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19.06.15

The tech industry’s top four issues for the new government

Source: PSE June/July 15

Damien Venkatasamy, chair of techUK’s Public Services Board and general manager for CSC’s UK Public Sector business, discusses the importance of better engagement between government and industry to deliver digital by default.

The Conservative Party manifesto commits this government to using tech to drive much-needed efficiencies as well as delivering public services that are accessible online. 

This is no easy task and, in the words of the minister responsible, it requires “a government that is more open, innovative, collaborative, forward-thinking and tech-savvy”. It also requires the tech industry to support the government in its transformation to deliver our common goal of digital government and public services transformation. 

The good news is that government is on the road to achieving this, thanks to the groundbreaking progress made in the approach to digital government over the last five years. The new government must continue the successful work of the Cabinet Office by bringing scale and pace to the process of public service transformation. 

The techUK Public Services Board (PSB) recently published ‘Delivering Better Public Services Through Tech’, which was informed by a techUK survey of nearly 1,000 civil servants. The report identifies four areas we think the new government needs to address and which our industry can support with its transformation: 

  1. Deliver better public services for less through smart use of digital tech
  2. Address government’s ageing infrastructure and ‘technical debt’ to enable wholesale transformation
  3. Understand the role of disruptive technology to deliver digital by default services
  4. Develop the right culture, skills and capability to become a more demanding buyer 

To achieve these four goals, industry and government need to come together to build on previous achievements and deliver digital public services through end-to-end transformation. techUK has developed a ‘three point plan’ as the framework for government and industry to work together to achieve this ambitious objective. 

The report calls for the government to fully embrace digital to deliver better public services for less. In the techUK survey, 75% of civil servants told us they see IT as a necessity and 86% said IT was critical to delivering their business plans. Civil servants and the tech industry are therefore agreed that digital has a key role to help government with its transformation. Of course, this has to be done in a way that gives the public confidence that a digital by default government will use their data properly and respect their privacy concerns. 

Legacy IT cannot be ignored, and techUK has urged the government to tackle its ageing infrastructure. The NAO reported in 2013 that at least £480bn of the government’s operating revenues were reliant to some extent on ageing, legacy IT. Older systems remain critical to the delivery of key public services and consequently expose departments to risks that will become harder to mitigate and manage over time. 

The industry has a key role to work with the government to understand the options available to avoid further deterioration of the government’s technology estate, and we encourage the creation of a joint government and industry ‘legacy taskforce’ to consider the priorities and options for a legacy replacement strategy. 

Only through better engagement between government and industry can the role of disruptive technology to deliver digital by default services be fully realised. In our survey, 60% of civil servants asked for better engagement and only 14% felt they had access to disruptive innovation. This tied with 33% of civil servants being unsure if their departments want to procure more services from SMEs tells us there is real work to do. 

Lastly, with 71% of civil servants in key roles viewing internal culture as one of the biggest barriers, the report highlights leadership as being critical to developing the right culture, skills and capability that Matthew Hancock MP, minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, wisely highlighted in his first speech. Whilst supportive of the goals of the Major Projects Authority and the Crown Commercial Service, we believe that more needs to be done to ensure these bodies are fully supported in helping government develop the skills and capabilities it needs. The role of the Government Digital Service and the chief executive of the Civil Service and departmental leaders will be crucial to embedding the right culture and investing in the right skills to deliver end-to-end digital transformation. 

The technology industry looks forward to working collaboratively with government to build on the excellent progress to date, to further accelerate that progress and make the UK an exemplar of digital public services.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com 

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