Like most organisations within the public sector, housing associations (HAs) are moving towards a “cloud first” strategy as a way to better engage their tenants via digital services, whilst driving productivity and keeping costs down. Cloud also gives them the flexibility to adapt quickly – which is vital in this sector, where government changes to how housing benefit is paid, for example, require a rapid response from the IT department.
However, moving some of the specialised applications Housing Associationss rely on to cloud is not as straightforward. As one of our clients put it: “Our old legacy applications don’t play well with others and in the cloud.” It’s something we’ve also found with many of the specialised applications used by local authorities. Small and bespoke applications cannot be treated in the same way as office productivity applications.
The problem arises because specialised applications typically depend on older technologies, use proprietary interfaces, and have been extensively customised. These dependences and the applications’ security needs mean that simply ‘lifting and shifting’ them to public cloud is not either simple or cost effective. Replatforming the system is also likely to be time consuming, expensive and therefore impractical, and in most instances will be dependent on the support of the software vendor.
Trying to maintain the system in house may not be viable either due to operating systems reaching end of life, after which they will no longer receive security updates and patches from the vendors. The most well-known example of this are the many applications which relied on Windows XP and fell victim to the WannaCry ransomware in 2017.
There is still a cloud option – using a private cloud specialist to provide the hosting and support to keep these systems operational. They will manage the applications, using up-to date equipment and taking responsibility for security, patching etc. while the in-house team look for a longer term solution.
Each Housing Association needs to review the risks involved to work out the most effective way of handling the solution until they find a viable public cloud alternative as part of their overall digital transformation journey.