Thoughts on the GovTech Summit 2019
Last Thursday, MD Ella Grant attended the GovTech Summit 2019. Check out her summary of the event and key takeaways...
I popped over to Paris last week to get inspired from some GovTech success stories, and to meet various owners of start-ups who want our help getting into the UK public sector market.
Hearing and talking about Digital Transformation on a global scale is a bit daunting when you consider all those users – all of us – who have such different needs; but the speakers of the day at the GovTech Summit 2019 did well to keep the atmosphere generally positive and hopeful while talking about their challenges.
Government of the future
This was perhaps because the event, held in the Palais Brongniart, was kicked off not only with some very upbeat chart music, but also President of Estonia, Kertsi Kaljulaid. From the leader of the most digitally advanced government in the world, we heard how Estonia has made computer access a de facto human right; how their elderly aren’t afraid of technology; how citizens trust their government more than they trust the likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook (2 of 3, as it happens, were represented in the room); and how citizens went from having no internet, no bank account and paying no tax, to doing all of it, digitally. Kaljulaid’s way of making this almost-otherworldly society sound so straightforward, the process of change so common-sense, was nothing short of inspiring.
One concept, or rather philosophy, that Kaljulaid spoke about, was this: if a citizen is entitled to a public service, why should they have to apply for it. Considering that government already hold the necessary data about you to determine that you’re eligible for that service, why is it that we’re asked to input that data again, and then presumably wait through a validation process to find out that, yes, we will be providing you this service. This is akin to the “tell us once” goal, or maybe dream, that we speak about in the UK. In Estonia, they’ve simply set up various databases to speak to each other and deliver services to citizens without them even needing to know about it.
The ‘P’ word
With a vision of a life that could be – with road-roaming robots and all – we moved into a panel discussion that spent a surprising amount of time talking about procurement (hurrah!); although it was jokingly referred to as “the P word” by Co-founder of Apolitical, Lisa Witter.
The panel interestingly mentioned two complementary but different concepts: “public procurement for innovation” and “innovating procurement.” Government Buyers and technology Suppliers alike expressed their frustration with some of the rigidity of the EU Procurement Regulations, early market engagement processes and tendering processes, but also recognised Governments have a real need to be able to source a robust, secure and sustainable partnerships.
On the other hand, one panellist said, in a talk aptly (or controversially) named “Buying to Innovate,” argued that “the purpose of the public sector is not innovation; it is to provide effective public services.”
What do we think about this?
“Innovation” might just be another buzzword, much like some feel that “smart” and “disruptive” have the same impact – to describe a technology in a way that invokes some larger degree of interest than of all the other tech out there. Should Government be aiming to be cutting-edge in the way they operate and deliver public services, or should Government just focus on getting the basics right?
Without a doubt, the ability to procure technology easily, and with the knowledge that it fully meets the needs of its users, is of highest importance. We can’t talk about GovTech without talking about procurement.
From our perspective at Advice Cloud, it’s important for Suppliers to be supported when selling to the public sector; to ensure that:
- a) your efforts are focussed in the right places (especially if you’re an SME)
- b) civil servantsunderstand your solution offering (especially those who are non-technical)
- c) the differences in public sector vs commercial mindsets can be navigated (especially when there is potential for a strong partnership)
Then, from the Buyer’s perspective, their ability to use “public procurement for innovation” is made a bit easier.
Although the UK political representatives were a no-show at the GovTech Summit (a consequence of the election!), I heard that Governments around the world are experiencing similar challenges around the procurement and implementation of effective technologies. Success stories exist and should inspire the rest of us, but we need to think about overcoming some serious barriers like public acceptance and trust in Government, especially when it comes to tech solutions that requires use of personal data.
So, my main take away from the event was this: in order for us to move somewhat towards the Estonian-style model of nationwide public services that harness the power of technology and address issues of digital inclusion (among others), there is education and knowledge-sharing required on both the Buy and Supply sides of the equation on how to use the current procurement system to work for what we’re trying to achieve.