Government digital strategy liberates public sector IT personnel from 'fixing BlackBerrys', CTO

By Danny Palmer
25 Mar 2014 View Comments

Government digital reforms such as the G-Cloud procurement initiative, have freed government IT personnel from the "prison" they'd previously been constrained to, thus allowing them to concentrate on critical "mission IT" instead of "fixing BlackBerrys."

That's what HM Government CTO Liam Maxwell told the audience during his keynote speech at Think Cloud for Government, the public sector IT conference at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London.

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Maxwell described how before the introduction of the digital reforms, the government structure for technology was based around "a collection of big beasts," major IT firms which held an oligopoly over public sector IT contracts.

"We had built a government structure around the commercial model that other people had imposed on us, when actually, we needed a much simpler structure," said Maxwell.

The government CTO said that previously government CIOs in each department had been controlling everything themselves, to such an extent that "everybody had their own ERP".

That, Maxwell told the gathered audience of public sector IT leaders, led to "mission IT" being outsourced, restricting government IT professionals to the likes of maintenance work, something he argued was never the reason someone chooses to work in government IT.

"As a result, mission IT - the reason we all got involved - was being parcelled out to specialist companies, because everybody was too busy doing the bottom bit," he said.

"Everybody was frankly - and I'm not saying this disparagingly - too busy fixing BlackBerrys rather than getting on the delivery of the work. But the reason people joined IT was to get involved with the mission IT, to make a difference," Maxwell continued, arguing that the new way of working has "liberated" government IT people to pursue the types of goals that had interested them in the role in the first place.

"This is a way of liberating government IT people from the previous prison that they had - trying to do everything by creating a digital service which works with all departments, which is about performance, user experience and design," he said."

Maxwell went on to explain how bringing SMEs into government services and a policy of open data both combine to work towards a bigger cause: allowing the government to have a better long term IT strategy. He argued that the government's digital reforms have led to a more open market, which has enabled competition to bring about better services, many of which are supplied by SMEs rather than the "oligarchy" of suppliers that dominated previous contracts.

"Everything we do is open. Everybody can see it. There's a reason behind that. The reason is we don't feel we have a monopoly on wisdom. We feel that if we make things open, we'll have better long term results by listening to advice, both nationally and internationally," he said, adding that by publishing the data then government can use it to start addressing questions asked by civil servants and the public about digital matters. 

"We're trying to make the market as open as possible so we can have as much competition as possible and using the G-cloud we've been able to get SMEs to over 50 per cent which creates new, high skilled jobs.

Ultimately, Maxwell concluded, all of these changes have led to a situation where government IT employees aren't using dilapidated out-of-date systems, but rather "civil service technology that's at least as good as what they use at home," he said, adding that the estimated savings produced by digital government this year alone are expected to be £500m.

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