Defence set for ‘rapid acceleration’ of digital, says MoD tech bigwig

Sector is currently ‘less mature’ than other areas of public services

Credit: PA

The defence sector is currently “less mature in digital delivery” than some other areas of government but, in the coming years, is set for a period of “rapid acceleration” in its use of tech.

The Ministry of Defence’s director for digital engagement, John Fitzpatrick, joined the department last year to help support a transformation programme aimed at improving services for military personnel and staff. This includes initiatives focused on the technology needed for on-the-ground missions, through to platforms for checking payslips and booking annual leave.

“The wonderful people who dedicate their lives to the military absolutely deserve the best services,” Fitzpatrick said in an exclusive interview with PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World

MoD chief information officer Charlie Forte has made big strides in getting the department’s senior officials and politicians engaged in a plan to revamp the department’s digital capability, he added. The departmental board hears from tech people every month to ensure they have “greater awareness and understanding and access to a different world really”, according to Fitzpatrick.

They are not the only ones in a different world. The coronavirus pandemic has also thrust us, however unwillingly, into a situation unimaginable only months ago.

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Fitzpatrick started his MoD role as the UK entered its first lockdown, in March 2020, and says the way the government has responded to the pandemic shows how much progress has been made in digital government.

“Look at where we were in 2014 with Universal Credit, for example,” he said. “That was being reported as a failed IT programme, but look at what DWP has just achieved in response to Covid – being able to absorb millions of extra claims, and a frictionless digital journey to get access to that benefit. And the same with HMRC and the furlough scheme.”

Fitzpatrick added: “They’ve delivered internal capability to respond to a crisis, and deliver services to users in a way that they just couldn’t have done five years ago. There’s a level of maturity and the ability to pivot and deliver things that couldn’t have been thought of. And there’s so many other things – like doctor’s appointments taking place over the internet – that have been transformed and the civil service and the public sector has been able to respond to brilliantly.”

The MoD digital engagement chief is confident that this progress will not be lost once we get to what we would previously have called normal.

“I think the environment is different in government [now],” Fitzpatrick said, highlighting a number of appointments in senior roles, including Joanna Davinson as executive director at the Central Digital and Data Office in the Cabinet Office, and Tom Read as chief executive of the Government Digital Service. 

“They’re fully aware of the need to fund teams and the legacy issues and all the things that have raised their priorities for government to solve,” he added. “And they’re being led by some of the best people. I think the digital, data and technology profession is maturing now.”

The full interview – including lots of detail from across Fitzpatrick career in digital government – can be read here.


Sam Trendall

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