The UK Government Is Shooting for Digital Transformation, But Is It Setting Its Sights High Enough?
The UK Government has set forth a new digital transformation strategy, and while some government officials think the initiatives are little more than a pipe dream, critics argue they aren’t ambitious enough.
Much like practically every sector of our economies, governments are under pressure to adapt to changing IT trends — but even for a large undertaking like cloud migration, these adaptation processes could be long and difficult. Historically, governments have proven to be the largest and most difficult ships to turn when it comes to adjusting to change, and federal governments are still trying to figure out how many digital technologies will impact their operations.
The Winds of Change in the UK
The UK government’s new digital transformation strategy builds on its similar 2012 digital effort to improve citizen-facing online services. British MP Ben Gummer introduced the plan, officially named The Government Transformation Strategy, on the floor of Parliament last month, calling it “the most ambitious program of change of any government anywhere in the world.”
The new strategy will focus on five core areas, according to Computer Weekly; “a back-office technology overhaul; developing digital skills; better IT for civil servants; better use of data; and creating shared platforms.”
“We know that the digital transformation needs to be embedded deeper than ever before,” said the UK’s Director General of the Government Digital Service (GDS), Kevin Cunnington. “Making sure that data can flow easily between departments, allowing us to build joined-up services that run seamlessly across government, has a major part to play in this. This will be how we start to reshape the relationship between citizen and state, putting power into the hands of the citizen.”
Scope and Scale
These promises for governmental digital transformation are nothing new — the government has attempted to resolve all five of the strategy’s core areas of focus in some way, shape, or form in the past few years, but with middling results. Peppered with buzzwords like “cultural change” and “collaboration,” this strategy is like many others that came before it in that it offers more promises than concrete ideas of how to fulfill them.
The problems governments face in converting IT infrastructure are certainly larger in scale than those faced by most enterprises. Public online services must be available to all citizens at all hours of the day, meaning that the infrastructure that supports them must be large enough to handle huge amounts of demand. That being said, offering empty promises is no better, if not worse, than failing to do anything at all about expanding access to government resources. Concrete steps must be outlined and taken in order to enact changes like cloud migration and virtualization.
It’s these concerns that have motivated some public figures to criticize the strategy for not going far enough. Former Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey thinks that the government can only achieve digital transformation through the abolition of government departments, not a technological restructuring from within them. “I would completely re-engineer government. I would abolish government departments, I would have government by task,” he said.
Delivering on Digital Needs
But Vaizey’s response fails to highlight the strategy’s biggest failure: it only focuses on the digital relationship between governmental departments, failing to deal at all with consumer-facing services. And uprooting the entire way in which the government functions, as Vaizey advocates, could have disastrous short-term effects. Governments change slowly for a reason; large numbers of people rely on their function every single day.
Instead, governments should focus on the reliability of delivered digital services by ensuring their networks and infrastructure are always online. Network management software like the Vityl Suite from TeamQuest can help government IT professionals closely monitor the stability of their environments and ensure that services are always available to the citizens that rely on them every day. Once that is achieved, governments can focus on the internal, incremental changes necessary to deliver a seamless digital strategy like the British Parliament has put forth.