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Everyone loves an upgrade. If you receive an upgrade on a flight, upgrade your car, your phone, or your house, these are typically positive experiences. But what about Enterprise IT? Historically, that’s not been so great.

Government and other public sector organisations should be at the cutting edge - reaping the benefits of the latest systems and applications, in order to better serve their citizens. But, in too many cases, are instead lost in a world of broken integrations and complex (and expensive!) upgrade cycles.

We asked two of our UK Public Sector experts for their insights into the world of IT system upgrades, and how public sector teams should be leading the way through innovation.

Can IT upgrades really be straightforward and flawless?

Nick Umney: I was struck by a comment from a colleague at a recent Local Government Event. Talking about the Salesforce Platform he pointed out that every customer takes advantage of our innovation as there is only one version of Salesforce. Ever. As a result of Salesforce’s multi-tenant cloud infrastructure all of our customers, irrespective of size or location, are always on the latest and greatest release. That means that if you are a 300 person district council, you have the same access to technology as a 30,000 person multi-national.

Michael NelsonIt was a typical Monday morning a few weeks ago; I got up at the crack of dawn, showered, dressed, dropped my partner off at the station, made myself some breakfast and sat down to work. I logged on, opened my application (note – application not applications…) and started the day as I would do any other. The only change to my routine was noticing a new logo in the corner of our Salesforce Application. This is the experience of an upgrade at Salesforce:

Friday 6pm:                             Monday 8am:

Salesforce Winter 15 logo            Salesforce Spring 15 Logo

As Nick mentioned… Salesforce is built upon a multi-tenanted platform, which means that all of our customers share the same code base. This helps our customers in two ways; Firstly, we are able to provide seamless upgrades - all of our customers are always running the latest version and choose to opt into those features that they feel will benefit their business. Secondly, our customer base is where we get inspiration for our upgrades, so if a multi-national E-Commerce company suggests an improvement to the service, EVERYONE benefits. More importantly when we do upgrade our customers, we don’t break your API integrations.

What is the reality for Public Sector IT teams today and how does this impact innovation?

Nick Umney: In the world of client-server technology, the thought of upgrading your 5-year-old on premise CRM system to the latest version doesn’t usually result in a positive reaction. In most cases the cost, time and general upheaval that ensues seriously outweighs the benefit – something that in the current climate Public Sector organisations can ill afford. As a result, organisations typically spend the majority of their IT budgets on simply keeping the lights on, with very little money available for innovation. A move to cloud computing can remove up to 80% of these lifecycle costs.

Michael Nelson: So, instead of spending 80% of IT’s time supporting and upgrading legacy systems, you spend time innovating on a scalable, open, always-on platform. You need a new business process? Fine – go create one; it’ll work and it’ll be upgraded with the rest of your Salesforce estate in 4 months time.

Can you tell us more about these automatic upgrades and how that is democratising innovation?

Nick Umney: Salesforce releases three updates per year - Spring, Summer and Winter (that’s 46 major upgrades already in the last 15 years), and we don’t break your customisations or your integrations. Due to the way Salesforce is architected the customisations you make are separated from the underlying service, which enables a seamless upgrade experience. Our entire suite of APIs that are used for integration are versioned. For example, if a local government customer integrates Salesforce with a back office system using version 1.0 of an API, we will continue to support this version until it is no longer used (or the customer moves to a later release of the API).

Michael Nelson: Three major upgrades a year certainly sounds impressive, but it’s only when you actually delve into the amount and quality of feature additions and improvements per release, that you really start to see what an innovation enabler this is. I believe that Public Sector IT teams are capable of so much more than just ‘keeping the lights on’ – they should be the driving force behind providing services to their end-users, and ultimately the citizens they serve.

Your customers must be at the heart of your business – not your IT estate – so choose a tool that prioritises customer engagement, business innovation and quick results.

Check out this blog post for some highlights from the recent Spring ’15 release which included more than 250 updated features. Or you can view a demo of Salesforce Solutions for Government to see how you can start innovating for your users.

Many thanks to Nick & Michael for their insights.