Steve Mathieson is a freelance analyst, journalist and editor, covering IT, government and healthcare, often in combination, writing for publications including The Guardian, I-D Information Daily, editing Society of IT Management's magazine.


Manchester City Council’s move to Google’s cloud-based suite of services for office functionality is not irreversible

Manchester is adopting G Suite which includes Gmail, Docs, Drive and Calendar. The city is working with local reseller Cloud Technology Solutions, which also counts Warwickshire, Peterborough, Kingston and Sutton councils among its clients to move an initial 600 staff to Google services by the end of 2016.

Manchester’s chief information officer Bob Brown told the Society of IT Management’s October annual conference in Milton Keynes that this did not lock the council into using Google’s services permanently. “Our entire approach is based on a two-year cycle which makes sure this is still the right thing for us to do and it’s still the right partners we’re working with,” he said, adding that “treating [customers] as a cash cow is not the right way to do business”.

“But let’s be frank – going into this thinking how do I get out of it isn’t a good way to start,” he added.

James Smith, operations director at Cloud Technology Solutions, said that it has a “data liberation” exit strategy for the city if it eventually chooses to move away from Google.

Brown was asked about replacing Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet with Google Sheets, given the former is generally acknowledged to have more advanced functionality and processing ability for advanced users in areas including finance.  “We may still have some Microsoft products over a period of the next few years" said Brown "It’s not a light-switch situation where one size fits all.”

In a statement, Manchester City Council’s executive member for finance and human resources Cllr John Flanagan said that city’s adoption of Google services “will help maintain our high standards of working by revolutionising our outmoded email system and calendar system, while providing a full range of cutting edge technology for our staff – allowing us to work efficiently within the organisation and seamlessly with partner organisations”. He added that the move will help the city save more than £1m over five years.

Brown told the Socitm conference that the city currently uses Lotus Notes software for email: “Just how far back we are means we don’t have the concept of video conferencing, we don’t have the concept of doing live chat, file-sharing and all the other stuff we’ll get through this technology.”

The move to Google should also improve resilience. “Largely, our business continuity plans are predicated on email working,” Brown said, but in December 2015 the council suffered a fire in its data centre. “The fire service came along and put out the fire by turning everything off in the data centre, which meant that we lost all functionality.” Moving email and business continuity data from being held on-premises to the cloud will reduce such risks, he added.

The council has more than 350 sites across the city, and has already started using Google video-conferencing for multi-agency safeguarding work with Greater Manchester Police, social care and healthcare partners. Through a separate deal it is also issuing its staff with new mobile devices, with Google Android as the “fundamental architecture”, and plans to make use of Google’s Play Store.

Brown said that the city was keen on the transformational aspects of working with Google: “We’re not looking to follow everybody else,” he said. “We’re aligning ourselves with a truly global brand.”

However, he added that Cloud Technology Solutions was an attractive partner given it is headquartered in Manchester. The council has a policy of buying services as locally as possible, subject to them providing value for money. Cloud Technology Solutions also supports the council’s social value policy: it pays all staff more than the Manchester Living Wage, currently £8.25 an hour and encourages flexible working. It also employs an apprentice and is looking to recruit another to its marketing team, and provides free training for small local businesses.

Manchester City Council is among the top 10 local authorities in England by net current expenditure, of £1.12bn in 2015-16. It is also the largest council within Greater Manchester, the city region which has gained significant devolved powers including over health and social care. Greater Manchester’s councils already share various functions and greater use of cloud-based services could accelerate this.



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