Investment and adaptation ‘key to digital transformation’

15 Jun 18

Digital transformation in government will require “ongoing investment” and next year’s spending review offers an opportunity to realise its financial potential, according to digital and public finance experts.

A study, published by the Amazon Web Services Institute, recommended Whitehall remove structural and operational barriers to technology adoption.

James Stewart, an author of the report and former chief technology officer at the Government Digital Service, highlighted the need for government to “fail fast and learn rapidly” to achieve effective digital transformation.

Speaking at an Institute for Government event convened to discuss the findings yesterday, Stewart said there was a requirement for “ongoing investment” if digital transformation was to make the most of ever-changing technologies.

Liam Maxwell, the government’s national technology adviser and a panellist at the event, said transformation efforts needed to include local government more as the sector was at the forefront of delivering public services.

He quipped that, in the past, the Government Digital Service had “a better relationship with Estonia than Enfield”.

Maxwell added that the government needs to understand and tackle the “barriers” in local government that are stopping innovation in areas like social care.

Another panellist, Yvonne Gallagher, director of digital value for money at the National Audit Office, warned that too often there was “insufficient time and thinking” around digital transformation.

She said: “Real transformation is complicated and needs a much broader approach.”

Gallagher added: “Sometimes its called transformation but it actually means cost-cutting.”

The report, produced by Stewart and public finance expert Manj Kalar, made four recommendations for government spending on technology:

  1. The Treasury should empower accounting officers to reallocate planned capital expenditure for digital technology to operating spend;
  2. Government should run “safe pilots” for smarter spending, that show how to invest in existing technology;
  3. The Treasury should launch a “Centre of Excellence for Smarter Spending”, to develop a strategy for smarter spending enabled by technology, and identify best practices;
  4. The Government Digital Service should update its forecast of savings from digital transformation and account for the cost of legacy IT systems and contracts. A methodology to assess the costs of maintaining the government’s technology footprint, versus the benefits of investing in flexible, on-demand technologies like the cloud, should be developed.

The report, Budgeting for change: Four ways the UK government can spend smarter and deliver better, said that the UK has built an international reputation for achieving digital transformation, but continual innovation was required to if this was to be sustained.

“As time passes and budgetary pressure mounts, digital transformation becomes a financial opportunity for government – and the citizens it serves” it said.

This year’s CIPFA annual conference Talent, Technology, Transformation: Mapping the Digital Future is on 11-12 July, in Bournemouth.

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