Public Services > Devolved

Predicting the direction of digital government in 2016

Published 27 January 2016

O2 public sector managing director Billy D'Arcy identifies devolution, IT procurement transformation and a push towards shared systems and processes among key public sector digital drivers in 2016


With the government due to publish its new Digital Strategy early this year, it's clear that we can't dismiss the digital revolution as last year's zeitgeist, argues O2 Public Sector managing director Billy D'Arcy

2015 was the year when digitisation of public services took centre stage - not least in the run-up to the General Election back in May and as the government continued to strive for efficiencies as part of its deficit reduction plans.

With smartphones making up over 66% of mobiles in the UK, it's clear they will play an important role as organisations look to reduce costs, but find more effective ways to connect with citizens.

Here are some of my thoughts on how 2016 is shaping up for digital government.

Government as a platform

November's Spending Review saw the Government Digital Service (GDS) receive a boost in funding of £450m, a great endorsement of the organisation's achievements over the past few years. Its new boss, Stephen Foreshaw-Cain, has been vocal about 'Government as a Platform', its common core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes.

It has been lauded as a success with the likes of Verify and GOV.UK having launched, but the issue remains that despite people wanting access to digital services online, just a fifth use digital tools to carry out simple tasks that are now available.

I predict we'll see more and more public sector organisations taking their first steps towards investing in digital services, because, quite frankly, they can't afford not to. And with the Treasury backing GDS' plans, I hope that in the mid to long-term we'll see the cost savings and efficiencies we know technology can bring.

The role of local authorities in driving digital change

We work with many local authorities here at O2, and they have a great appetite to drive efficiency through innovation. This is something I believe we will continue to see this year, given the ongoing budget cuts they are facing.

I think this will continue to manifest not only through applications, but also through wider programmes designed to engage local citizens and businesses. For example, we've been working with St Helens to bring digital transformation into the town by providing citizens of all ages and knowledge with digital skills and businesses with the technology they need to compete in the digital world.

We ran a three month pilot, and the results are due to be launched in the spring. I feel confident that initiatives like these will help catalyse local authorities to take strides this year in bringing digital services to citizens and investing in digital businesses.

Public sector procurement

Public sector procurement has long been a process that is costly, lengthy and favours incumbent organisations.

We saw a huge amount of change in this area in last year, with the Network Services Framework (NSF) introduced in July, and the next iteration of the G-Cloud framework - G Cloud 7- launched in November.

While this was a move in the right direction, with the NSF in particular offering a more dynamic and flexible procurement route than its predecessors, the process can still be daunting for many public sector organisations entering into the realm of digital transformation.

We're likely to see increased momentum in this area as the government continues to make the procurement process easier for SMEs in its move to dislodge incumbents.

Personally, I feel much of the responsibility to ensure procurement simplicity rests with suppliers, and as such I've prioritised the creation of a new catalogue which encompasses everything we sell to the public sector across all the frameworks we sit on.

This will allow organisations to see what we're offering in a uniquely innovative and transparent way. Although we continue to look to the Crown Commercial Service and GDS to improve systems, I hope we'll see more organisations like O2 working with the government to create efficiencies.

City Devolution

The city devolution deals last year will mark an exciting prospect for smarter cities in 2016. With new mayors and tax and spending powers being given to local authorities across the UK, this can be the catalyst for change to ensure greater economic and social prosperity across the regions.

Partnerships between local government, businesses and communities will enable cities to take advantage of greater connectivity and technology, such as machine to machine type solutions, that can, for example, provide for more efficient use of energy to cleaner and more sustainable transport networks.

2015 has certainly been a busy year for digital services in the government. And 2016 is shaping up to be an equally interesting year. The drive towards a leaner, more efficient public service certainly lends itself to possibilities of technology. As a result, I hope that more than ever we see public sector organisations of all shapes and sizes embracing digital services.

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