Encounters of the Tech Kind: Building the Smarter State
Yesterday our team attended techUK's flagship conference "Building the Smarter State". Here's a bit about it from our Marketing Manager Emina.
The ambition to build a Smarter State is truly a grand one. It is also a never-ending one. I mean when would it even end? In the tech sector I guess the answer is never. But the journey is certainly furthered through events such as techUK’s Building a Smarter State Conference.
The day kicked off with Oliver Dowden, Minister for Implementation, Cabinet Office, delivering a rather enthusiastic speech on innovation in the UK. The speech was a perfect beginning to what seemed an overall theme of the conference: creating better understanding between government and tech suppliers that will ultimately help deliver better services to citizens.
The Minister, as is common in any Ministerial speech, shared the vision for the UK as not only a digital leader, but THE digital leader. The road to this is not yet clear though, and events such as these serve to help guide this agenda. One of the elements noted at the conference is certainly joining up all the great work that’s going on in government but shaking off the ‘tech first’ mindset. Digital transformation and building the smarter state should never be about the tech, rather it should be about service delivery supported by innovative tech.
From the examples noted by Dowden, the one I found the most interesting is the Govtech Catalyst Programme (GTC). The Programme supports public sector bodies to find innovative solutions to operational services and policy delivery challenges. It was pointed out, that although this is a positive development, more needs to be done to connect innovative tech firms with the buyers.
What worked really well at Building the Smarter State were the three panels. The topics where interesting and the use of Silo.com contributed to engagement with many questions being posted and voted for online. This democratic process as is tradition had some unsuspected moments that resulted in, at one point, the question “Why do we have seven parking apps” getting the spotlight. But, even that was the catalyst for an interesting discussion about transformation in the public sector and indeed does point to the one of the issues in the process: the struggles of an extremely complex organism to join up.
We got to hear many different stories of tech innovation in government. The three that impressed me the most all came from women (respect!) are in no order:
- Helen Walker, Chief Technology Officer, DfE, talked about how their transformation journey started with the heavy dismantling of legacy tech and a move to the cloud. With this foundation laid they are now in the position to move things forward and focus on user centred service design supported by tech. As she says: it is vital that this is data driven, budgets are too tight to take punts.
- Jackie Wright, Chief Digital Information Officer, HMRC, participated in the final panel and as always had great input and lots of experience to share. HMRC has in some cases achieved a saving of 80% through the use of robotics. Unsurprisingly they are focusing their efforts in the next few years on emerging tech such as AI and machine learning. To my delight she briefly referred to frameworks, noting how they are a good progression but government needs to be always asking are they fit for purpose and keep on improving them. Agreed!
- Last but by no means least was Nicola Graham Head of IT & SOCITM President, Aberdeenshire Council, and my new hero! Although she suffered from what seemed to be a nasty loss of voice, her words resonated with me the most. She shared some of her experience in running IT at Aberdeenshire council and delivered two of my favourite quotes:
“Digital is everyone’s job! What we need is not another digital strategy, we are planning to integrate digital into the council plan!” – yes! Surely, we are at a point of talking about simply delivering services rather than digital services and digital is just another integral part, not an add on?
“Don’t design services with users in mind, design them with users in the room!” – does this one even need a comment?!
I managed to also attend one of the workshops offered on the day. Unsurprisingly I ended up in ‘Making it easier for SMEs to work with Public services’. It meant stealing myself away from a delicious lunch, which was my only pet peeve of the day. It was great to hear from Emma Jones about some of the initiatives they are running to further the SME agenda such as SME champions, SME Ministers and SME panels.
The consensus was that SMEs and government need to do more on building understanding between themselves. The ball is in both parks really. There was also discussion about taking the procurement reform further with standardised forms, supplier passports and most importantly driving the idea of outcome-based procurement.
My only unfulfilled wish at the session was more time to really get into some of the particulars of facilitating a greater dialog between government and SMEs. But I guess that’s a whole other conference!
All in all, Building the Smarter State was well worth a visit. I got the chance to hear some truly inspiring public sector innovators, caught up with some old friends, met some new innovative suppliers, heard some important questions asked and ate some great food. I even got rubber duck for my daughter! I’d call that a success… But now the real works begins. How can we take the agenda further and continue the conversation?