Our initial response was that the report lays out some good foundations for Whitehall to build upon, picking up the key themes that will enable the structures of government to adapt to the modern, digital world. However, we were also concerned that there isn’t a great deal to measure success against and that there are few mandates for civil servants to adhere to.
That being said, the ambitions are good and we were pleased to see that the government was looking beyond 2020 to how new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the Internet-of-Things, could further impact government workings and government-citizen interactions.
Since the strategy launched a number of technology companies and industry bodies have come forward with their take. Generally the response has been favourable. However, there is still a general nervousness that whilst the strategy may be decent, the government can only really be judged on its results and execution.
First up is techUK, an industry body and lobby group for the tech industry, which represents more than 900 companies and has an active role in digital government. techUK CEO Julian David started off positively and said:
With this strategy, the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to public services that truly serve the people, and we welcome its recognition that digital transformation is more relevant than ever in the wake of the referendum. Indeed the Government hits many of the right notes in bringing together technology, policy and delivery in creating the public services that our citizens need in times of change.
The focus on skills, information sharing and end-to-end transformation aligns with techUK’s key priorities for public services. As ever, the challenge will be in the execution and we look forward to working with the Government to help it achieve its 2020 targets, embracing the full diversity and strengths of UK tech suppliers.
The imperative to change isn’t just about technologies, it’s about the people that deliver them and use them. That’s why it’s encouraging to see such a determined focus on equipping civil servants with the leadership, skills and support they need for the challenge ahead.
David went on to say that improving trust and transparency for users of government services will also be “critical”, and that he was pleased to see the commitment to appoint a new Chief Data Officer (one has been absent for many months).
Where last month’s Industrial Strategy detailed the Government’s intent to use its purchasing power to support innovative British-based companies, today’s Transformation Strategy outlined how tech-enabled public services can drive that innovation. The document also lays some good groundwork for future thinking on the delivery of public services via local government, which is where industry would like to see further development over the coming years.
Government must be willing to experiment with new transformational approaches, and harness a competitive supplier landscape in doing so. The UK has a phenomenal opportunity over this Parliament to lead the world in the next wave of digital government transformation, and the leadership shown in this document is a solid start.
diginomica/government also received some additional responses from companies that have a play in the government sector. Whilst these should be taken with a pinch of salt, given the vested interests, some did raise some valid points that are worth highlighting.
Even some of the more traditional suppliers to government are welcoming the strategy and seem to be playing ball with the Government Digital Service’s ambitions. For example, Director of Public Sector at Computacenter, Chris Price, said:
John Street, Regional Director of Government and Defence UK & Ireland at Riverbed Technology, highlighted the importance of getting data and identity right for the delivery of digital public services. He said:
We welcome The Government Transformation Strategy announced today. This is an important step towards ensuring the UK Government remains a global leader in its approach to public service transformation through harnessing best of UK tech.
The government has made significant strides in the adoption of digital over the last six years, and this new strategy rightly recognises the need now to focus on the wholesale end-to-end transformation. This means tackling the 'back-end' plumbing, and driving efficiency with an internal focus on equipping civil servants with the right workplace tools.
As a home grown British technology company with a global footprint, we look forward to playing a key role in delivering this transformation and in doing so contributing to the UK’s economic growth.
The Government Digital Service (GDS) has set some rather brave ambitions today, but what is left unanswered is how it hopes to achieve them. It is encouraging to see the GDS recognise a lot of the issues the public has with current public sector digital services. A survey we commissioned last year, showed that citizens crave convenience, and they would be happy to interact with different public sector departments via one portal. Therefore while not a single portal, the one Verify account to securely prove identity to multiple GOV.UK services seems like a step in the right direction.”
Despite continued reports and reservations about sharing sensitive data, people would like to, and will communicate and engage digitally. GDS’ goals reflect that it is committed to raising its game to offer a digital experience that balances convenience, service, performance and security. But as to exactly how this will be achieved is something I guess we will have to wait to see.
Meanwhile, Mark Cresswell, CEO of LzLabs, pointed to the challenge Whitehall faces in tackling its ageing, complex infrastructure and back-end systems. Cresswell said:
If the British government is serious about breaking-down entrenched silos in enterprise IT, it must address the issue of legacy mainframe technology, which holds many organisations back from modernisation. Many of the UK’s largest institutions are running business-critical back end systems that were designed in the 60s, and due to the serious and fast-growing mainframe skills gap, the public sector would be wise to wake up to this impending crisis, when so many people are dependent on the continuation of these services.
If the UK government wants to ensure it will continue to be able to modernise, it must ensure its infrastructure is operating from modern, open computing platforms. If they do this, they will also be able to take full advantage of price vs performance comparisons, and pave the way for a modernise-able IT infrastructure built for the future.
As I said above, a solid start, but a long road ahead. And 2020 isn’t that far away. Three years goes surprisingly quickly and there is a lot to do in that time.
If you have any comments or thoughts on the Transformation Strategy, do get in touch.