Why 2016 could be the year we see a truly digital government

Steven Cox
By , - NewsGovernment

As 2015 drew to a close, I took a look forward to what may lay in-store for technology in the public sector in the new year.

Here are 10 things we’re expecting to see in the next 12 months:

We will see increased “Digitalisation” with IT going to the core of the business of government – strongly enabled by the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). There will be more digital government initiatives e.g. creating digital courts to drive the efficiency of court proceedings.  This is more about change than IT alone and will require end to end transformation in the back office as well as what is presented to end users and citizens.

To support this increase in digital and end to end transformation we will see greater momentum behind two-speed or bi-modal IT enabled by “Hybrid IT” strategies that will mix resilient legacy IT with a multitude of cloud platforms and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to unlock existing assets. Native application development in the cloud will allow for new digital applications to be created quickly using open source, but to minimise risk these will still need to operate with legacy (heritage) platforms.

On the back of investment in APIs and cloud, we will see a greater number of citizen focused apps. This is something that could happen quite quickly depending on reaction to HMRC’s Personal Tax accounts – people may demand delivery of this as an app for tablet or smartphone and if they do this it would drive longer term demand for a consolidated single customisable app – maybe MyGov – for all central and local government, at which point we will know that Government is truly digital.

Government as a Platform (GaaP) will either drive greater alignment of IT strategy as it becomes better understood – or it will die trying. GDS now has the mandate to deliver GaaP with the injection of £450M from the CSR. 2016 will be the year that everyone should really understand the vision for GaaP and how it will be delivered.

To deliver on the savings that digital services promise, greater focus will have to be given to mandating as well as incentivising the use of digital services. More expensive channels such as telephone or physical face-to-face contact centres will increasingly be switched off to save money. Digital inclusion initiatives as well as “assisted digital” services provided by intermediaries such as the Post Office will continue to be a priority to support citizens and help those without the skills, access or motivation.

Fraud and Error initiatives will take greater priority to help save some of the £31 billion lost across the public sector every year. The CSR incentivises local authorities to get more involved. More broadly data analytics & big data sharing across public bodies will become a policy issue. Government will need to explore the opportunities further pitching data sharers against privacy campaigners, out of which will come definitions for the use of open and closed data sets as well as their taxonomy, rule sets and the privacy requirements.

In 2016 we really will start to see local authorities starting to share services. Driven in part by devolution, securely connecting private cloud infrastructure and sharing “data hubs” will help local authorities to realise the opportunities that will scale across multiple councils. What makes the difference is multiple authorities wanting to work together not just one or two reluctantly where one might have had to sacrifice capability at the benefit of the other.  To support local authority digitalisation and free up resources will require central government help.

So far the public sector has escaped major embarrassment from IT security breaches like those witnessed in the private sector. Because of the increase in digital services and the commoditisation and volume of hacking, it’s only a matter of time before the public sector sees the same level of challenge.  In 2016 we could see the first major hack of Government IT or infrastructure.

G-Cloud spend will continue to rise but there will be increasing focus on the amount of spend going to contractors and consultants that are needed to fill the IT roles as Departments look to insource the skills they need. There is a risk that overall IT spend will continue to increase counter to savings. Transparency of that spend will be crucial to ensure that the investment is delivering the promised outcomes.

Devolution will provide the opportunity and the economies of scale that will lead to integrated digital services across local authorities, transport and healthcare. Driving the delivery of smarter, digital cities and communities will need a macro level view across sectors and services, contrary to the siren calls or hype for individual digital services which won’t necessarily deliver on policy objectives.

Do you agree? What other technology trends do you expect to see in the public sector 2016? Leave a comment below or tweet me @StevenAJC and let me know your thoughts.

Image credit: Howard Lake

Steven Cox

Steven Cox

Executive Director and Vice President for Public Sector at Fujitsu
Steven Cox

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