One of my favourite actors is Robin Williams and over the summer I watched 'Dead Poets Society' in which he played John Keating, an English teacher at an aristocratic college in Vermont in the late 1950s. Early on in the movie Keating quotes from the Robert Herrick poem 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may', drawing on the idea of Carpe Diem - 'seize the day' - or, as I like to think of it from an ICT strategy perspective, 'seize the opportunity'.
Carpe Diem is about living in the moment without thought for past experience or future considerations. Some might argue that this is why we are where we are today with the ensuing deficit and, in terms of government IT, an oligopoly of suppliers, a multiplicity of large, complex and unwieldy systems and an unsustainable cost base underpinned by outdated legacy technology.
In the context of Government ICT strategy, Carpe Diem is about seizing the opportunity to exploit the new economics of IT, make IT an enabler not constraint to take the next step on the IT transformation roadmap.
The current UK Government ICT Strategy is built on the pillars of cost reduction, development of common IT infrastructure and creation of new digital services. It was drafted towards the end of 2010, during my tenure in post, with a deliberately short implementation timeline of 24 months to exploit rapidly evolving technology, the Coalition focus on IT and an evolving 'IT as a Service' landscape.
Most of the actions have been completed and thankfully we've seen progress on new ICT procurement controls, the introduction of key elements of a common infrastructure (PSN) and the G-Cloud has arrived. GDS has been driving a radically new and highly acclaimed approach to the design of new citizen facing digital services and the introduction of a CIO Delivery Board, which was somewhat of an experiment, seems to working. So what’s next?
In the words of AA Milne and his inimitable creation, Winnie the Pooh: 'Before beginning a hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it''.
With these wise words in mind and notwithstanding the need to continue to exploit the new economics of IT to drive down costs, the Government and its new IT Reform team should seize the opportunity to move the focus of any new strategy towards improving end user IT. An end user approach is both deliverable and probably now overdue, having focused largely on IT itself and its procurement in the extant strategy.
Given the complexity of existing service supply models and the heterogeneous nature of the user base, moving to a new model of consumption is unlikely to be straightforward. Although the technology part may be relatively easy to alter, changing the service delivery model, people’s habits, preferences and processes will be a challenge, but ultimately one worth tackling.
With greater end-user empowerment, IT users need to take more responsibility to articulate requirements and manage consumption. However, they also have a right to expect that their IT supplier, be it an internal resource or a service provider, should be willing and capable of providing the same flexibility, agility and level of service that they receive in their personal lives. Broader choice on use/payment options, new Cloud-based solutions and the ability to self provision/de-provision, are all characteristics of our new IT enabled world.
With these changes, however, questions tend to arise such as: 'how are we going to manage the inevitable surge in demand for 'as a Service' new products?', 'isn't there an increased security risk with these new services?' or even 'how will we keep control of this new world?'. These are all valid questions, but users are increasingly tech-savvy and G-Cloud demonstrates the reality for Cloud-based service opportunity.
One of the challenges in developing a new Government ICT strategy is to focus on the IT user rather than the enabling technology. In parallel, it should adopt of a more Carpe Diem approach that seizes the moment (opportunity) in order to take a quantum step forward to delivering 'as a Service' IT. The UK Government has been recognised for its world leading ICT strategies, and long may this continue, hopefully by building a move to IT as a Service into its next iteration!