I was honoured last week to be elected as Vice-Chair of techUK’s Public Services Board. The PSB brings together senior public sector leaders from tech companies large and small engaged in digital public services delivery. It aims to:
- Improve the engagement between Government and the tech industry
- Provide leadership on critical policy issues related to public services transformation
- Champion better use of disruptive technology to drive efficiencies in Government and transform our public services
Having been elected onto the board as one of 8 SME representatives 12 months ago and working alongside my colleagues on the production of techUK’s Three Point Plan. I was extremely keen, not only to retain my place on the board but also to take on a more prominent role in order to champion the role that SMEs have to play in delivering the plan. The 3 key tenets are:
To support civil servants earlier in the process and help develop policy with technical expertise. techUK members are committing resource to engage much earlier in the process, ensuring officials develop policy with a proper understanding of what technology can do.
Providing standardised, transparent reporting. This will overcome the problems of wildly varying reporting requirements on public sector contracts, which had the effect of making one scheme impossible to compare with another. The industry will agree a standardised data and evaluation scheme, allowing Government to pick and choose suppliers more effectively.
Giving civil servants the opportunity to experiment and explore solutions in a risk-free environment. techUK’s ‘innovation den’ model will be used to provide a test platform for new projects, and is designed to overcome the problem of public sector innovation being strangled by the fear of failure. techUK will develop a ‘techmap’ of suppliers, ensuring Government is aware of all the options available to them.
Point’s 1 and 2 are relatively straightforward issues to address and are really there as a direct acknowledgement that the relationship between the technology industry and public sector has often been frayed and the board have already begun to build meaningful relationships with key figures in government that will set about delivering on those points.
Point 3 is really where my passion and focus will be over the next 12 months as I truly believe that this is where the SMEs can have the greatest impact and also where the most work is still to be done. There have been lots of positive noises coming out of central government about the role of SMEs in delivering digital transformation however the reality on the ground is that very little has changed and the only thing that can really change this is a widespread reform of how digital services are built and delivered.
There is a lot of controversy currently surrounding the recent resignation of Mike Bracken from his role at GDS with some reports suggesting it was in large part due to his frustrations in pushing through the Government as a Platform reform he remains so passionate about. If that is the case then it truly is a poor reflection on the actual appetite for Government to transform.
What this Government absolutely has to do over the next 5 years is create a platform and an ecosystem for SMEs to be able to quickly and effectively build digital platforms for government that don’t rely on the legacy systems of yesteryear. As soon as a digital project has to integrate into legacy technology the procurement options shrink dramatically to the System Integrators – it’s what they do and they do it well but it doesn’t push the envelope.
Until the legacy systems are abstracted or replaced there is no easy route and no sound commercial reason for SMEs to enter the market. Entrepreneurs and Founders of technology businesses tend to focus on consumer or enterprise marketplaces as there is a well established marketplace and a clear, repeatable business model and route to market.
Until an SME can build a single Software as a Service against a documented and supported set of Government Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that means they can sell that solution into any central or local government organisation without having to change a single line of code then the barriers to entry will always put them off and that in turn hugely decreases the influx of new ideas and innovation that the sector is crying out for.
I’m under no illusions about how difficult the task is, both for industry and for Government themselves, but the rewards for doing this are almost immeasurable. Mark Thompson, one of the leading figures in arguing for this change, suggests a potential saving of £35bn. That is a lot of nurses, care workers and teachers and I am committed to doing everything I can to drive this transformation and open the doors for more SMEs into the Public Sector.
LinkedIn: Carlos Oliveira