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A smarter state can only be built on smarter procurement

Digital government has improved, but progress needs to be made when it comes to public sector procurement

Over the past 10 years, there has been a steady increase in understanding of the importance of digital in driving transformation and protecting services amid rising public sector debt and demands on usage in government.

Nonetheless, we need to see continued commitment to embracing technology to achieve a “smarter state” – a state that works in the interest of all.

Achieving major change in the public sector is difficult, and implementing new technologies in large complicated organisations with many legacy systems is challenging.

However, these challenges are not unique. Large, complex private sector organisations have been successful in using digital technology to develop new ways of operating. There is no fundamental reason why the public sector, working with the same broad ecosystem of technology suppliers, cannot do the same.

The Government Transformation Strategy and the Industrial Strategy saw the government commit to a set of ambitious targets to promote innovation in the public sector, and growth for UK industries.

As stated in TechUK’s recent report Procuring the smarter state, to achieve major change the government must radically rethink how it operates, adapts and purchases new technologies.

A new era of transformation-focused procurement

The Digital Marketplace contains numerous procurement frameworks that provide public sector buyers with a platform to find GovTech companies to deliver digital projects.

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also benefit from this as it can lead to their first chance to supply to government and can help startups get funding to scale their business.

However, TechUK highlighted in its recent govtech SME survey that there is still much more to be done to provide support to these innovative companies. As it stands, 95% of SMEs said the government should do more to improve the SME experience when selling into the public sector.

To improve the relationship between government and govtech SMEs, the Digital Marketplace will have to play a key role.

The priority for 2018 should be to increase the spend going through the Digital Marketplace and to expand the number of non-Whitehall parts of government using the system. This will ensure the innovation capabilities of UK govtech SMEs are harnessed across the whole of the public sector.

The UK govtech market – a real industry opportunity

It is encouraging to see greater understanding in government of the importance of driving digital transformation to deliver efficient, effective public services which meet the needs of citizens.

To take advantage of this, central government departments must take a more strategic approach to communicating with the tech sector on planned procurement activity. This should include adopting a more proactive approach to engaging with prospective suppliers, publishing pipelines and emerging opportunities well in advance of procurement decisions.

The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has made strides in engaging with the market through partnering with TechUK to take forward the recommendations of the Procuring the smarter state report.

Upcoming examples include a workshop with govtech companies to inform government’s future approach to emerging technology and innovation, and a market briefing on the current status and future plans of the Digital Marketplace.

There are also many other excellent examples of valuable and strategic engagement over the past 12 months that will continue in to 2018 – most notably with NHS Digital, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and a number of local authorities.

The public-sector software and IT market is set to be worth £11.9bn by 2019 and some £3.8bn of IT contracts are set to end over the next three years, presenting a major opportunity for both buyer and supplier.

If the government is to procure a smarter state, it must continue working in partnership with the tech industry in a planned and transparent way to fully embrace the potential of new technology and innovation.

In the coming year, we hope that engagement in this area increases at scale and pace across the public sector so that everyone reaps the benefits of more efficient government and public services.

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