GOVTECH Te Spotify,

Netflix and Amazon way

UK Minister says government services must keep pace with pace of change set by tech giants


Oliver Dowden, the Minister for Implementation at the Cabinet Office, is the man charged with shaking up the UK Government’s approach to digital public services and procurement. On a fact-find- ing visit to CodeBase in January, he toured the country’s largest technology incubator and got a feel for how Scottish tech entre- preneurs are working ever more closely together with government in the attempt to bring ‘tech for good’ into the public realm. At the invitation of CivTech –

the Scottish Government’s own digital accelerator programme - Mr Dowden was in the capital in the wake of the second round of the UK Government’s own £20m GovTech Catalyst competition (which features Scottish Natural Heritage as one of five public bodies which is seeking to solve a business ‘challenge’, specifically to find a tech solution to improve the way it alerts developers to plan- ning restrictions) and praised the “cross-fertilisation” of ideas be- tween CivTech, launched in 2016 and GovTech, whose first round was launched early last year. He said: “All roads lead back to

data and clearly Edinburgh’s a big leader in data. We are doing our thing through a GovTech Catalyst;

there’s an awful lot of cross- fertilisation and sharing of ideas between the lessons that are be- ing learned through CivTech and the lessons that we are learning through GovTech. “I think what they both have

in common is [that] historically with procurements you look too much at the existing solution and re-procure the solution. What we’re trying to do through Gov- Tech and what CivTech is trying to do is to say, ‘what is the actual problem and how do we have a.. way of initially understanding that problem through a competi- tion that looks at lots of different options before you go through a more formal procurement?” Mr Dowden said schemes like

GovTech and CivTech are a way to ensure government can reach smaller suppliers in the tech market which may be where the “greatest areas of innovation” lie but they have been alienated in the past by the traditional, opaque procurement processes; however, he said that there is now a pressing need to move from the “micro challenges” that have been addressed through the schemes to the “broader” challenges around government delivery of services. He said: “At the moment the

challenges are focused around very important but very specific things,


but over time using that model to look at some of the more structural problems that government faces.” In that sense, he said Govern-

ment must ensure it works to “break down barriers” and that there is a “flow of ideas” between the private and public sector. Te UK Government has been lauded for the way it streamlined govern- ment services onto the GOV.UK platform – but the senior leader- ship within the Government Digi- tal Service which masterminded the development has since moved on; recently, there has been criti- cism that the GDS has lost its way. Many departmental bodies have since sought to reassert their own distinctive approaches towards technology – for example, HMRC – and there have been question marks over big projects such as Verify, which is an online identity assurance programme. Mr Dowden says, however,

government must continue to innovate, otherwise there will be an “enormous gap” between the way it delivers its services

and how people consume other goods and services like music and entertainment – through the likes of Spotify, Netflix and Amazon. And he insisted that Verify would continue to be supported but with an emphasis on ‘increasing the amount of commercial flexbility’ around the platform to the point where it no longer “needs the ad- ditional subsidy”. He said: “I’m confident we’re

on this path and we’re actually accelerating progress now, but clearly what we also need to do is do this alongside the private sector as well. So, working with DCMS and others we need to continue to encourage identity in the private sector through banks having verified identity there, us having verified identity in the public sector, having interoper- ability between the two, so you foster that development.” He added: “I think we can

make the experience of govern- ment a much better thing, so whether it’s the use of data ana- lytics in health or whether it’s the

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