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From patient records to financial records: how Central Government is opening up

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Adoption of an ‘open sourced’ solution by Central Government is a key indicator that a technology has become mainstream. Over the past 12 months or so OpenStack has become the clear front runner for cloud standards.

HMRC is under vast pressure to innovate the way that it currently manages financial records. Citizens are demanding an improved service from the department in the way that it handles personal financial records. Whether that’s access to a 360 degree view of an individual’s tax position or the ability to access that information from wherever, whenever, over which ever device they choose, citizens now expect the same user experience that they receive from high street banks and other retail finance organisations. Couple this demand with continued austerity measures, and HMRC has to evolve its technology and delivery to keep up.

The organisation’s decision to base its IT evolution on OpenStack is a declaration of its future intentions to build and create a more agile technology environment – one that can respond more effectively and efficiently at times of changing demand. We only need to look to the private sector to see how this has created new markets, and services. Betting company William Hill is an open supporter of bottom up open source technology and it embraced it as a way to introduce 100s of digital services that are responsive to consumers’ needs at any point during a game or sporting event.

OpenStack should hopefully do the same for HMRC, enabling it to take advantage of a standard (and free) platform but one that can be highly customised. What HMRC hasn’t revealed as yet is to what extent it will develop its OpenStack platform and, more importantly, how it will commit resources to do so.

There are two ways for the organisation to do this – internally or to outsource its development. Using it’s own resources would mean creating a team of DevOps who are able to constantly and consistently develop that platform to meet current demand, whether that’s creating a mobile app for citizens or provisioning more compute during peak tax return season. OpenStack has created a new job role in DevOps and we’re witnessing network managers, system administrators and the like moving across into DevOp roles.

Alternatively, HMRC could outsource much of its DevOps and take advantage of skills and experience that is already out there. Either way there is a big opportunity for HMRC to work with agile, flexible and expert providers and move away from the large system integrators that so dominated the market before G-Cloud and the ‘Cloud First’ mandate.

Similarly HMRC will also need to look at how it will run those systems as they’re developed: balancing internal skills for core activity with external resources for other tasks. Much like many other Central Government departments and arms’ length bodies (e.g. NHS England, HSCIC) , HMRC could turn to flexible local Cloud service providers to access elastic compute and storage resources for changing environments, such as test and development platforms, and who can simply host HMRC’s servers and not the hypervisors so that the organisation retains control.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that Central Government departments are embracing the Cloud and particularly open source software and standards-based commodity technology. Executed correctly, this should see citizen interaction with the likes of HMRC improve exponentially at less cost to the taxpayer. But, more importantly, it will throw off the shackles of its proprietary technology and rigid solutions and provide it with the freedom to innovate.

 

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