The recent publication of the Office of Fair Trading's (OFT) report into government procurement of IT has been long awaited by the UK tech sector.
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The OFT study's conclusion has given the government and the industry the opportunity and, indeed, the requirement to work together to improve the procurement and use of digital technology and IT across the public sector. As CEO of IT industry trade body TechUK, I welcome this report's recommendations, many of which reflect our suggestions to the OFT.
When the government published its Digital Strategy, TechUK welcomed it and many of the initiatives the government has introduced and implemented, which are cited in the OFT report.
These include the creation of the Government Digital Service, which has made a significant impact on the public sector's ability to understand and implement technical innovation. In addition, we have seen a real improvement in the in-house skills of the civil service to take advantage of new technologies.
The implementation of many measures to improve the government’s ability to act as a single customer, including the Crown Commercial Service and the Major Projects Authority, is also starting to have a positive impact. In particular, industry has welcomed efforts to innovate in procurement through the adoption of G-Cloud, a joint government and industry initiative from 2009.
However, significant challenges remain in the way the government procures technology and this lies at the heart of the report's recommendations. Many of the issues highlighted by the OFT have been raised by industry with government departments.
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There are 11 recommendations focused on very specific improvement areas for the market, which are all about collaboration between the suppliers of technology solutions and the users, to foster a more effective market and to enable much faster and deeper implementation of the government’s Digital Strategy.
TechUK would like to see joint working between government and industry to address these areas for improvement. Our membership – which includes small, mid-size and large companies (although SMEs make up most of our membership) – is making an open offer to partner government in this work.
TechUK has developed a plan, which I will propose to the Cabinet Office and individual departments across government and public sector organisations. Our key actions include:
Bring the best of private-sector practice to the public sector
TechUK is offering to bring private-sector procurement expertise to the public sector through a series of engagement activities, including buyer camps, tutorials and mentoring from TechUK members and their large customers to help public-sector colleagues to improve their skills and adopt innovative approaches.
The relatively slow pace of G-Cloud take-up and the lack of success of other frameworks in changing the nature of government projects shows the need for a new level of understanding and confidence on the buyer side.
Improve public-sector use of data and analytics
The use of data analytics is a fantastic potential tool for driving innovation and efficiency in the public sector. TechUK members have called for the government to use data better to allow consolidation of infrastructure assets, avoid waste and ensure the government does not keep buying solutions it already owns.
Simple improvements, such as government not buying solutions it already owns, limiting procurement timescales and addressing the way security accreditation is managed, will make a difference
Julian David, TechUK
The challenge is that there is still no proper financial or asset management across the whole of government. Instead, suppliers are being repeatedly asked for ever more detail about their own individual contracts, but without an end result producing savings from what are very costly data-gathering exercises. We would like to work with the public sector to support better use of analytics to achieve a significant impact on cost-efficiency.
Reduce the buyer-side burden of procurement
The OFT has highlighted the length, cost and complexity of procurement processes. This is something TechUK has long recognised and we believe simple improvements, such as government not buying solutions it already owns, limiting procurement timescales and addressing the way security accreditation is managed, will make a difference in getting more value.
Open up government to innovation
The OFT report highlighted the need to drastically improve the government’s ability to innovate and use the kind of solutions that are in general use across the private sector. Suppliers of all sizes echo this and TechUK is calling on government to engage around these specific initiatives that we are proposing:
- Implement a directory of the many thousands of suppliers, large and small, wanting to provide solutions to the public sector. At the moment, this exists in unconnected parts and TechUK is offering to produce a consistent data source available to both suppliers and buyers;
- Work with the tech industry to enable suppliers to improve their ability to engage with the public sector through supplier development programmes covering quality and capability and to ensure feedback to the public sector on how to improve the vehicles and programmes available to assemble the best commercially available solutions;
- Work on a programmatic approach to projects using concept viability to test requirements, innovation dens and hackathons to find new ideas, and regional town halls to ensure national engagement.
The UK is still facing huge challenges as a country and as an economy. There is an absolute imperative for the government to deliver public services more effectively for less money and at the same level as private-sector services to meet citizens' needs.
The need to deliver on the Digital Strategy is more urgent and important than ever. The way for the government to achieve this is by harnessing the knowledge and experience of the tech industry and working with us. TechUK is already working with large government departments to help them engage better with the whole industry, especially SMEs.
TechUK members have shown their willingness to engage differently with government. The OFT report is a timely call for the government to re-engage with the industry and help to change process, behaviour and culture to enable real change in our public service delivery.
Julian David (pictured) is chief executive of TechUK, the UK’s technology industry trade association