Ed Vaizey: Ambition to have local government on one platform

The question over whether Government Digital Services can scale locally was discussed at a Computer Weekly debate

The question over whether Government Digital Services (GDS) can scale locally was discussed at a Computer Weekly debate on government digital policies on Monday (9 February 2015), ahead of the general election in May 2015.

UK minister for culture and the digital economy Ed Vaizey (pictured) said it is an "ambition" to have local government on one platform, but warned it does not happen overnight. 

"You have this concept of government-as-a-platform, where we have saved billions of pounds by providing a gateway through to government services," he said. 

But Labour Party shadow cabinet office minister for digital government Chi Onwurah said that despite the success of GDS, the benefits that come from new technology have not had full effect on the government. 

"We need to make government the place where people with IT skills want to go," she said. "We want to make it less transactional because the really key services transform the relationship with the citizen and, at the same time, save money. 

"It is about social care. It is about benefits and housing," she added. "There are really important services that need to be addressed, and these can only be done with local government."

Developing GDS as a platform

Onwurah added that she was pleased the government was talking about GDS as a platform. 

"What I want to see is that we develop platforms that local government, national government and third-party providers can share in the delivery of services for the citizen and save money."

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT membership director David Evans said anyone who cared about good public service delivery would want GDS to be a success.

"The real question is how we proliferate it to turn GDS into something 10 times its capability," he said.

To achieve this, said Evans, GDS would require a change of operation, as it can be a harsh environment outside of the community of suppliers to the organisation.

"We need to able to bring talent together with political support," he said.

While historically a few major suppliers dominated government IT procurement because they offered low risk, Evans said there are certain IT risks that can not be outsourced, meaning small businesess are a viable prospect. But this does not mean large companies should be excluded, he warned.

Instead, Evans said supplier selection in GDS should be a totally value-driven process. What this means, he said, is large IT firms now have to compete in a different playing field and can no longer rely on a large procurement team honed in the technique of ticking compliance boxes.

Building on this, TechUK CEO Julian David said: "Government has an opportunity to bring more innovation into public sector procurement, from companies of all sizes, across the country."

While there have been many headline-grabbing government IT fiascos, David argued IT and technology is only one part of those projects. 

"The headline is always that an IT project goes wrong, but they are business projects," he said.

Open data initiatives

New styles of project management, along with open data initiatives, may be among the cataysts to getting local government services onto GDS.

The economic benefits of making data open is that you make more money than if you retained it

Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democat spokesman Julian Huppert said the government needs to rethink its approach to open source and open data.

"I see an element of fear around what happens with open source and open data," he said. "The economic benefits of making data open is that you make more money than if you retained it. People will do things [with open data] because they are passionate."

Huppert said he wanted GDS to look at the way identity and access management is implemented."We need to rethink sensible protocols for identity and access management without having to give away a lot of personal information."

Given that GDS could be a repository of citizen data, it could form the basis of a UK-wide identity and access management system.

However, in 2014, Janet Hughes, head of policy and engagement for the identity assurance programme at GDS, discussed the growing challenges of expanding access management in GDS to third parties.

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