New era marks new challenge for the GDS

Written by Ivan Harris on 7 September 2015 in Opinion

A change at the top of the Government Digital Service could actually benefit the organisation, says Ivan Harris.

For anyone in the business of working with the public sector on IT and digital transformation, the departure of Mike Bracken from the Government Digital Service is undoubtedly the story of the summer, if not the year.

For four and a half years he was responsible for shaping a new approach for the way the public sector used IT.

His vision was to make sure government departments put user needs at the heart of everything they did.

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His approach was to focus on simple solutions which could be delivered quickly - injecting pace and urgency into the way new projects were delivered.

Through the G-Cloud programme he created a platform for a more diverse group of suppliers to work with government, bringing much needed competition to the table.

Whoever fills his position – if indeed he is replaced directly – will have a big job to do to build on these foundations.

The tip of the iceberg

The biggest challenge will be to hold on to the momentum and consensus that has built around the need to change the way the government works with its suppliers.

Central government is yet to wean itself off the big contracts it place with systems integrators and there’s a long way to go in working with a greater breadth of SMEs.

The G-Cloud platform still represents less than 3% of government IT procurement. As more IT contracts come to an end in the next two years, there is a substantial job of influencing to be done across central government, its agencies and arms-length bodies to ensure they look to work with a diverse, competitive and innovative new set of suppliers.

Invest to save

A second challenge will be to make the ‘invest to save’ case for spending on IT and digital projects across government.

Over the past year I have heard first hand experiences of creaking IT infrastructure which either slows the progress of transformation projects or makes them virtually impossible.

At a time when the government is planning on deep cuts, it is critical for civil servants to be reminded about the need for investment in order to improve services and make them fit for a digital world

Building on the vision

A final area of focus is the need to do the important work of reinforcing the vision around IT and digital in government for the short-term and building this further for the long-term.

In the short-term the need to focus on users and increase the speed and simplicity with which projects are delivered remains.

In the longer-term we need to build on ideas like government-as-a-platform to avoid the siloed-working and duplication which sees different areas of government commission seemingly similar projects.

Making this type of thinking a reality is critical in delivering savings and efficiency through IT in government.

A fresh set of eyes

While Mike Bracken’s departure may come as a surprise, there is also an argument that it comes at the right time.

All the businesses I have worked in have needed different leaders with different skills as they have grown and experienced change – the GDS is no different.

Equally, the beginning of a new government where there are new ministers, new policies and advisers is a good time for a fresh set of eyes to come to the job.

There can be no doubt however, that whoever is next to take the reins will benefit greatly from the vision and vigour of their predecessor but has big shoes to fill.

Ivan Harris is chief strategy officer, managed cloud services at Eduserv

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Des McConaghy

Submitted on 25 September, 2015 - 18:34
But what still matters most (and much more than IT itself) is the actual framework of debate - and specifically whether public audit systematically informs our governmental supply procedures. This is an elementary systems approach (even Darwinian!) but it is rarely accepted within modern public sector and public audit procedures - anywhere!

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