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March 9, 2015updated 17 Oct 2016 11:56am

Digital government looks for a second term

Government as a Platform seeks a mandate as SIAM towers’ foundations crumble

It may be just about Spring, judging by last weekend’s warmer sunshine, but the political temperatures are reaching the dog days with a General Election now just eight weeks away.

At the same time, civil servants are counting the days until purdah, the pre-election period that typically begins six weeks before the scheduled election.

Parliament may be reaching the end of its life, but there are a couple of issues in government IT which are likely to stretch well into the next administration and beyond. The first is a term that may be new to many: Government as a Platform (GaaP).

Essentially it’s a description used by the Government Digital Service (a unit of the UK Government’s Cabinet Office tasked with transforming the provision of government digital services) – though the original name was coined by Tim O’Reilly – to try and define a new era of government service delivery.   If you’ve used government services recently, you’ll have seen GOV.UK – that’s GDS’s publishing platform. There are also platforms still being developed: for identity assurance; GDS’s own performance platform; and a marketplace for procuring digital services in the public sector.

In future, there may be up to 30 platforms, including payments, appointments, staff records, and accounting.

But with the possibility of a new administration after May 7th, Labour politicians are keen to have some input into what GaaP looks like, how it will be designed and who should be involved in it.  Will there be an involvement for local government? Or the third sector? A debate this month which featured Tom Baker, the former CIO at one of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s significant clients, Norfolk County Council,  Labour MP, shadow Cabinet Office minister Chi Onwurah and GDS leader Mike Bracken discussed GaaP, but didn’t really reach all the conclusions on GaaP that Onwurah was hoping for.

Keep an eye on GaaP – it’s a term that is still evolving. And we’ll be hearing more about it in the next Parliament.

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The other interesting area also has, like GaaP, a lexicon of its own. SIAM sounds like something out of a Far East culture. It actually stands for service integration and management, which together with the ‘service towers’ of an IT estate – typically such as desktops, applications, hosting and networks – has become a key part of the Whitehall landscape.

However, the aforementioned GDS isn’t so wild about its future, as it said in this blog, a move which itself has caused something of a furore.

The blog essentially said that towers and SIAM have created a hybrid model unique to government. Fear of change meant some Whitehall organisations clung onto a concept of outsourcing, which they understood, though they also wanted to comply with the new government policy of multi-sourcing IT provision.

The model has arisen, the blog argues, because organisations have used a procurement-led solution in response to the ending of Whitehall department and government agencies’ legacy outsourcing contracts. But rather than changing their approach and emphasis, they have ended up outsourcing their IT again, but in pieces.

The blog has perhaps deliberately upset the received wisdom that the medium-term landscape for government departments’ IT will be based around service towers and SIAM, and left suppliers calling for greater clarity and a series of digital acolytes issuing catcalls. It’s largely been like that since 2011 as government has sought to open up Whitehall and local government procurement to other companies.

What the ructions over digital government has done is make Whitehall departments much more of a place for the digerati to want to work. It’s now desirable to have on your CV that you’re working for the Government Digital Service or HM Revenue & Customs’, the Ministry of Justice’s or the Department for Work and Pensions’ digital operations.

Arguably for the first time, working in government IT – to be specific, government digital – has become a career passport to new opportunities. But it may be six months from now, sometime after the election, before the future direction of travel for GaaP particularly, becomes clearer.

David Bicknell

Editor, Government Computing


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