Last week, Liam Maxwell, CTO for the UK government, took to the stage for his keynote at IP Expo. During the session Maxwell not only examined some of the issues with government technology in the past, but also set out his vision for the future. While the sentiment and aims of Maxwell’s speech ring true – are we really going to see a shift in how government and technology suppliers work together and how technology is deployed across public sector or is this another government dream that will never become a reality?

During the speech, there were three key themes that resonated loud and clear:

Government as a Platform: Common technology platforms to end fragmentation

With more than 300 websites delivering public services and each team within government doing its own thing, Maxwell’s point that: “Every part of the government has been a silo. Everyone is doing the same things, such as hosting and publishing,” could not be more accurate.

As well as being confusing for citizens, you have duplication of effort, cost and resources across government. This duplication isn’t just limited to web sites, it happens in all areas of government technology. Different teams are purchasing different technologies via different procurement channels in order to achieve the same goals. Maxwell’s answer to this is what he calls “Government as a Platform” and it involves all departments shifting to common technology platforms, delivering common services and ultimately makes governance far simpler. Sharing services and standardised ICT systems was a common theme in theGovernment ICT Strategy (March 2011) so over the coming months it would be good to see a plan for how this is going to be achieved. The starting point will be the numerous, significant outsourcing contracts with large suppliers coming to an end over the next few years. But what next?

No more big IT

A big statement that government has long been pushing is, as Maxwell states, “no more big IT”. Government ICT deals have long been the domain of large systems integrators and technology goliaths and the Holy Grail for smaller, innovative organisations. The need – and wish – of the government to level the playing field for service providers and create real competition has long been vocalised. The Government ICT Strategy (March 2011)states:

The Government is committed to opening up public sector monopolies and challenging old models of service delivery to drive improvement across public services. It will promote a public service economy based on open ICT markets with increased participation of SMEs, the voluntary and community sector, and other diverse providers to raise standards across public service delivery

Similarly, one of the original aims of the G-Cloud Framework was, according to Francis Maude, to “give SMB suppliers of niche products the same opportunities as bigger organisations supplying services.”

However, the government still has a way to go before it hits its goal of enabling SMEs to gain 25% of Whitehall spending by next year, including its ambition where “at least 50% of spend on new government IT flows to SMEs directly.” As of August last year, just 10.5% of government ICT spend went directly to SMEs and an additional 9.4% reached them via sub-contracts with big suppliers. Latest G-Cloud figures also reveal that 79% of spend up to the end of August 2014 was on Lot 4 – Specialist Cloud Services, which is consultancy and implementation costs. This is something I’ll discuss more in a post later this week.

Small steps are being made to open up the market and support UK-grown SMEs, but much more still has to be done.

Innovation

IT suppliers were tasked by Maxwell with delivering more technology innovations. The fact is there are numerous innovative technologies out there that the public sector hasn’t adopted due to being locked into five year contracts (or more), fear of new technology and distrust of smaller suppliers, or the fact that SMEs have had to jump through too many hoops to even be considered. Technology innovation happens rapidly and if you’re tied into lengthy contracts, or aren’t willing to look at different suppliers, you’ll never benefit from the wealth of innovation and talent already out there.

Reality or rhetoric? New technologies will enable the government to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and ultimately deliver a better service, but there needs to be a clear plan as to how all the visions above are going to become reality. Otherwise, old habits die hard and we’ll be discussing the same topics again in a few years’ time.

Richard Clarke


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