Forcing the pace

Written by Julian David on 24 November 2014 in Opinion
Opinion

On the eve of the Labour Party’s Digital Government Review final report, Julian David calls for politicians to increase the speed of public sector digitisation.

Used correctly, technology should drive efficiency and productivity across the public sector. There are numerous examples of how digital technology has already brought benefits to citizens by developing public services that were unimaginable ten years ago. TechUK is very proud to work in partnership with Government across the public sector to help them access, understand and benefit from the very best the market has to offer with regard to the technology that will drive the effective digital delivery of public services.

Despite the progress made in recent years, the tech industry recognises that there is still room for improvement. At a time of tightened budgets, effectively implementing technology is still one of the major challenges facing the public sector policy makers and practitioners.

We believe that in order to succeed, the tech industry and government must increase the scale and pace of digital transformation across all of the public sector, from health and defence, to local government, education and beyond.

Earlier this year, TechUK surveyed 1,200 Civil Servants involved in delivering the digital agenda for government. Interestingly, civil servants at all levels argued that Government lacks the skills and capabilities to effectively manage their supplier contracts and relationships.

As a result, Government perceives that it receives poor value for money for expenditure on ICT, especially when compared to other sectors. This was reinforced by an Office of Fair Trading report in March, which recommended that the public sector work with industry in order to improve the way it procures and manages contracts with suppliers.

Government’s knowledge, perception and collaboration with the tech industry has to change for the better, and we will continue to work hard with Government to effect that change.

Last month, TechUK published a Three Point Plan for better technology use and better public services. Our plan sets out how the whole tech industry, large and small, will work to help the public sector in three ways: better engagement, better information, and more safe and cost effective ways to innovate regarding the development of digital services.

Better engagement
TechUK members are committing resource to engage much earlier in the commissioning process, ensuring that officials develop policy with a better understanding of what technology can realistically deliver. Previously, many in the industry felt they were waiting to be invited to tender for a scheme that should have been better designed.

Better information through providing standardised, transparent reporting
This will help overcome the problems regarding wildly varied reporting requirements on public sector contracts, which have the effect of making one scheme impossible to compare with another. 

The industry will agree a standardised data and evaluation scheme, allowing Government get the right combination of suppliers. Greater transparency will allow Government and potential suppliers to both better understand the cost of developing and delivering digital services and to identify opportunities to develop solutions cost effectively. Reducing cost, whilst improving services is the ultimate aim.

Innovation Den
TechUK members are committed to bringing more innovation to the public sector by giving them the opportunity to experiment and explore solutions in a risk-free, cost effective environment. TechUK's 'Innovation Den' model: whereby small innovative businesses are given the opportunity to pitch their ideas to panellists from central and local government and large suppliers to the public sector. It is our aim that Innovation Dens will overcome the problem of public sector innovation being strangled by the fear of failure. They will be used to provide a test platform for new projects, where innovative solutions to the challenges of digital public service delivery can be identified in a pre-procurement stage.

Working within an environment of austerity, we believe that our Three Point Plan will help Government do more with less, whilst harnessing the convening power of Government to boost productivity and power growth across the whole economy.

TechUK’s message to Government and the public, as outlined in our manifesto ‘Securing Our Digital Future’, is clear. We need to act now to address the challenges of debt, productivity, job creation and digital inclusion.

This plan has the potential to positively benefit the whole country and, if we get this process right by starting with greater engagement between Government and the tech industry, everyone benefits. Just think of the potential results: better designed and procured public services that improve the lives of ordinary people and save citizens money. The sooner, the better.

Julian David is chief executive of ICT supplier membership body CEO, TechUK

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