Comment Blog 22 November, 2023

The keys to unlocking digital in government

Simon Godfrey
Senior Director, External Engagement & Business Growth, BT

“If you were asked to create a government delivery machine from scratch right now, you certainly wouldn’t start from where we are today, nor would you likely end up here either.”  Senior government official, October 2023

Data is, without question, the fuel for so much change to come. Many conversations between government and industry have incrementally nudged the needle forward, but we are still not changing at the rate we should. The pace of tech-enabled change is always at least one step ahead of our collective capacity to change. As a result, we have not yet fully embraced tech and data to improve productivity for the benefit of every UK citizen.

It’s time for a different conversation – but why?

Without stronger collaboration, the aspirations of government change and delivery are unlikely to happen in the time frame we need. Without new focus, there’s a risk of further incrementalism. The time to take action is now!

To that end, there are three fundamentals that must be addressed: capacity, capability, and courage. Of course, there are many other things to factor in – supply chain issues, the rise of AI, the Cloud, and so on – but if we don’t tackle the 3 Cs, we are in deep trouble.

On capacity, we are all living through challenging times. An economy awash with capital and a greater risk appetite is now long gone, and is unlikely to return soon. We need to collectively pick our challenges more wisely. We cannot do everything. Equally, capacity is also about the ability of suppliers to withstand economic shocks and sustain service delivery. Small is not always ‘beautiful’ and scale matters.

On capability, we need to develop a way of working that joins up capabilities in a more synergistic manner. One that embraces the aggregation of tools and talent and does not simply follow the well-worn logic that ‘competition drives out cost and improves quality’.

On courage, this is about taking leaps of faith and developing a different way of working. It’s long been said that ‘agile’ is the way to do this, but there is scant evidence that this has delivered at scale. Courage means working on joint challenges, with a better understanding of each party’s intent, outcomes and drivers.

All 3 Cs are essential when trying to move the needle. They are the key to thinking about future government, data, and the need to orient services around the complex needs of the UK citizen.

This article was published in Reform's brochure for the 'Future government: data-driven, citizen-centric' conference, which you can view here: Future government: data-driven, citizen-centric.