It would seem absurd for someone to suggest that government requires specially commissioned ‘public sector electricity’ or ‘public sector gas’ to operate. Yet that has been the equivalent of the approach to government IT over the last 15 or so years.
Civil servants, citizens and businesses alike have endured overly complicated and highly expensive systems and processes based on the false perception that ‘special’ IT is needed for the public sector. The move to digital by default and civil service reform reject this approach, moving to a relentless focus on user needs and the redesign of services at front-end and back-end.
A new desktop installation in parts of the Cabinet Office, for example, is using utility services and strong commercial security with networking over the internet in place of ‘special’ IT. The project is delivering a better user experience at much less cost.
Changes to the government protective marking scheme will add momentum to this transition. It will enable the use of best practice commercial security that relies upon good governance across people, processes and technology – rather than the misplaced bias of the past towards trusting technology alone.
Systems that work successfully build on simple systems, and are iteratively improved, refined and evolved. User feedback is an essential, integral part in this process. As the digital strategy gains momentum, it will provide dynamically reconfigurable services that organisations can specify and maintain at the business level, not in brittle code that takes months or even years to change, forever lagging behind urgent policy needs.
The digitisation of our public services will build on the open standards and open platforms approach of the internet, enabling innovation to flourish. In the same way that the internet has acted as a catalyst for innovative new businesses and service models, the development of government as a platform will act as the engine of both better user services and economic growth.
There will be other positive side benefits too – many of the traditional ‘oligopoly’ of suppliers to the public sector have apparently been operating imaginative tax avoidance schemes. The move to more open, modular, componentised IT will encourage a new supply ecosystem of SMEs, helping develop the UK’s inherent digital era strengths rather than seeing taxpayers’ money thrown wastefully overboard.
The vision is compelling: a virtuous circle of better IT, better public services and sustainable economic growth in the UK’s own IT industry, delivering a genuinely ‘special’ outcome.