Departing DVLA technology chief says 'job done', moves back to centre

DVLA's former chief technology officer returns to Cabinet Office after executing 'exemplar' GDS programme

Iain Patterson, former chief technology officer at the DVLA, is returning to the centre of government IT, having completed a major programme of work at the Swansea-based licensing agency.

Patterson describes the job done at the DVLA as an “exemplar” of the prospectus of the Government Digital Service, which, since the election of the coalition government in 2010, has pressed for a digital first, cloud first, agile methodologies technical approach, which has also tried to give small suppliers a fair crack of the whip.

He came to the CTO role at the DVLA in June 2013 after a successful stint as CIO for the 2012 Olympic Games. Making tax discs for 38 million vehicles digital was one eye-catching element of the work he led. But the burden of the “digital transformation” was to insource the agency’s IT which, in 2014, stood behind 25 million calls and issued 10 million licences, among other activities. Road tax evasion is now down to its lowest-ever level of 0.62%, the DVLA says.

 The Pact (Partners Achieving Change Together) contract with IBM and Fujitsu, for which IBM had inherited its part in from the acquisition of PwC Consulting in 2002, was coming to an end during Patterson’s tenure. The agency’s IT had been outsourced for 22 years, the last 12 under the Pact programme.

He decided to insource the Swansea-based staff, which meant taking 303 people from the IBM/Fujitsu group and making 100 voluntarily redundant. There now 642 people in the IT team that Patterson led, and the £86m-a-year systems integration contract, in existence two and a half years ago, is no more.

Patterson says the contract was not just costing too much, but was also getting in the way of more direct technological and business-strategic conversations with primary IT providers, such as MongoDB and Oracle, the latter being an element in the tax discs digitisation project.

Read more about IT at the DVLA

Speaking at the recent Oracle Open World event in San Francisco, Patterson said: “Oracle has been stuck behind the system integrator layer. I want to have direct conversations with the software developers, and I want to talk at senior levels with people at Oracle. The system integrators had no vested interest in reducing our licensing costs. It is better to talk to [the likes of Oracle] on a technology basis as well as on a licence cost basis.

Digital transformation is not just about moving things online. It’s about changing culture, mindsets and skillsets to support it
Iain Patterson

“With its transition to digital cloud-based approach, Oracle will be able to compete well,” he said, but stressed hat the approach he advocates is technology agnostic.

“We’ve got MongoDB that can talk to [an element of] an Oracle cloud environment. We want to be agile, to move from product to product, with Oracle providing a service. We’ll mix and match products,” he added.

At Open World, Patterson said the scale and scope of his new role in government IT would soon become apparent.

Driving change in DVLA IT

Patterson describes the change programme at the DVLA as a cultural shift that involved, for example, working with local universities and Swansea’s tech hub to “create an ecosystem of skills development and job creation.

He adds: “People were nervous of me because I was from the centre. But I sat with my team, did silly things for charity, and so on. Change has to come from the grass roots. We have a mixture of grades, not only senior civil servants, and the people who can solve problems tend to be the people who are working with those day in, day out.”

As regards what is delivered to the public, Patterson says: “Digital transformation is not just about moving things online. It’s about changing culture, mindsets and skillsets to support it. And it is ‘digital first’, not ‘digital only’. You have to cater for multi-channel formats. The trick is to make digital so compelling that people see it as the right thing to do.”

He also emphasises the importance of the DVLA working with the motor sector, looking at in-car technologies that will make the agency’s work more effective and help the industry sell more cars. This also extends to the Motor Insurance Bureau and the insurance sector, he says.

“Government can legislate without thinking through the impact on industries,” he adds. “I'm very proud of what the team has done.” ................................................................

Read more on IT for government and public sector