Future of Government ICT 2016

Last week I delivered the opening keynote at Salford University’s Future of Government ICT conference. Sadly I was only able to be there for an hour or so and didn’t get a chance to hear any of the other speakers, but it was fun to get a little time there and to talk with a few participants.

The talk was trying to jam together an update on what GDS is working with and some thoughts on what’s going on in the tech world more generally. That was a lot to cover in half an hour!

What I was trying to do in the latter section was unpack what I’ve meant when I’ve used the familiar GDS line that “the era of Big IT is over”.

Over the past few years many of the things that used to slow down IT delivery have dropped away – the web gives us a lot of building blocks, cloud-based services allow for rapid provisioning and increasingly provide other components we can build on, and we have improving tools for managing change with continuous delivery extending into infrastructure and security tooling becoming part of the deployment process. In government, we’re also finally beginning to have procurement options that can keep up.

That context provides the opportunity. With that comes pressure from the fact that most peoples’ perception is that technological change is accelerating. We expect to see services improving rapidly and if an organisation can’t do that they lose our trust. For governments trust is the primary currency and we can’t allow our poor technology to jeopardise that.

When you combine that opportunity and that pressure you can take a different approach to technology. That’s where a lot of recent talk about “business/IT alignment” has been coming from. I’m not a huge fan of that phrase. It’s better to bring things together under a new banner, bringing together two departments is rarely the right way to frame a change. our focus should be on what the two can do together that they couldn’t do before.

For us that’s about user-centric technology-enabled service design. It’s continually improved services that meet user needs based on the best tools available to us, tech or otherwise.

I concluded by bringing the focus to three areas, though that was a bit of a cheat as I really had two things under each.

  • Focus on data. One of the hardest things for us to fix is the data we store that should be consumed by services. We need to do that. As we are able to move faster with more disposable resources, we also need to make sure we’re getting the monitoring, the metrics and the management information to understand what’s going on.
  • Focus on services. Mainly that’s about the services we’re providing for our end users, but we should also be thinking about how we provide technology and technologists as a service.
  • Focus on people. Again, we do this for our users. But we also need to recognise that we need more skilled people, and we especially need more diverse insights which means we need to address our industry’s awful track record on diversity and inclusion. Our biggest challenge as tech leaders is to build up the people and skills we need to work in new ways.

There’s loads more to pull out from those three points and I’m hoping to get a chance to expand on all of them over the next few months. For now, you can find the slides on Speakerdeck.

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