The culture and digital economy minister issued a call to the public just after Christmas last year to submit their ideas for the UK’s digital strategy.
Vaizey invited the public and businesses to comment on ‘unlocking digital growth’, ‘transforming government’, ‘transforming day to day life’ and ‘building the foundations’ to do that by 2020.
Computerworld UK asked businesses in the UK to see what they believe should be done. There’s agreement on one thing in particular: the need for heavy and countrywide investment into the digital infrastructure of the UK.
Alex Blandford of digital transformation agency Wunder told Computerworld UK that it would be nice to see a “comprehensive strategy” rather than ringfenced projects that are the result of each department tacking a bit of ‘digital’ onto their budgets.
He says: “The work that needs to be done is desperately unsexy. You want to fix government digital? Fix procurement. If you want to fix the digital economy you’re probably going to have to lay a load of cable around the countryside or do something that’s muddy and boring and prosaic.”
And EMC’s public sector CIO James Norman tells CWUK that while the government is making a lot of noise about embracing technology, it will need to “clarify its plans” for any of these developments.
Read on for the full comments from Wunder, EMC, Accenture, and more...
James Norman, UK public sector CIO, EMC
Storage giant EMC submitted its proposals to Vaizey. CIO for the UK public sector at EMC, James Norman, believes that the government’s priority should be in “developing intelligence capabilities into the infrastructure, through data, to help make organisations more informed, responsive, and cost-effective”.
“A smarter approach to driving internal government efficiency is needed to improve services for citizens, businesses and those who operate the services themselves,” Norman says.
He explains that knowledge sharing and understanding the need for collaboration will be “important in driving the goal of increased efficiencies within government”.
“No one group has all the answers,” Norman says. ”The GDS will have to continue working further afield in the public sector, as well as with the technology industry. Government as a Platform must be built for citizens and public sector organisations, to improve efficiencies in how Government can deliver integrated services.
“The Government has begun to embrace technology. However, it needs to clarify its plan for progress to facilitate this development. Crucial to the Government’s transformation success will be a strong focus at central and local Governments and building up user trust in these new systems to encourage wider digital adoption.”
Jacqueline de Rojas, Area VP, northern Europe, Citrix – president of TechUK
Citrix provides a range of software and services for the public sector, and area VP for northern Europe, Jacqueline de Rojas, is also president of technology industry group Tech UK, which organises events and lobbies on behalf of tech companies operating in Britain.
De Rojas says that technology’s greatest potential will be “opening up a significant number of opportunities to a far larger number of people,” including those who live rurally or have illnesses that prevent them from travelling to an office.
“To achieve this potential, we must first make sure that no one is excluded from these opportunities,” de Rojas says. “Go.On UK, the digital skills charity, recently produced a digital exclusion heat map which illustrates the extent of Britain’s digital deficit, taking into account a series of variables including access, infrastructure, and basic digital skills.
“For technology to truly transform our lives, we must first address these disparities to ensure that its opportunities are not limited just to those fortunate enough to have both the knowledge and infrastructure.”
Simon Hansford, Skyscape CEO
Skyscape provides cloud services that are specifically tailored to the public sector in the UK. The company has recommended to Vaizey that the government does more to promote G-Cloud and Digital Services in the wider public sector, who aren’t mandated to use any particular government framework.
“This could be achieved with minimal investment on the government’s part through closer collaboration with industry,” the recommendation reads.
The company also believes that the government needs to “create and market a safe environment for data processing”. This could involve updating the Information Commissioner’s Office guidelines on big data and on data protection, to state any government led or funded big data initiatives depending on personal data will only be stored and processed in the UK, using “highly secure data processers that are not at risk from exposure to foreign jurisdictions”.
A net result could mean increased public trust in big data. Skyscape is also recommending the government launch a nationwide marketing campaign to explain the benefits of data analytics to the public, which would also outline how personal data is protected by law.
Simon Hansford, CEO, says: "Significant progress has been made in recent years to digitise public services; the G-Cloud Framework and GOV.UK are prime examples of the UK’s innovative approach, but more is needed to be done to keep the UK at the forefront of the global digital revolution."
