Debt, recession, cutbacks and economic turmoil in the eurozone present the perfect opportunity to be disruptive with new technologies and to "challenge old orthodoxies", says Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.
In a speech to IT vendor body Intellect, Maude said: "Because of, not in spite of, the huge challenges we are facing – the mountain of debt we inherited, the ongoing economic uncertainty across Europe, and an ageing population – our public services need, more than ever, creative, dynamic, pioneering solutions."
An economist might point out that the economic black hole in Europe is evidence enough of old orthodoxies being challenged, but that (plus Jerry cans and queues at petrol stations) aside, Maude is fast building a reputation for himself as Whitehall's procurement enforcer, by challenging major IT suppliers to reduce and standardise prices across government over the past two years.
Maude used the phrase "powerful oligopoly" to describe major suppliers' historic relationships with Whitehall. He said that renegotiations with key suppliers have realised savings of £160m on ICT contracts over the last financial year, with an additional £70m across wider public sector organisations.
Maude has departed from previous administrations' IT procurement policies by tackling the government's reliance on systems integrators and consultancies and setting an "aspirational" target of 25 per cent procurement overall from the SME sector – something that is broadly welcomed in the industry.
Maude has also been prime mover of the coalition's policy of commercialising open data from the centre of Westminster – even if the government has proved to be less open about some other aspects of its operations, according to the Information Commissioner.
"We need to be at the forefront of the open data revolution so we are exploiting our data resources to drive efficiency, increase choice and spur new growth," Maude told Intellect.
Last month, funding for the government's Open Data Institute, headed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, was announced. The ODI aims to find new ways of commercialising open data and creating innovative solutions via partnerships between the public and private sectors. Maude himself recently called for a "dynamic culture of data sharing" in the UK.
"The link between public services and growth is too little talked about," said Maude. "The reality we must face is that the UK government is spending less money and will continue to reduce spending in the years ahead.
"We are using our current assets more intensively, managing our suppliers coherently and integrating our infrastructure.
"We also have more radical ambitions: to transform the way we operate, to channel our resources more effectively, and to open government up: to new ideas, to new businesses and entrepreneurs and to new technology.
"To do this we need to be on the cutting edge ensuring our services are fit for the 21st century – agile, flexible and digital by default," he said.
But how does he propose to do this?
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