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The transformation of IT within the Public Sector


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No one would deny that public sector IT has undergone something of a transformation over the past five years.

A decade ago, you’d have been hard pressed to find a good word said about any government IT initiative. Indeed, there just seemed to be a catalogue of high profile failures pilloried by MPs and media alike for their waste, ineptitude and insulting rewards for such poor performance.  Ten years on and how the landscape has changed. There’s a positive new outlook, a dynamism that has sprung out of the Government’s breaking of the oligopoly of the biggest ICT players, welcoming in a new age boasting an ‘all the talents’ supply chain. Today this consists of around 300 companies, the majority SMEs who have been encouraged in by the seismic reshaping of procurement frameworks. And while the preoccupation with austerity could have been put forward as a valid excuse to slash IT investment, the opposite has in fact happened. The public sector is looking beyond the significant savings that can be had through greater use of, say, Cloud or shared services; it is now actually innovating for the benefit of the UK citizenry. For example, everyone of us has probably already benefitted from the DVLA/Passport Office’s collaboration over user authentication, a truly empowering example of the ‘tell me once’ approach to online public services that makes the consumer experience just that much quicker and easier.

But, for all that has been achieved to date, we are, to borrow from Churchill, still very much at the ‘end of the beginning’ of this transitional time in public sector IT. As a new white paper from Redcentric sets out, both Government and suppliers need to mount an effective response to certain key challenges if the momentum is not going to drain away from such a tidal shift. Public bodies still need to make more of an effort as regards embracing change and their appetite for sharing. They also have to accept that a ‘Government platform’ of services needs common technologies, so the onus is on them to make these work with their current arrangements. On the supplier side meanwhile, services have to be much more clearly and precisely defined; there needs to be greater transparency and openness; and a more collaborative approach between enterprise and specialist, brokering multi-partner supply arrangements to create project-fit consortia where necessary. But the fundamental need is simpler procurement. You may have ambition, goodwill and vision on both sides but it is always going to be a far more arduous journey if there are obstacles thrown across the road. If procurement teams don’t have a handle on their own operating and assurance requirements, then it is extremely difficult for suppliers to gauge the most appropriate response. Such a disconnect could certainly hinder progress, hence a concerted call for public sector procurement officials to be equipped with more technical skill and commercial acuity.

Change always brings challenges with it, and there’s a bit of an inevitable waiting game as we look for how both parties in this public sector ICT equation respond. That progress will be uniform is unlikely, but what’s crucial is that progress is maintained – at whatever rate. One thing that characterises this era of government IT is a panoply of frameworks, structures, platforms, entities and specifications. Some may see it as evolution (such as the Government Digital Service’s absorption-cum-improvement of G-Cloud) but the pace and frequency of change is in danger of breeding confusion where what we need is clarity. For many years, the public sector, and ultimately the UK taxpayer, paid too high a price for expansive IT projects that lost their way and disappeared under the weight of systemic failure. As we continue to move forward, let’s hope that we can all see and think clearly enough to stay the course.




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