One big challenge for public sector CIOs has always been the impact of differing political perspectives on the role of the public sector and hence the way that technology is designed and used.
The coalition government intends to swing the pendulum well away from the centralised and intrusive model of recent times to one focused on services designed to meet citizens’ needs.
This requires a radical business, information and systems redesign: without that, political aspirations will be undermined by an incompatible and dysfunctional operational infrastructure.
The current drive to deliver better for less is an essential part of this redesign and consists of two complementary strands.
One is focused on driving out costs and improving IT operations.
The other is focused on how to do things differently, rethinking front-office services as well as the middle- and back-office structures required to let them operate in more agile and efficient ways.
From office productivity to online self-service and from policy automation to reliable emergency communications, this is a world in which open standards will help drive cost-effective, higher quality and better public services.
It’s a world away from the expensive model that placed government IT in the hands of a few large multinationals and segmented technology from the design and operation of public services, as if IT and public services could somehow ever hope to thrive in separate worlds.
This radical redesign is in part why the government’s open standards consultation has generated so much heat and noise.
Bringing IT squarely into the design and operation of our public services is both alien and threatening to incumbent suppliers.
This ambitious programme has implications that extend well beyond the current coalition.
After all, which political party would not want a digital infrastructure able to provide a well-designed, efficient set of public services that are agile and responsive to changing policy priorities?
An infrastructure built on a set of guiding principles that enshrine the central role of the citizen, and the protection of their privacy and security.
The government is already making progress in driving operational efficiency and taking out cost from poorly designed business and information systems.
Yet the real challenge for CIOs is only now commencing: how to rethink our public services and set a future direction for IT that not only improves the short-term performance of the UK’s public services, but which also has continuing policy relevance long into the future.