The UK has a hugely complex system of public services. When I started Arcus Global at the backend of 2009, the UK was considered a world leader in digital government. Over that time we’ve seen a dramatic digital shift, with much innovation and achievement taking place between 2010 and 2015.
According to a recent report from the Commission for Smart Government, progress has somewhat stalled over the last five years. Part of the issue is that the procurement process for government contracts is an extremely variable experience for smaller tech companies.
The report states that the Government has ‘allowed itself to be captured by a small number of legacy providers who in many cases dictate the terms of the market, squeezing out smaller and more innovative firms.’ But then, further hurdles come into place when smaller players do win those contracts.
In my experience, it really depends on the customer’s organisation, and what their specific team is like. Some public sector customers are comfortable using modern frameworks and proactively supporting their selected provider, helping to smooth the process. Widespread tech adoption won’t happen without greater organisational change within the public sector. Public sector digital transformation is less to do with technology. Yes, the technology is an important component, but it’s really about services and outcomes for citizens.
We can use planning as a good example here. The planning process in this country could be done entirely differently if it was digitally transformed, but that’s not about whether you host the system on AWS or in-house, or whether you have decent WiFi. It’s about being different on a business and customer experience level, and that’s where the transformation is lacking, because changing that stuff is hard.
We come across more individual IT departments who are comfortable with using AWS or Azure, with deploying Salesforce or IP telephony, but beyond that, there’s no strong story. So for us, it’s about finding organisations where there is strong leadership, people who understand that business transformation needs to be delivered and supported by technology, but not driven by it.
If we can do that, then in five years, the reports exploring the progress of UK digital government might tell a very different story.