Government IT is not up to scratch, according to Cabinet Office minster Matt Hancock, and will be a focus of the Government Digital Service (GDS) alongside open data and government-as-a-platform (GaaP).
Hancock said at the GDS Sprint 16 event that there are too many different systems and varied levels of interoperability, presenting a barrier to cross-government working.
“The technology that we use to run the business of government holds back the use of digital more broadly because the kit we have is just not up to it,” he said.
Hancock explained that the government will focus on moving departments to interoperable WiFi, cloud-based email and robust document and management record systems.
This may not come as much of a surprise to followers of the state of IT in the government, but it reinforces the determination of GDS and the Cabinet Office to break away from the disparate and monolithic infrastructures in Whitehall.
It also hints at where GDS might put some of the £450m allocated to the department by the government.
GDS’ mission is to create a GaaP model to enable public services to be created from common components made available across the public sector, but Hancock maintained that the efforts need to be focused internally as well as towards citizens.
“In terms of having these tools for a cutting-edge Civil Service we’ve got to concentrate not just on the services we provide citizens but the tools that we have internally. Ultimately this is about having the kit we need to do our jobs,” he said.
Hancock championed the GaaP strategy as a way of doing this, highlighting the importance of departments working together with the support of GDS to adopt cross-government systems rather than attempt to move from legacy systems in silos.
“Many face common problems and we need to make sure we solve those problems just the once,” he said.
“Crucially, we need to work hand-in-hand with other government departments, agents and increasingly with local authorities, to make sure that we provide the challenge, raise people’s eyes to the horizon and provide the support because this is a collaborative effort.”
Hancock championed GDS' success in creating cross-government technologies in the form of the Gov.uk publishing platform and the Verify identity verification service, as well as the upcoming Gov.uk Pay and Gov.uk Notify services under development.
“We are going to bring this common technology right across Whitehall,” he added.
Hancock also championed the use of data across government, saying that GDS will help departments open up data in which they specialise to be used, where appropriate, by other departments, citizens and third parties in a form of data-as-a-service.
“We have to understand the power of harnessing data for the benefit of citizens and the mission-critical requirement of holding it securely and responsibly. The data revolution is incredibly exciting and we’ve got to be part of it,” he said.
This strategy has seen the creation by the Foreign Office of the first open register in the form of the Country Register. This provides a cross-government database of all the countries in the world, and cuts out the need for replicated data sets in other departments.
Hancock hopes that opening access will create a “gov tech” sector where companies and organisations can tap into open data and build services around the information, in turn creating a market similar to those found in the high-growth areas of the fintech and medtech sectors in the UK.
Collaboration and procurement
Hancock explained that government suppliers will also be key to the creation of the gov tech market.
“We need to continue to expand the market of suppliers,” he said, adding that the government needs to keep raising the number of suppliers for its procurement frameworks, even though the Digital Marketplace as a whole has generated over a £1bn in sales, 56 percent of which have gone to small and medium sized businesses.
“From a small handful of suppliers five years ago, there are now 2,433 suppliers to government of digital services on the Digital Marketplace. It shows that this is not just an agenda for delivering public services but for developing a whole industry that can supply the cutting-edge technology we need,” said Hancock.
Moving from legacy IT systems to more integrated digital technologies has not been the smoothest of journeys for the government thus far, but GDS’ development of platforms at least paves the way for the ‘digital by default’ goal.
And Hancock’s speech indicated that public sector digital transformation is not something that is going to quietly fall off Whitehall’s agenda.
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