After Brexit, we have a legacy government - so let's build a new one based on digital technology

This blog post is part of our Essential Guide: Brexit and the UK technology sector - read our analysis of the implications

Nobody today has the faintest idea what our government is going to look like or how it will work in a post-Brexit world. We are at least two years, possibly more, away from a settled policy environment and stable relations with the European Union.

It’s a mess, no matter how you look at it. So let’s stop digitising the old way of doing government and start again.

Until we are in a post-Brexit UK, everything else in Whitehall is legacy government – why don’t we instead take this opportunity to build a proper digital government fit for the future?

Freeze all but essential developments to government IT. What’s the point, for example, of building new border systems until we know how our post-EU borders will operate?

Most of the work undertaken to date on digital government has focused on simply digitising existing government processes and services – there has been precious little evidence of genuinely redesigning the way government works around the realities and possibilities presented by digital technologies.

As we extricate ourselves – whether you agree with it or not – from the EU, Westminster will be paralysed by introducing legislation to unravel existing EU regulations and trading arrangements. Instead of rewriting those legacy policies, let’s redevelop the way we run government and deliver public services in an entirely new way, supported by digital thinking.

In other words, let’s approach the post-Brexit government IT world like a tech startup wherever possible. Eliminate silos from day one. Integrate systems and processes under a common digital architecture. Start from citizens’ needs, not the needs of the Whitehall machine. Build a common data platform and make that data open. Develop a government ecosystem built on open standards and APIs.

Let’s be clear – this is not about giving government to the digirati. Policies still need to be developed by politicians and their advisors; public services need to meet the needs of all users, digitally enabled or not. But the process of creating this new environment can be underpinned by new technology in a way that promises – if done well – to give the UK the world’s best digital public services.

If the new post-Brexit Britain can start from such a position of digital leadership when we leave the EU, we have the best possible opportunity to eliminate not just the legacy IT that holds us back today, but the legacy style of government that got us into this mess in the first place.