Interviews

12.02.16

London ‘on the precipice of digital change’

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 16

Kulveer Ranger, director of digital public services at Atos and former transport and digital advisor to the mayor of London, discusses how technology will shape the way London’s citizens engage with public services in the future.

Londoners will vote for their next mayor on 5 May and in the run-up to what will be a very interesting contest, there are calls for the candidates to consider how they will develop the capital’s digital future. 

Already deemed the ‘digital capital of Europe’ in some circles, London has come a long way in recent years. However, much more can be done to harness the power of technology to transform, innovate and revolutionise the use of digital services to power public services. 

An opinion paper produced by Atos, featuring contributions from a range of experts from the fields of business, technology and civic society, set out a number of policy areas where ‘digital devolution’ can help empower London and local government. 

Speaking to PSE, Kulveer Ranger, director of digital public services at Atos, who produced the paper, said: “Digital technology is now crucial, as is connectivity, to the welfare and wellbeing of Londoners, and to the economic vibrancy of this great city and the future of it.” 

He added that at a recent hustings event, mayoral candidates Zac Goldsmith (Con) and Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem) both highlighted the need for technology and connectivity to drive change and improvements in the capital. 

The Atos paper suggested that ‘digital devolution’ can help deliver public services that are convenient and value for money; can help modernise policing through the better use of data and technology; and can take transport management into an “era of dynamic mobility”. 

“We are entering an era of digital devolution,” said Ranger. “Over the last Parliament, and before, we have seen government wanting to devolve more political power and accountability to local government and cities. 

“That is only going to continue through this Parliament. They are looking to have metro- mayors and more power in the boroughs and councils. More needs to be done with less. But now it is a case of not just reducing, but doing things differently to deliver services that the public need and want. 

“There is an opportunity to use the technology that is at people’s fingertips – smartphones, tablets, mobile data – that allow us to redefine and design how public services work. It also means we can change the relationship between a citizen, local government and the city that they live in.” 

He added that this is already happening extensively in the private sector, and it is time for local government to grasp change and “deliver value for money for citizens and deliver tailored services for them through a digital eco-system”. 

Prior to our interview with Ranger, a study of 4,400 UK civil servants by IT firm CGI revealed that in December 2015, only 31% of civil servants said they share data with local government organisations. 

“We are standing on the precipice of immense change in how we use data, technology and how we deliver better services and better value,” said Ranger. “It is now about ensuring the opportunity is grasped by cities, local government and government.” 

He added that the relationship between government departments and local government is going to be crucial to how data flows in the future. He also noted that trusted digital industry partners could become the conduit between the two. 

“For industry players it has been a challenge because, up until now, people have thought [they] are dealing with either local government or big government, and actually we are going to become the conduit between both,” said Ranger. 

He added that the capital’s boroughs have the opportunity to deliver change now, and by working with “trusted partners” they can establish how they redesign their services and what it is they are trying to do. 

“We’ve got to get past the era of silos, departments and government agencies all either retaining their own data or not securely sharing it,” said Ranger. “No one knows the exact shape of the future, but we are excited and committed to playing our part to ensure that the political leaders of our city develop and deliver a digital vision for London that provides the opportunities and services that this city and its citizens deserve.”

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