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GDS preps guidance for third-party suppliers to deliver 'government as a platform'

Government Digital Service (GDS) chief insists "pragmatic extensions" to outsourcing contracts implies nothing permanent in push for "government as a platform" (GaaP)

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has reinforced its commitment to using third-party providers to make its vision of government-as-a-platform (GaaP) a reality, insisting it has no plans to tackle the job alone.

Speaking at the Think Cloud for Digital Government event in central London, GDS digital chief, Stephen Foreshew-Cain, said the organisation is in the throes of creating “concrete and constructive” advice for suppliers that want to get involved with GaaP’s development.

The core aim of GaaP is to reduce the time government departments spend on building infrastructure to deliver services, by providing them with access to shared systems and components, based on common technology standards.

“GDS will remain at the centre, doing the hard work of identifying cross-government platforms and services, and building some of them – but we won’t be building them all at the centre,” he said.

“Our job is to make sure they get built, and they get built to the right standard, and they can be used by everyone.”

The shift towards GaaP is not just about bringing in new government services into force, but also about making it easier to kill off those that have served their purpose, which – he admitted – is not always something the government has traditionally been quick to do.

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Outsourcing issues

While increasing third-party support is being encouraged in some parts of government, Foreshew-Cain reiterated the government’s intention to wind down the use of lengthy IT contracts, while calling a halt to outsourcing deal renewals.

However, there may be instances where “pragmatic extensions” are required, depending on how prepared departments are to ditch their legacy IT investments, and the risk this may pose to ensuring user needs are met, he said.

“We must be pragmatic as we need to put the needs of the users first. But it must be a forcing mechanism to get us somewhere, to get us to the place we need to be,” he said.

Jessica Figueras, chief analyst at public sector IT watcher Kable, pinpointed the cessation of these contracts as a source of new business for cloud providers during her keynote speech at the event.

“Most public sector IT spend is currently locked up in large outsourcing contracts and, over the next couple of years, we’re going to see contracts worth around £1bn a year or more come to an end,” she said.

“Many departments have big plans for cost savings around running their IT. HMRC said it plans to get 25% cost savings – and a lot of that 25% is in the hosting and datacentre piece.

“Cloud is just a fraction of total IT spend, and there’s a big opportunity to take that existing spend and work more cloud into it.”

Public sector IT brain drain

The government’s previous penchant for outsourcing deals is often said to have led to an IT “brain drain” in government, prompting tech-focused workers to seek employment in the private sector instead.

Foreshew-Cain went on to outline the challenges GDS faces when trying to encourage top tech talent to work in the civil service – and how it is seeking to rectify this.

“Transforming services is a shared responsibility of everybody across the public sector, and is underpinned by skilled professionals and experts in their field, and that requires a civil service that can develop, attract and keep the people who have the skills we need to transform the way we work,” he said.

“This is not something the civil service is naturally adept at, but is something GDS can help with by simplifying the recruitment processes, defining flexible career paths, and creating cross-government reward and retention policies that make people want to join and motivated to stay in.”

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