don’t need to over-commit, and therefore over-pay.

Agilisys conducted a survey with Digital by Default News into the uptake of Cloud services across various sectors, particularly the public sector. What were the main findings?

When we did our research, two-thirds of people said that their strategy involves a move to the Cloud, but a majority also highlighted having made limited progress. Over 50% of respondents also identified internal constraints against transforming, operating in the new model and dealing with security.

I believe customers see this as philosophically the right way to go. A recent McKinsey article said that IT departments have to get away from the concept of ‘building IT’ to ‘consuming services’. Organisations will become much more about procuring services and integrating services to meet their outcomes, as opposed to what they traditionally did, which was build technology solutions.

Are the concerns that people have about Cloud security well-founded?

To be concerned is never a bad thing, but you do need to know what you are doing. We’ve been implementing Cloud in the public services world – police, local authority, education and healthcare –  for the past three years, so we have some unique experience and knowledge of how to address the concerns of the sector that other providers won’t have.

Now that Agilisys’ Community Cloud has launched, what’s next?

We’ve launched our Community Cloud with a suite of initial partners, but we’re working to build in other implementation partners, toolset and potential hyperscale providers, to make sure we continue to provide the rounded offering that customers need. There’s an ecosystem of six major providers right now. We are aware how quickly this space is evolving and intend to stay ahead of the curve for our customers. What customers are looking for is someone who understands what levers they can pull to drive either performance up, or cost down, or a combination of both; and that’s what we can provide.

What other Cloud innovations does Agilisys have planned for the future?

As a business, Agilisys has been launching some fairly unique Cloud-based applications, with a combination of Agilisys Digital, Agilisys Care and Agilisys Automate. Together these help deal with specific challenges around either channel migration or automation of manually-intensive processes or improved customer engagement. From a Community Cloud standpoint, what we’re really excited about is that there’s been a kind of ‘hockey stick’ trend of Cloud adoption. There’ve been a number of early adopters, and we think this is now becoming mainstream, and how things will happen in the future.

What we’re excited about is announcing new partners to join our Community Cloud, who will help deal with specific problems within various sectors. We’re enhancing offering, enhancing capability ahead of the curve, and we’re in discussion with a number of people right now about them joining  our Community. Watch this space, as I’m sure we’ll be publishing more on this shortly.

Register here to receive a complimentary copy of Agilisys’ report Harnessing the Cloud: Evolution not Revolution, an in-depth look at Cloud infrastructure adoption by public sector organisations, which also explores the pain points that surround widespread uptake of Cloud technologies. 

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