FCO Services: Getting Serious About Innovation

FCO Services’s Global Digital Technology Group says it’s setting up a new Transformation Hub to explore the potential of IoT and Big Data as ways to deliver better government services

Posted 8 February 2017 by Gary Flood

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is one of the most important parts of Whitehall. We recently met up with Rob Eason, Director of the organisation’s FCO Services Global Digital Technology Group, to find out more about what it has up its sleeves with regards to technology and innovation – and came away pretty impressed.

A bit of context: FCO Services is a Trading Fund of the FCO, providing a range of integrated, secure services worldwide to the FCO and other UK government departments, supporting the delivery of government agendas. It also provides services to foreign governments and international organisations closely linked to the UK.

Hi there, Mr Eason. Can you tell us something about what FCO Services does in terms of the UK government?

We are an executive agency of the FCO with trading fund status, something that allows us to deliver logistics, IT and a range of other services to the country’s global network of over 260 Embassies, posts and consulates. I think you could see us the service arm of the global enterprise that is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, in other words. We also deliver the very important work of NACE, the National Authority for Counter Eavesdropping, which has more than 65 years of experience in detecting and protecting the nation against technical espionage and attacks.

What’s the IT side of all this?

We run two highly secure datacentres that act as the main technology delivery mechanism for all our services. Those services are consumed right across government, from FCO itself to other clients of FCO Services like the National Crime Agency, the Home Office, BEIS, HMRC and others. In terms of what we’re providing those Departments, it’s a range of things, from services and technical expertise to client support, networking help, hosting. Finally, we work with a range of technology suppliers to have the capability to deliver all this. FCO Services is a 24×7 global services organisation with a lot to do, in other words.

What’s the most important thing you’re trying to do to prepare for the future, though?

Without a doubt, that’s our work on our Transformation Hub, which is 75% ready for market, and about which we are very excited.

That sounds intriguing – can you tell ThinkDigitalPartner readers any more?

Some of the details are still being finalised, but I am happy to give you the basics, of course. So we are always looking for ways to innovate, but also to deliver government services faster, better, cheaper, and securely. We are also very aware of the work led by GDS and CCS in terms of renewing and improving the creation and building of public sector services. And out on the horizon are some very powerful emergent technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data analytics and secure document handling.

All these drivers have come together, really, to prompt us to look for ways to leverage the very best ideas, not just of the big suppliers we are familiar with, but the very important SME, Small To Medium Enterprise, community. That’s become a vision of fusing what we know and can do with some of the best ideas from that market; we are going to couple our resources with some really fresh, leading-edge thinking, and offer our government and public sector clients, hopefully new ones, too, new solutions and new ways of solving problems.

That sounds really interesting. Can you give us some examples to make it more concrete for our readers?

There’s so much going on. We are looking at Big Data and big data analytics as methods of improving our insight into how our global network runs. The analysis we hope to get will allow us to optimise the performance of our overseas estate and create efficiencies.

Then there’s smart city thinking. Why don’t we apply that to what we do, too? So you’re looking at widespread use of devices, IoT sensors, to gather data at a very granular level on that network, too. And not just ours – we have many other client networks we can draw in here too, like Police forces.

Soon, you start to see how there’s a connection building between IoT, analytics, Big Data, and really sophisticated analysis that could open up some really innovative ways of looking at IT operations across government to improve business outcomes. That’s what the Hub is all about – we want it to become a kind of nexus for some revolutionary, next generation thinking. But not for its own sake – this all has to cash out against the promise of it translating into ever more agile, flexible and efficient ways to deliver public services, both internationally and at national and local level, ideally.

Great stuff. What’s your message, then, to the Think Digital Partners community around the Transformation Hub?

The bottom line is that we have great capability and resources here and are genuinely looking to partner to innovate. We want to find new ways of working with supply chains and good, strong technology partners – maybe it’s you? The door is open. We are open to dialogue, and I hope to have some conversations about that from today.

Sounds excellent; we’ll come back and see how you’re doing with the Hub later in the year, Mr Eason. And good luck!

Listen to more from FCO Services at this Friday’s Think Digital Government 2017 Conference 
‘Crossing the Gap’ – Moving from Fully-Serviced IT to the Self-Service Cloud