What will happen on Government transformation in 2017?

Andy Beale, the outgoing CTO for Government, has penned a valedictory blog which offers some key insights on the state of public sector tech in 2017, and what the next stage of transformation might involve.

As you’d expect the blog celebrates the progress Beale and his team made in areas like standardisation, improving the quality of tech for end users in the civil service, encouraging collaboration and breaking down departmental silos.

On the plus side, Beale says the 2013 tech refresh at the Cabinet Office was a great success and served as an “exemplar” of corporate IT for the rest of government. “Users got the IT they actually loved using, that was secure and was 40% cheaper than the old stuff.”

He adds this served as a blueprint for the Common Technology Services (CTS) programme, which aims to replicate core services like apps, end user computing, hosting, networking, and service management across the public sector. Beale claims CTS is “going from strength to strength and is now working right across government”.

Many observers from have taken issue with that. They say CTS is a framework that different arms of government have the option of buying in to, and that there is nothing forcing them to do this. In effect, this means departments can continue to do their own thing, much as they did before.

Beale’s blog hints at this, and seems to contain coded warnings that breaking down internal silos and rivalry between Government departments, to ensure true collaboration, continues to be an issue.

He talks of a continuing need to “reinforce the commitment to collaboration and breaking down of silos, including internal silos” and “integrate more activity across the previously distinct digital, data and technology areas.”

The strong implication is that there is still insufficient collaboration, and that the siloed mentality across government remains too strong. This is perhaps why the Government Digital Service (GDS) has lost so many senior staff, including Beale himself, over the past 12 months – and why GDS has still not yet published a strategy on how it will spend the £450 million it was given at last year’s Spending Review.

Reports before Christmas suggested that GDS’ forward strategy would be published early in 2017. At the end of January there’s no sign of this yet, and GDS’ new Director General Kevin Cunnington has said very little about his plans since taking up his role in August 2016.

So looking ahead all eyes will be on whether GDS will in the future have the power to mandate or merely suggest change? Will individual departments be allowed to do technology on their own, as they were before GDS was set up, with all the problems in terms of inconsistency, duplication and waste, and uneven progress that entails?

For those of us watching the government’s ongoing efforts to drive digital transformation, for itself and for the citizens of the UK, there’s very much still all to play for. And it’ll be interesting to see how the GDS itself shapes its future role in this transformation, and the extent to which it is able to work with departments and secure their buy-in to its important work.

Burhan in our Public Affairs team

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