Connecting the dots: how cloud-centric IT is driving digital Britain forward

Organisations across the public and private sectors are stepping into the digital economy with full force

Morning Connection

The government’s vision of the UK as a global tech superpower is ambitious but by no means out of reach. Over the past decade, the country has begun to flex its muscles in a big way, establishing super-fast internet access and world-class cyber security capabilities. 

“We find ourselves facing new challenges in keeping our nation secure, our people prosperous, and our planet healthy. Britain has a long history of leadership and innovation, from the steam engine to the world wide web,” remarked Michelle Donelan, the secretary of state for the department for science, innovation and technology earlier this year. “As we look towards the future, investment in science and technology is more important than ever. It is at the heart of the prime minister’s priorities.” 

A lot of Britain’s tech progress has been steeper than expected over the past decade. The pandemic sharpened the need for a functioning and universal digital infrastructure to keep the country running, regardless of global shocks. As of October 2022, over 67% of UK premises had access to gigabit-capable broadband, a veritable jump forward from July 2019, when coverage sat at a meagre 8%. Underlining this win for British connectivity, 92% of the UK’s landmass receives reliable 4G signal. 

So, the digital economy in Britain is alive and well, and the ability to compete globally is tied to its growing strengths in this arena. Notably, though, the world’s tech ‘superpowers’ must continue investing to maintain their lead.

A new set of goalposts

As businesses evolve to embrace new cloud-based technology for digitisation, the benchmarks for efficiency and competitiveness will also change. For organisations - public and private - to cement their place as key players in the global digital race, they must make ground in three key areas, says Ben Scowen, vice-president UK & Ireland, Cloud leader at infrastructure services company Kyndryl. 

The first is establishing a secure, reliable and scalable cloud infrastructure. Covid emphasised the nation’s need to accelerate modernisation efforts, and many firms took this opportunity to migrate core data and mission-critical environments to public, private, and hybrid clouds. The shift has proved to have strategic longevity, and brands are now embarking on ongoing multi-year transformation projects. 

BT recently extended its partnership with Kyndryl to migrate long-serving mainframe applications to the cloud. Legacy infrastructure costs are growing increasingly prohibitive, but the move puts BT Group on track to reduce mainframe operating costs and energy consumption by 70%, with projected savings worth more than £17m a year by 2026. Amid the challenging competitive landscape, companies can’t afford to amass or ignore technical debt and spend valuable resources rewriting decades-old applications. Then comes securing that infrastructure. Scowen’s second principle- safeguarding critical IT infrastructure - is especially important in light of the escalating frequency and scale of cyber threats. The UK and Ireland have witnessed ransomware attacks and data breaches within their public healthcare and education systems as well as across plcs.

 “As it stands, efforts to anticipate, protect, withstand, and recover from incidents are essential to competitiveness,” Scowen stresses.

Finally, industries will need to work towards powering the digital work-place, he says. As flexible working continues in full force, tech investments will need to follow the trend closely. This calls for “a robust strategy and a consistent ecosystem of analytics,solutions, and support to drive the employee experience.”

Tech and taxes

HMRC is one of the key public sector departments leaning into modernisation in this way. It employs around 66,000 people in the UK, handling the money that keeps the country’s critical running, from schools and hospitals to Downing Street itself.

How, then, does an established government department accelerate and de-risk its modernisation efforts with so many moving parts while managing so many critical workloads?

This year, HMRC signed a 15-month contract with Kyndryl to develop efficient, low-risk pathways to migrate applications and minimise technical debt. “Cloud enables public organisations to operate with the agility and efficiency expected of contemporary civil bodies. Kyndryl is thrilled to support HMRC’s strategic aims of administering tax systems in the simplest, most customer-centric and efficient way,”says John Chambers, Kyndryl’s UK & Ireland president. 

Taxpayers want to see value for money from public sector organisations, and this expectation ramps up the pressure on government bodies to not only keep pace but lead in driving the UK’s digital economy forward. That means setting up services that have continuity, compliance and resilience built in. 

“A conscious multi-cloud approach will be key for enterprises that want access to a wider range of tech innovations and to decrease their reliance on legacy tech in 2024,” Scowen explains. This “conscious” approach allows organisations to embrace modernisation as an inevitability. He adds: “Governments and businesses should seize the opportunity to build on the natural progression of technology witnessed in 2023 and address major issues like technical debt and operational risk.”

Clouded perceptions and clear skies ahead

None of this is to say that cloud is a silver bullet for all the nation’s digital infrastructure challenges. According to a recent report by Kyndryl, 90% of business leaders and IT professionals agree that the mainframe’s reliability and performance earn it a place alongside cloud alternatives. 

The survey also highlights that less than 1% of organisations across all segments are moving their entire workload off the mainframe. Instead, most are adopting a mix of strategies that involve modernisation on the mainframe and the integration of cloud services. By and large, companies only eliminate mainframe operations altogether in very specific areas where it makes sense to do so. 

With consumers having greater expectations than ever before, Kyndryl is seeing a convergence of customer and citizen strategies regardless of sector. There is a need for inclusion across all parts of society that should be addressed in these approaches,says Chambers, with both the public and private sectors learning from each other to narrow the digital divide.

“As a company that prides itself on being at the heart of progress for its customers, we’re finding that modernisation, innovation and security are the pillars of any successful digital infrastructure project,” Chambers concludes. “These combined factors act as a critical catalyst to drive Britain’s digital economy forward.” Businesses looking to scale their operations to meet growth targets and gain greater (and greener) technical and commercial flexibility should take note.

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