If we have learned anything about budget announcements over the past 10 years, it is to prepare yourself for the unexpected. I’d be surprised, however, if anyone predicted the extent to which the 2015 Autumn Statement put such an emphasis on the role of IT in the transformation of government.
With substantial job cuts resulting from reduced funding right across the public sector, the Chancellor’s clear objective is that by 2020, processes which still heavily rely on people and ways of working, from the way patient records are shared in the NHS to the way we deal with our tax, will be enabled by new IT.
Invest to save
Far from expecting this to happen within existing budgets, the budget statement recognises that for many of these efficiencies to be realised, there is an ‘invest-to-save’ requirement, to create the right technology platforms for the future. As a result, there are few parts of the public sector which will not experience some sort of IT enabled change programme in the next three years.
Collaboration at the core
Much of this change will be driven by the need to collaborate and share data across multiple organisations. A number of examples spring to mind:
The linking up of social and health care will require investment in infrastructure to enable sharing of personal information by a range of government agencies, charities and private sector providers.
The NHS is being asked to revisit the previously doomed patient records project to cut costs – with £1bn to spend.
The closure of the standalone jobs centre network means the DWP will have to work out how it can move and share information, regardless of where the offices are located.
The reinvention of public sector IT
To deliver all of this change, the public sector will have to fundamentally reappraise and reinvent its approach to IT.
The pressure to free up property, reduce headcount and collaborate in service delivery, means that the patchwork of in-house data centres, development teams and bespoke IT infrastructure which exists in the public sector, will have to be replaced with open, shared technology which can flex around the needs of an increasingly dynamic sector.
Support of the private sector
The Government Digital Service, backed with a new investment of £450m until 2020, is being asked to drive change at the heart of government. However, it is private sector cloud suppliers who are essential to making this change happen across the wider public sector. They need to ensure the capacity for secure data sharing and storage, keep that data secure and the IT infrastructure working effectively, and support the migration from in-house to cloud-enabled IT.
Partnership is critical
For all this to work, both the public and private sector need to learn from and act on past failures.
To meet the pace of change necessary to drive these efficiencies, public sector must speed up its decision making and procurement cycles, ensuring better use of the G-Cloud buying platform. It will also need to lose the ‘crutch’ which has been big IT partnership, and work with a range of smaller partners on shorter, more flexible contracts.
The private sector must step up too: business models predicated on bespoking, supplying hordes of contractors, long tie-ins and onerous service level agreements cannot feature in this future.
It is only by doing this that public and private sector organisations will be able to build partnerships which are capable of sustaining digital government in the years ahead.