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Lack of skills make government infrastructure projects more complex, says John Manzoni

Chief executive of the civil service, John Manzoni, claims a lack of appropriate skills is a barrier to government projects

A lack of skills in the government is what makes public sector infrastructure projects more complex than in the private sector, according to chief executive of the civil service John Manzoni.

Speaking at the 2015 Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Discover event, the government civil servant highlighted that although the public sector could learn a lot from the private sector, there are fundamental differences that make public sector IT projects “more complex”.

“We just don’t have enough of the right skills in government. We need more skills, but I don’t think we will ever be able to create enough of the right skills just inside government,” said Manzoni.

His answer to the problem was to implement more collaboration between government and the private sector to create a co-operative relationship.

“It brings me back to the importance of finding constructive and collaborative ways of partnering with the private sector in a mutually beneficial way,” said Manzoni.

“It’s not about one side taking advantage of the other. The public sector has to completely up our game in a commercial sense, with regard to our affairs with the private sector. In turn, we are demanding a different sort of interaction from the private sector for government, especially in the digital and technical space.”

Partnerships with businesses

Manzoni highlighted G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace, which were designed to reduce long, monolithic government IT contracts, as being some of the ways government and the private sector could collaborate.

“G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace have been an enormous success for us. They have opened up access to government in a way we haven’t seen before. They have created opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We’re putting more than £800m a year through the Digital Marketplace and 50% of that is SMEs, so that’s one part of what is really important,” said Manzoni.

But Manzoni added that work with larger firms will still be important to the UK government.

“We are doing some of the most difficult things in the UK government and we need some of the best companies to help us, so just focusing on the very small companies is not good enough. We need to create partnerships and opportunities for the best companies to come and help us with what we need to do,” he said.

Citizenship disruption

During the main keynotes at HPE Discover, HPE executives claimed the next “big wave of disruption is going to be in citizenship” and held the UK government up as a “world leader in transformation”.

“In government we’ve spent about £700bn a year delivering services to the citizen, whether that’s education services, healthcare services, welfare services or even ranging up to the security of the nation,” said Manzoni.

“To make them more effective, we have to make them more efficient and faster. At the heart of that journey is technology. We have to change to a citizen centricity in the provision of those services, so this is absolutely at the heart of what we’re trying to do in the UK government.”

Manzoni stated this ongoing push for digital transformation would continue with the government-as-a-platform (GaaP) initiative originally outlined by the Government Digital Service (GDS), which will implement common platforms for similar services that can be used throughout government departments, eradicating the need to replicate projects for similar functions.

“The public sector is a complex and difficult environment. The job is far from done in terms of our role with even the largest companies in the world, we’ve still got a lot do. The job is never done,” said Manzoni.

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Yet again, the answer, the solution is collaboration and partnerships. Why has it taken government so long to figure that out...?
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So when will we see every civil servant have an annual training plan, with a mix of on-the-job training and off-the-job motivational/behaviour modules to develop the skills necessary to deliver the in-house side of any partnership.
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