Management > CIO

Spending Review spells out the digital imperative

Published 29 November 2015

The Spending Review forces the hand of local government leaders to accelerate digital delivery, based on common and shared platforms. IT infrastructure must be shared, rationalised, open and flexible, says Jos Creese


The Autumn Spending Review was full of surprises. The extra money for health, education, police, the armed forces, housing, childcare and ditching the planned removal tax credits were unexpected. Perhaps the biggest surprise was a very clearly stated presumption that digital transformation will be the key to reform and modernisation across the public sector.

It's not that many people are failing to see and accept that technology is fundamental to the reform of our public services. But if you look through the supporting documents from the Treasury about how the Chancellor will go about balancing the books, more is said about the central role of IT in government than in any preceding budget statement.

The increased investment in the Government Digital Service (GDS) - £450m until 2020 - is a significantly larger settlement than the £58m budget it had in the last year and it will strengthen its role in leading digital change across government. In order to successfully deliver what is billed as a 'digital revolution' in Whitehall, coordinated leadership of the £1.8bn planned spend on digital programme is necessary.

Disappointingly perhaps, the Spending Review focus is heavily on central government. But health, local government, police and social care must also embrace digital operating models as a core part of their response the financial settlements.Every public organisation will need to change and become more digital - either incentivised by the new funding, or by the lack of it.

It is a tough settlement for local government in particular.This forces the hand of local government leaders to accelerate digital delivery, based on common and shared platforms. There is no easier way to reduce costs of people and buildings, to integrate teams, to speed up service, and to increase productivity. It will not prove tenable to be in the business of running small data centres, in-house development teams and bespoke systems for much longer, and the current patchwork of IT infrastructure in health, police and local councils needs 're-stitching'. IT infrastructure must be shared, rationalised, open and flexible.

Done well, digital delivery can dramatically reduce costs, speed up delivery and improve services outcomes. Done badly, and it disenfranchises and depersonalises service. Local public service leaders need to work together in designing new service access and delivery, using information and systems,linking together across organisational boundaries to meet the needs of local citizens.

To deliver on the Chancellor's ambitions for a more efficient, digital government, the sector must also to take steps to improve the way it delivers IT projects, supported by faster IT procurement cycles. This means that buying through G-Cloud should become the norm, with new ways of working with IT suppliers. Long-term, traditional IT contracts will typically need to be replaced with lower cost and more flexible 'cloud-based' services.

Reshaping the public sector through technology will require all of these new ways of working and more: public sector IT leaders who don't understand and act on this today will find they are in for a very tough few years ahead.

Jos Creese, is the former CIO of Hampshire County Council and principal analyst for the Eduserv Executive Briefing Programme which aims to support senior executives in local government with insight and knowledge to support technology-led change in their organisations .

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