diginomica 2017 – the year according to Derek

SUMMARY:

Derek’s top ten themes from the past year. Brexit dominated the agenda in government over the past 12 months, but there’s plenty to come in 2018.

2017 is almost at an end; 2018 is round the corner. In the first of our annual reviews of the highlights of the year, Derek du Preez offers his personal picks of the best of diginomica 2017.

(1) Brexit gets real

In the past the UK had a direct conduit into the European Union via its participation in European institutions. The question is, how much of that can be preserved in the future architecture of the negotiations?

Why? The shock result of last year’s referendum left Whitehall reeling, with Ministers, MPs and the Civil Service struggling to get to grips with what Brexit and leaving the European Union would mean for the future of the UK. In 2017 we began to get a clearer idea – and even if you ignore the political noise – there’s no denying that it’s going to be a tough road ahead. Departments are struggling to come to terms with what systems they need to get in place come March 2019 (the date the UK is set to exit the trading bloc), business and industry is nervous about how it will impact their talent pool, and there is plenty of confusion around what it means for digital trade and data sharing. It’s hard to see that there are many upsides to the decision yet. But, we plough on into 2018 where I’m sure there will be a lot of diginomica Brexit coverage to come.

(2) The Death of the Digital Marketplace?

A lot happens in two years in the digital world and whilst it would be hyperbolic to lament this as a disaster, it’s not good enough to be standing still when the whole point of the G-Cloud was to transform public sector procurement into something dynamic.

Why? The government’s SME agenda has been carried a long way by the introduction of the G-Cloud framework and more broadly the Digital Marketplace. However, this year, there has been mounting concern that the Marketplace and the government’s push to drive more nimble contracts, through the use of SMEs, is being derailed somewhat. This is partly to do with the government’s renewed enthusiasm for buying from Microsoft and Amazon (not to mention a certain Minister’s vocal support on Twitter). But also because it seems that the Digital Marketplace isn’t working for everyone, or how GDS and CCS thought it would. This led to the recent revelation that the government has extended the current G-Cloud framework for another year, whilst it builds a new platform. This means that no new services will have been added for two years – a long time and a far cry from the aspiration of every six months, when the G-Cloud was founded. We will be keeping a close eye on this story in 2018.

(3) Government gets loud about tech

It’s undeniable that in spite of a solid Industrial Strategy, its success could well be overshadowed by the costs associated with exiting the European Union. Will it be enough? There are plenty of people that think that any benefits will be outweighed by the impact of leaving the single market and customs union.

Why? The government upped the anti this year in terms of its commitment to technology investments – both in the Chancellor’s recent Autumn statement and in the form of its Industrial Strategy. The Chancellor’s budget focused heavily on investing in digital skills, putting more capital into R&D, and made some attempts to address the growing concern that the world’s digital giants aren’t paying enough tax within the countries they operate. Whilst the government’s Industrial Strategy aims to make the UK the “most innovative nation by 2030”, which will see the government invest £725 million over the next three years in areas such as robotics, AI, clean and flexible energy, driverless vehicles and space technology.Industrial Strategy white paper. However, concerns remain that the ambitions are too little too late, especially given what challenges remain with Brexit.

(4) Will GDS rise again?

GDS is celebrated and copied around the world. Last year we were ranked top for digital government by the UN. How ironic if we fail to recognise and nurture this great asset.

Why? It’s been another turbulent year for the Government Digital Service, which last year saw a number of leadership changes and questions emerge over its future role. Will it continue to be a force from the centre? GDS says that its role is to help and guide departments with their digital strategies, rather than the dictatorial authority it is sometimes perceived to be. However, two senior figures that were involved with the department’s inception – Baroness Lane Fox of Soho and ex-Cabinet Office Minister Lord Francis Maude – separately gave their views that it’s being ignored as the asset it is. GDS has been very quiet this year, we’ve heard very little proactively about its future plans. Will it up its game next year? Can it take on the challenge of Brexit with departments? Or will it fall by the wayside in amongst all the chaos?

(5) Government begins to wake up to the challenge of AI

The history of apocalyptic fears of job destruction have been around for a very, very long time. And we are in another one of those moments, where there is great fear that AI and automation will simply destroy 80% of jobs and we will all be on the streets begging.

