Management > CIO

Kickstarting innovation in government IT

Published 11 September 2014

Fundamental changes to the UK government software and services market are vital for a more beneficial digital transformation, says John Jackson, Camden Council CIO.

We need to save billions across government and it's getting harder than ever. Tough choices face us in social care, health and education at a time when citizens' expectations are rising and we are living longer.

We can't meet these challenges simply by chopping services and salami slicing budgets. We have to reimagine government for the 21st century and harness innovation.

Digital can make a profound contribution to austerity and the systemic social challenges we face. But we cannot lift the prize without a fundamental shakedown of the UK government software and services market and how we buy IT:

  • At a time when we need to share services we are bedevilled by applications that aren't interoperable and don't make collaboration straightforward;
  • When we need teams to link up and deliver integrated services around our vulnerable clients our IT systems make it difficult and expensive to implement new processes and share data;
  • At the point we want to deliver lower cost services on the web the customer experience is clunky and off putting because of clunky and proprietary software.

Our legacy systems, therefore, stand in the way of much needed innovation and new ways of working in government that are so desperately needed at this difficult time. A problem compounded by how we approach the software market and buy IT solutions:

  • Busy entrepreneurs and new market entrants aren't easily able to spot opportunities to invest and solve government due to prosaic procurement processes or lack of visibility of potential needs;
  • Current markets for government applications are constrained. However innovative we are in procurement we are often faced with only a small group of potential bidders offering solutions that have been around the block;
  • When we go to market we buy on our best understanding of what we know today rather than what might be technologically possible tomorrow or already available to other sectors of the economy. So we generally end up buying more of the same rather than something truly innovative and different;
  • Legacy applications are often based on code that was written in a different era and is increasingly complex to maintain for one organisation. We're missing out on the millions of developers and thousands of communities developing solutions and applications for consumer devices like iPad's and Android.

We are addressing this through new public sector frameworks, cross government IT collaboration as well as embedding the requirement for APIs, interoperability and open standards into new procurements. But can we go much further and be far more disruptive than we've been in the past.

Kickstarter ( ) has sparked ground breaking innovation, new markets and fantastic new products through social platforms. The application of crowdsourcing and crowd funding is transferrable to government and we now need to seriously consider how we harness the kickstarter social paradigm to drive new thinking and new opportunities into public sector IT and how we buy solutions.

So imagine a world where we in government can:

  • Pitch ideas for improving public services to a minimally constrained market that is brimming with entrepreneurs and innovators;
  • Seek partners to help solve common problem and share risk and crowd fund investment;
  • Use social platforms to network with partners irrespective of hierarchy and organisational boundary to identify and solve common issues;
  • Encourage communities to emerge to support the development of open systems.

The potential is enormous and government is at a tipping point. Let's kickstart government together.

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