Microsoft Public Sector at the Government ICT Summit

Nine months on from the release of the “Implementing Reform” ICT Strategy, Westminster Briefing’s first annual Government ICT Summit, located in the ornate Central Hall at Westminster, hosted a range of government departments, non departmental public bodies and the wider public sector together with the ICT industry, all keen to investigate and discuss the impact of the strategy so far. For those of you unable to attend, we have blogged today’s sessions, with a summary below of the discussions and the topics which made the biggest impact throughout the day.

The event kicked off with Public Sector Consultant, Nick Wood-Dow giving a bit of background on the current state of Government ICT, how we got here and how we plan to move forward through the use of four key initiatives: The Public Service Network, Open Source Software, The G-Cloud and Agile Systems.  From Nick’s perspective, this year’s Government ICT strategy and subsequent implementation plan have really crystallized the Government’s vision on what needs to change and how and believes that through the use of the aforementioned initiatives, is beginning to see real and fundamental changes in the Public Sector’s use of ICT. 

Following Nick’s chair, Deputy Government CIO, Bill McCluggage took to the stage as today’s first plenary session. The session entitled, “The Policy: Investigating the Progress of Government ICT Reform” kicked off by highlighting the huge transformation that the Government IT strategy has experienced over the past 12 months.  Moving from simply asking why ICT is important to becoming concerned with understanding how it can be used to greatest effect – McCluggage recognised that in order for ICT to enable services effectively, the Government needs to do things in a “fundamentally different, innovative and inspired way”.  He also highlighted collaboration and creating a common ICT infrastructure as key in a delivering change moving forward.   

Rod Halstead, Managing Director, Cisco Public Sector then took to the stage to introduce the first area of technology up for discussion – The Public Service Network.  Joined by Craig Eblett, Public Service Network Programme Director at the Cabinet Office and from a more local perspective, Jeff Wallbank, Kent PSN Partnership Development Manager, the discussion really drove home the importance of sharing and collaboration in order to reduce costs not only within Government but more importantly, ensuring savings to the public purse.  Something which the Public Service Network has had a huge impact on particularly from a local perspective, with Jeff Wallbank citing reductions of up to 40% in partner networking costs. 

In addition to reducing public sector costs, both speakers went on to highlight the importance of an open ICT strategy – one which embraces competitive technology, enables innovation to come through the marketplace and subsequently one which reacts to changing business environments.

Next up, Kevin Stenner, Director of Public Sector, LinuxIT took to the stage to introduce the second area of Government ICT up for discussion – Open Source Software.  Joined by Tariq Rashid - Lead Architect within Open Source at the Home Office, the session kicked off by highlighting the benefits associated with open source options including greater cost control, technological choice and innovation and system flexibility, reliability, security and scalability to name but a few.  However, despite these benefits, Tariq recognised that the key is in education: “when you buy a pen for example, you aren’t restricted to using one particular brand of paper so why should that be the case with technology?”

Ultimately, by embracing open source technology and becoming “intelligent customers”, the public sector will drive better behaviour and prices within the market thereby lowering the barrier for entry and widening participation to SME’s and citizens. 

Post lunch, the agenda turned to G-Cloud, with Chris Chant, The Director of G Cloud at the Cabinet Office. 

Chris kicked off by covering a range of “unacceptable” bug bears within Government ICT – from quashing innovation and preventing agility through the use of a limited number of suppliers to blocking and restricting online content purely as a method of ensuring that we are “doing our job properly”, Chris recognises that there is still a way to go within Government ICT.  But how can G Cloud help?

Chris went on to highlight that through the use of G Cloud, and more broadly, GDS (Government Digital Service), the Government can expect huge cost savings, lower reporting and subsequently greater agility, unlimited suppliers leading to greater flexibility and choice of innovative technologies. However, despite the benefits, he also recognises that it is going to be an iterative approach to implementation and one which needs to overcome a number of obstacles, the greatest of which - cultural change.

From cloud to agile information systems, the following plenary session was led by Chris Biow, Federal CTO at Mark Logic and Oliver Morley, CEO of the Knowledge Council. 

Chris was very much of the view that unstructured data is now overtaking structure data, and as such, the UK public sector needs to focus its attention on overcoming the problem of data silos in order to make use of information in an effective and timely manner.  

Oliver then went on to give some fascinating examples of how information is already being used effectively within the public sector – for example a Google Map which tracks the global outbreaks of the Norovirus.  However, when it comes to information management, with over 150 miles worth of data in the National Archives alone, Oliver believes that the first step in creating an agile information system is understanding exactly what it is you want to do with your information – “taking advantage of information at all times”.  

There were a number of break-out sessions throughout the day, with topics including virtual infrastructure, data discovery, agile procurement and the role of SME providers.  These offered a great opportunity to thrash out some of the ideas proposed in the plenaries in more depth and encouraged lots of lively debate. 

The last session of the day focused in even more on one of the key themes of the day – innovation.  Geoff Connell, CIO at Newham Council presented on “Innovative Delivery Stream: Shared Services and Shared Knowledge”.  Geoff kicked off his presentation by outlining the successful ICT and Collaborative Working initiative within his council of Newham and Havering Council.  He was very keen to point out that when it comes to collaboration; it’s not just about cutting costs, but more about offering an efficient and information rich shared resource for all the parties involved.  

For those considering cross-council shared services he advised his peers not to “reinvent the wheel” but learn from those currently in place and most importantly recognise that it’s not about collaborate to survive but more about collaborating to evolve.  

Thank you for following Microsoft’s coverage of The Government ICT Summit and please do get in touch with any comments.

Posted by Sarah Porter.