Why? 2017 was definitely the year that AI reached a peak in terms of hype. Vendors left, right and centre began to release their AI offerings, claiming that they solve all all of an enterprise’s problems. However, it was also the year that government began to wise up to the recognition that AI could not only help the public sector deal with its inefficiencies, but that it could well change the future shape of the labour market. Will regulation keep up and will the government’s industrial strategy help make sure investments are being made in the right skills and sectors of the economy? This is an area that needs long-term thinking well beyond 2018.

(6) GDPR is coming – fast!

This news should ease concern for businesses that were worried about being out of sync with the rest of the EU when it comes to data protection and guidelines. However, 2018 isn’t far away and the risk of getting this wrong could be substantial for companies – the fines being proposed are hefty. And beyond that, reputational damage from a breach should never be underestimated. Lots of work to do.

Why? The result of the EU referendum left business and industry wondering if it would still have to comply with the forthcoming GDPR regulation – which aims to put more onus on companies to protect and control their data. However, shortly after the outcome, government was quick to assure that it would align itself with EU data frameworks and that the new Data Protection Bill would effectively be the UK putting GDPR into action. It’s going to be a huge task for many – survey after survey shows how woefully unprepared many are. The fines are big for getting this wrong and the date the law comes into effect (May 2018) is fast approaching.

(7) #OneTeamGov gains traction

The pace of digital change can be unsettling, but it is incumbent upon all civil servants to be better informed about the changes going on…The best way for policy officials to learn to be more digital is to just go and work with the large and growing community of digital colleagues in and around government.

Why? One of the few positive stories coming out of government this year was the rise of the #OneTeamGov movement. A grassroots initiative that aims to bring policy and digital professionals together, to design and create better services for citizens. Historically the two have sat separately and as a result this often leads to a gap between ideation and creation. Bringing the two together should help avoid future IT disasters. What’s great about this is that it’s the people involved wanting to do it, it’s not being pushed out by any Minister or department, it’s being driven by a genuine desire by those doing things to change the way things are done.

(8) HMRC under pressure

HMRC is under considerable pressure to deliver the new Customs Declaration Service in time, but it does not yet have funding to increase the capacity of CDS to deal with the consequences of Brexit—nor to develop contingency options.

Why? The government’s tax department, HMRC, faces an uphill challenge in the coming years. It has been somewhat blindsided by Brexit, as it had already begun investing in a new customs system for the coming years, but hadn’t planned for an upgrade that included a five fold increase in customs declarations as a result of leaving the EU. It now has, in theory, until March 2019 to get this in place. Not only this, but HMRC has an extensive programme to ‘Make Tax Digital’ over the coming years, a £1.3 billion overhaul of the tax system that is thought could be a “disaster”. In other words, HMRC has one of the most extensive digital transformation programmes happening in government and there is a lot that could go wrong over the coming year.

(9) Digital NHS continues to falter

Our vision is to make health and care better by harnessing the power the power of technology. What we really mean there is to partner with the local authorities and the NHS to help them transform care. We’ve been too national, too ivory tower in the past, and now our role is to step out from the centre and help the NHS, help local users, clinicians, to actually do this for themselves.

Why? We have long covered the technology challenges facing the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. The disastrous National Programme for IT, which cost the taxpayer billions, has left many wary to attempt to drive through change again. And yet, change is necessary. Digital has the potential to relieve pressures faced by dwindling budgets and an ageing population. We heard this year how NHS Digital is going to partner with organisations, to guide them, as well as to deliver the Paperless NHS promise by 2020. However, the NHS was also hugely impacted by the ransomeware WannaCry attack – which largely could have been avoided if organisations had followed guidance and updated their systems – throwing the light on how much work there is still left to do.

(10) A CIO that gets it

You only have to think about your own life and how things work, right? If it’s easier to go order what you want here or get it through this route, you will do it. And actually, you probably don’t care if it costs five cents more, or five cents less, you just don’t have the time to piss around on a site that doesn’t take your credit card properly, doesn’t seem to know who you are, and just seems a pain to get around.

Why? Speaking to Craig Walker, Shell’s Downstream CIO, was one of my favourite interviews of the year. Why? Because it’s that rare that I get to speak to someone at the top that actually gets it and recognises the challenge at hand. That’s not to say that Shell Downstream has got it all figured out. But Walker’s two part interview really drives home the point that even a company like Shell – which operates in a market that has huge barriers to entry – is also under threat from digital innovators. Not only that, but Walker recognises that CIOs need to add value and get teams working effectively if they really want to drive change. A highly recommended read.

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