Think Digital Government 2017 sparks intense delegate debate

Last Friday’s major public sector IT buyer and seller event hailed a success by attendees and sponsors alike

Posted 18 September 2017 by Gary Flood

Where to now for IT in the UK public sector?

A big question – but at least some markers may have been laid down last Friday for attendees of a very successful Think Digital Government 2017 digital government conference in London.

The mood was perhaps best summed up by the two sessions that framed the day, both of which offered uncompromising challenges to the status quo.

In the first, Gary Barnett, Head of End User Advisory at independent analyst firm GlobalData, who challenged the sector to up its game around digital transformation.

“We’re not Hermiones – we have no magical powers, and we’re not dealing with ‘muggles’,” he teased the audience, much of which was composed of front-line central government digital teams and their bosses.

“We’ve spent too long getting the low-hanging digital government fruit, and not enough on how to get the ‘high-hanging’ stuff.”

Barnett claimed agents for change like GDS needed to opt for different strategies to succeed, with claims that legacy could just be “turned off” not being helpful and for it to work more on the ‘mid’ and ‘back’ office parts of government, which is “where the money is actually spent and wasted”, not the front (user interface) end.

“The real driver of transformation isn’t ‘digital’ at all, but a people, cultural, fear and blood-and-guts thing,” he finished, calling for a much sharper focus on the major processes of government by anyone interested in improvement and reform.

Barnett’s sharp questioning was echoed by the concluding panel of the day, which asked some tough questions about the state of The Digital Marketplace.

Here, Daniel Thornton of respected think tank The Institute for Government opened up a fascinating floor-level debate with delegates, the vast majority of whom are existing G-Cloud users – and who seem ripe for change in the way that buying framework is operating.

“Our research says that in general, The Marketplace has been a success,” he told the audience at The Business Design Centre, Islington.

“It’s been great for reducing some transaction cost and has helped spread standards.”

However, he warned, question marks over the resources GDS has, given its current focus on the Verify e-payment system, to push the system forward are starting to appear, and many areas of functionality that have been promised (such as reviews) still have not come online.

In the subsequent debate, practitioners from local and central government anonymously did actually share some of their frustrations, with one delegate complaining that, “The vision of G-Cloud being ‘Amazon for Government’ just hasn’t happened yet.”

Speakers were also very conscious of the gap between the original G-Cloud and 2010-2015 Coalition administration’s aim of seeing the end of the ‘oligopoly’ in central government IT supply.

As chair of the morning session, Stuart Lauchlan of global IT news and analysis site diginomica.com put it, “‘The Empire Struck Back’.”

We’re going to share more insights and useful ideas from the conference over the next few days on Think Digital Partners.

But don’t forget we also have a second great event this week – Think AI for Public Sector.

It’s on Wednesday, again in Central London, and is set to debate the vital issue of how the UK should best deal with the challenge of advanced technologies like AI and robotics.

Go here if you’d like to find out more – and hope to see you there, if you have a chance to come!