The government expects to see IT savings in 2013 exceed the previous year’s £500m savings, said Liam Maxwell, government CTO.
The financial savings figures will be released in the summer, but Maxwell said today that he expects them to be more than £500m – the amount saved in 2012/13.
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In 2011-12, the government saved £213m from IT, a figure that was more than doubled the following year. Speaking at the Think Cloud for Government conference in London yesterday, Maxwell said the government will have saved even more over the past year.
Digital by default
In 2009, government IT cost the taxpayer £16bn, which equates to 1% of the UK economy. The government has spent the past couple of years striving to become digital by default.
One of the ways it has tried to do this is by moving offline public services to digital channels. In 2012, the Government Digital Service (GDS) estimated that digitising public services would produce cumulative savings of £1.2bn in this Parliament, rising to about £1.7bn a year after 2015.
GDS has just passed the half-way mark in its two-year project to digitise the 25 most-used government services, ranging from visa applications to benefits claims, which were identified as the first “exemplars” to be redeveloped. By the end of a 400-day period, the 25 exemplars should be live or in the last stage of public testing.
Initiatives such as Gov.UK and G-Cloud have also seen cost savings from IT. The consolidation of government websites onto a single platform – Gov.UK – saw the scrapping of 1,700 websites that were deemed wasteful and confusing to the public.
The G-Cloud framework is part of the government’s cloud-first policy to mandate cloud services as the first choice for all new IT purchases. The framework also aims to break the oligopoly of big suppliers in government by encouraging competitive prices from SMEs.
But at the end of 2013, a review of the government’s digital strategy found that projects were progressing, but inconsistently.
“It means we can define the standards people use," he said. "People use common processes and can interoperate between departments. Commonality is to make life simpler and drive costs down to concentrate on making things really important happen.”
Maxwell stressed that the government does not have “a monopoly on wisdom”.
“If we open up, we will have a better long-term result, with people chipping in with advice nationally and internationally,” he said.
New Zealand has already taken advantage of the open source code for the Gov.UK website. “That is a great opportunity for us,” said Maxwell. “It makes a tremendous difference to progress if we all do roughly the same things.”
The UK government is also working with Israel to be more open, and with countries such as Estonia and South Korea. Maxwell said Korea had introduced an eGovFrame portal years before the UK government brought in G-Cloud. eGovFrame is an open-source approach to delivering technology components to government competitively, which now sees 64% of all government business going to SMEs.
“We are thinking in the same way as those governments,” he said.
Maxwell said the other really important GDS implementation was to publish all its data. “You will see everything we do in terms of performance, the platforms that are running and how many people use them,” he said.
The reason why it was so important to publish this data was to encourage comments from outside GDS, said Maxwell. He gave the example of the publication that 53% of people go online to buy a car tax disc. “A really important question was asked by a civil servant: ‘how come only 53% are using online when 81% are buying their insurance online?’ he said.”
This matter was being addressed only because the data had been published, said Maxwell.
What is next?
The next project for GDS will be to create an identity assurance programme enabling people to sign into all government services in one place.
“This reduces the need for each department to introduce its own identity scheme and will save a lot of money,” said Maxwell. “In Estonia, it is illegal to specify your own identity scheme within government. We are not that extreme, but we encourage the use of one process.”