The UK Government’s latest Spending Round highlighted digital transformation is now a key driver for significant efficiency savings.
The Government Digital Service has embarked on an ambitious plan to get Government departments to think differently about services for citizens with high expectations of a ‘digital experience’, but unfortunately traditional procurement models and legacy contracts continue to nag at the heels of the reformers. The OFT has launched an enquiry into the supply of IT services to the public sector, looking at how barriers to SMEs, difficulties in switching suppliers, restrictive licence agreements and interoperability of different systems is restricting competition.
The GDS vision is for truly abstracted, open-source, and consumer-grade Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) architecture and Government-as-a-platform. Not only must this be about opening up data, for new exciting use cases that foster SME growth, it also needs to transform opportunities for Government itself to deliver new agile services for citizens, while better exploiting private sector partnerships. Government needs to deliver on all of these to improve the user experience for us, as citizens, and reduce the burden on the taxpayer.
To accelerate progress, Russell Poole, director of public sector at EMC UK has recommended the Government follow these eight steps:
1. Continue to drive a huge culture change across Government
The extent of change in terms of IT architecture and mind-set, as we move from a commodity-cost model to a converged utility-based model for IT, is substantial. The edict from the GDS to transform sourcing to a ‘cloud-first’ model is a couple of years old whereas the legacy infrastructure spans two to three decades of investment and process.
2. Mandate use of cloud based services across public sector
The G-Cloud framework is the clearest signal of transformation in Government. G-Cloud will bring unusual simplicity to the operational model for computer storage, security services and scalability. Surprisingly, many parts of government (and individuals) still regard this as optional or are constrained by legacy IT outsource models. We need to go further than simply accepting cloud based services by mandating their use.
3. Modernise underlying Infrastructure so that it is scalable, low cost, flexible, open and resilient
Only then can IT become commoditised. Government CTOs must drive the move from dated and costly legacy practices and systems to converged, highly virtualised, utility-based services designed around a ‘Government-as-a-Platform’ approach.
4. Adapt government procurement to focus on commoditising the cost of a server, compute cycle, terabyte of storage and gigabit of network capacity
There is a strong legacy in Government ICT circles of thinking of procurement in terms of bespoke technology rather than commodity-priced services. The extent of change in terms of IT architecture and mind-set, as we move from commodity-cost model to a converged utility-based model for IT is substantial.
5. Enforce transparent showback/chargeback to challenge departmental budget holders (who are often not IT directors) to open up the cost of maintaining this legacy
Without challenging old-style ‘de facto’ models the innovation, agility and dynamism present in the private sector, will not reach government ICT. Transformation requires some investment, but the ROI will be swift and compelling in many cases.
6. Achieve a step change in use of Open Source
In our experience, procurements of big Enterprise License Agreements are still happening to the detriment of open source solutions. Open standards should be used for application programming. This should include commoditising applications to improve intelligence and cost effectiveness of everyday government activities such as email, calendaring and collaboration that could be based on private, hybrid or public cloud.
7. Turn the legacy back-office into the next battlefield that can be made adaptable and flexible for the digital age and open up the APIs to generate new opportunities for SMEs
A new class of applications that are data-driven and context aware are now feasible thanks to the concept of “data fabrics.” Moreover, these new data fabrics make it practical for GDS to impact beyond the look and feel of the citizen interaction, reaching to the very DNA of citizen services: the back-office. Imagine what can be achieved by our SME sector (securely) swarming over the APIs of our back office systems in order to generate our next generation of smarter citizen and commercial services. For example, the recent launch of the Lasting Power of Attorney application is one of the first of the Digital Exemplar services for the citizen. On the commercial side, the vast amounts of data stored in departments can be leveraged. For example, Met Office data to help deliver weather information to optimise the location of wind farm sites or combining weather data with information on insecticides from DEFRA on how best for farmers to apply treatments to their crops to maximum effect.
8. Introduce a Rapid Assessment Process for New Applications to evaluate platforms for new government applications
The rise of agile development and modern web technologies will change the ‘attack surface’ for potential attackers. Without measures in place, we risk potential data loss, breach or abuse incidents from going digital.
The Government Digital Service are embracing the challenge of building world leading digital public services head on, but this culture change still needs to extend right across Government to realise the potential benefits of delivering Citizen Service through digital and by digital.
We have entered a new an era where public sector business leaders need continually to demand disruptive thinking and applications that can support the efforts of cost-reduction, service innovation and Digital by Default.