Derren Nisbet, Managing Director for Unit4
Unit4 provides back office systems to local government in the UK, and it also has central government customers. Managing director Derren Nisbet told CWUK that the enormous increase in mobile computing means many public sector workers are experiencing a ‘digital downgrade’ when they go to work.
“If Mr Vaizey is serious about the leading role the UK plays in digital government, then he has the opportunity to do away with clunky legacy systems and look to enterprise that can become the engine room of effective public services,” Nisbet says.
“The UK must embrace technologies that are flexible and support mobile working and analytics within the four walls of government – otherwise digital government will be built upon sand.”
Ross Mason, founder, MuleSoft
API connectivity platform provider MuleSoft submitted proposals to Vaizey. Mason, the company's founder, believes government records and data that were previously isolated and difficult for the public to access "should be considered to become widely available through APIs".
Mason continues: "By using APIs to expose such data, the government is encouraging and enabling creative developers to discover and create new uses for this information in ways that engage and inform the public, while also making the legislature more transparent, responsive and effective."
There are benefits beyond transparency, according to Mason - by making the most of open APIs, the government can improve its operations and also better serve citizens, including in areas like processing tax returns, NHS applications, and other manual civilian services.
Narry Singh, managing director of digital strategy, Accenture Strategy
Although the UK has made considerable efforts in ensuring it is recognised as a leader in digital, Singh believes there's plenty more to be done in terms of delivering benefits to the economy and to citizens.
Almost a third of the UK economy is related to digital skills and capital - equivalent to £626 billion - but Singh warns that the sheer size of the digital economy won't guarantee its future growth.
"That's because even though the UK has an enviable digital foundation, some of those skills are basic, and some of that technology is not being applied in optimal ways throughout the economy," Singh says. "We have to push harder by using digital skills and technologies in smarter ways. If we take even bigger steps to improve our use of digital technology, the UK can enjoy a boost to GDP in 2020 of as much as £58 billion."
But what does that entail? According to Singh and Accenture, it's ensuring investments are channeled in the proper way. Britain should be paying particular attention to fostering digital skills. There's also, Singh says, a great deal of opportunity in the internet of things and machine-to-machine communication - which lags behind some other European countries.
Singh also believes digital should be 'tapped' to raise capital: "Digital platforms are not extensively used in the UK to access capital, compared to other advanced economies like the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia and the US, putting its small enterprises at a disadvantage at a time when traditional lending to this sector has
dried up," Singh says.
He adds: "UK companies are underinvested in superfast internet. Companies also need to make the most of mobile as UK firms lag behind their advanced economy counterparts in mobile connections with consumers."
Alex Blandford, consultant, Wunder
Wunder is a digital agency specialising in public sector digital transformation, and has worked with the Ministry for Justice and Judicial Appointments Commission.
It’s interesting in the first instance, Blandford says, that the moves are being made by Vaizey and DCMS – which he mentions has been eking towards something of a digital landgrab in recent years.
“We need to see government support for digital in more than just populist issues, we need money for digital infrastructure, inclusion and data, to build a competitive Britain and stop with piecemeal and contradictory policies," Blandford says.
He goes on to explain that connectivity and rural broadband is the elephant in the room - with Wi-Fi 'notspots' even existing in the capital.
“It’s all very well us in London talking about better digital services and a strong digital economy," he says. "But if a good chunk of the country aren’t able to access that because they don’t have the speeds, that’s a huge problem.
Speaking more widely, Blandford asserts that digital strategy feels like it "falls between the gaps". "Each department wants shiny bits that are their bits of digital policy – it doesn’t feel like a coordinated response from government to the needs of a very quickly changing economy," he says. "It feels like each department has a little policy they’ve tacked on to the end of their budget that is their digital thing."
“The hopes I have is that we start to see something in the idea of the national interest.
“It would be pleasant to see a better, a more coordinated response that’s also borne out of an understanding of the technological reality, rather than wishful thinking that will waste money and leave us no more competitive and no more able to create a more digital state or a more digital economy.
“The work that needs to be done is desperately unsexy. You want to fix government digital? Fix procurement. If you want to fix the digital economy you’re probably going to have to lay a load of cable around the countryside or do something that’s muddy and boring and prosaic.”