As part of Digital Leaders Week in June, I joined Karen Lynch, Vice Chair of Social Enterprise UK, in a fireside chat discussing Profit with Purpose. Here, I reflect (briefly) on my experiences in Government, my thoughts on some of the challenges that still lie ahead, and why I’m excited to be the new ‘gaffer’ at Scott Logic.
A few years ago, I was fortunate to work with some of the most talented folks in government, working with Mike Bracken and the amazing team he had assembled, and then taking on the responsibility in 2015 for leading Government Digital Services (GDS). Talk about standing on the shoulders of giants!
For those of you unfamiliar with the organisation, GDS is part of the Cabinet Office. Its job is to deliver platforms, products and services that help government to become joined-up, trusted and responsive to user needs. It does this through GOV.UK and national digital infrastructure, Digital Identity and Government as a Platform. In addition, much of its recent focus has been on supporting the government’s response to COVID-19 by providing digital leadership and tools to enable services to be rapidly built and deployed.
Before GDS, government had been ruled by silos for too long, not just organisational and technical silos, but silos of knowledge and experience that made service delivery more difficult than it should have been. GDS not only started a revolution in the way government delivered services, it put users front and centre of the process and introduced new procurement mechanisms, finally providing access to the talent that resides outside of the large System Integrators [SIs].
A particular challenge was in relation to those services that have cross-cutting concerns – services that are most valuable to citizens. For example: think about how benefits and payments are divided between DWP and HMRC; how much easier would life be for you if you could choose to share your payroll or bank information with public bodies? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a single, secure route to accessing services across government?
Why should you have to know how government has organised itself to do things you need to do? You shouldn’t.
The challenge now, and one that GDS is embracing in its latest strategy, is the integration of services that break down these boundaries and provide the frictionless experiences people expect and have a right to demand. And with the talented and dedicated team in place, led by Tom Read, I’m certain they will continue to be a huge success.
The privilege of leading the GDS team was always going to be a hard act to follow. Its purpose, during my time, was nothing less than leading the digital transformation of government. We made huge progress because we were bold. When at GDS my colleague Janet Hughes said, “Being bold means bringing your whole self to the situation and engaging fully with it. It involves openness, optimism and a commitment to something bigger than yourself,” to this day I couldn’t agree with her more!
This boldness I now bring to Scott Logic. We have ambitious plans for continued future growth, beyond the significant double-digit growth we will achieve this year; and we have already established a bold strategy, which will deliver on the purpose of the organisation, empowering our talented people to achieve something bigger. The strategy is also important in ensuring that everyone understands our intent, and how they can contribute. It’s not something created and stored in an ivory tower; as the GDS Design Standard states, “Make things open, it makes things better.”
My new role represents a hugely exciting opportunity to work with an exceptional company, as it takes on some of the most difficult and complex technical challenges in the Public Sector, Financial Services and Energy sectors. But delivering digital change alone is not enough. It’s also important that we take our role in society seriously. Scott Logic’s fifth strategic goal relates to our Social Intent – we will grow our organisation’s broader value to the communities and industries we directly touch in order to tangibly contribute to our society and world. This is a big commitment, and core to our values – it is something that attracted me to join, and I look forward to discussing this when I join Karen in the fireside chat.
One of my final blogs at GDS in May 2016 looked ahead to 2030. Somehow I failed to predict Brexit and a global pandemic, but these once in a lifetime disrupters have only increased the need for high-quality digital services.
The bedrock of future service design, policy making, engagement and operational efficiency will be data. The National Data Strategy, and the formation of the Data Standards Authority, are recognition of this undeniable reality. As DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden commented, “Data is the great opportunity of our time. It has the potential to transform almost every part of our society and economy – from boosting trade and productivity, to fuelling business and job creation, securing the next scientific breakthrough, revolutionising the public sector and creating a better and fairer society for all.”
Of course, we’ve already seen the power and importance of data during the COVID pandemic, in identifying trends, supporting the vulnerable, and driving the vaccination programme. Scott Logic was delighted to be part of this, working with NHS Digital on the Shielded Patient Lists which draws on datasets from NHS Trusts across the UK to provide up to date information to the most vulnerable in our society.
The increasing prevalence and quantity of data, and the silos in which it exists, creates several challenges to this strategy: engineering systems to expose data to business users; and secure, open access to these data and services. This will require policy and standards; and here, I believe, we can learn from the success of Open Banking, which faced and met similar challenges, facilitating improved, integrated services for customers, and the emergence of a new fintech economy.
A great example of the opportunity is NatWest, a client of Scott Logic, which has transformed its business through the implementation of Open APIs. Not only does it now directly provide support to its 7,500,000 retail customers, but also indirectly to 750,000 customers via 200 third-party providers offering value-add services leveraging NatWest data. Perhaps more importantly, it accelerated the Bank’s digital transformation, with new services being built against Open APIs rather than the core banking platform.
We’ve seen some initial, similar successes within the public sector. There are now over 600 apps powered by Transport for London data, which are used by 42% of Londoners; and Jacqui Leggetter, Head of Integration at DWP Digital, has recently been discussing a set of APIs, called the ‘Passport Benefit’ layer. The primary use for these is to indicate whether someone qualifies for free prescriptions, but there are many other services that have the same qualifying conditions – such as free school meals or blue badge schemes for disabled parking – which could make use of this to make the lives of many people easier.
The continued opening of services and data through the development of APIs is essential for cross-departmental integration, and GDS is uniquely positioned to support this. Open APIs, such as the ones proved by TfL, enable third parties to deliver value-add services; and this is important for a government with increasingly limited spending power. With finite resources, you cannot do everything; if others can do a thing, and it’s safe to let them do it, let them do it.
Similarly in this area, the recent emergence of Data Mesh offers the tantalising hope of an approach to solving the enduring problem of data silos within departments. Scott Logic is currently working with DWP on the implementation of its Data Mesh; this is bringing together for the first time disparate data to provide a single citizen view, enabling improved service provision, both digitally and operationally. Although not yet fully live, the work completed to date demonstrates the power of the approach.
Building on the many successes of GDS and government as a whole, there is still a huge part to be played not only in delivering new services to citizens, but also in facilitating the digital economy. The Payment Services Directive [PSD2] policy, which mandated Open Banking, was the first of many such initiatives. Open Energy should have a similar transformational effect in the drive to Net Zero, and Open Finance promises to revolutionise every aspect of our financial lives.
When PSD2 first emerged, it was impossible to predict with any confidence the impact it would have, and the reality has surpassed even the most positive forecasts. The only thing of which we can now be certain is that exciting times lie ahead for us as technologists. For me, I’ll continue to look across at GDS with pride, but am delighted to now be here at Scott Logic, helping to deliver this change, and positively contributing to a better society for all of us.