Does Government need a transformed technology stack for its brave new digital world?

Whether you like the term ‘digital native’ or not, it still amazes me how intuitive and convenient life in our constantly growing and evolving digital universe has become. My son recently astounded me by showing me how he had linked his smartphone with his Xbox and was able to use it as a remote control to play YouTube videos through his console.

He didn’t talk about the technology aspects of what he’d done, he simply showed me how he had linked the application to the device. He wasn’t aware of the infrastructure challenges, the connectivity required, the challenges of seamlessly routing streaming video from the source location to his device or new commercial models that make it all possible.

I now question why I was even surprised, given that digital natives treat technology in the same way as many of us would treat taking a jug of milk from a fridge when making a cup of tea - we’re not interested in how the fridge works so why do we often make a big deal over IT infrastructure?

We live in an increasingly commoditised and ‘IT as a Service’ world, where choosing your end user device, your applications and broadband supplier can be compared to high street shopping.

Delivery of modern, commoditised digital services has become possible because the technology stack that powers these services is evolving rapidly to meet the growing demand for more agile, flexible, scalable and cost effective services. But, from figures released in May 2012, Government IT still has a long way to go to match best practice let alone keep pace with the evolving digital landscape.

Cancellation of the Pan-Government Hosting Framework at the end of 2012 and the debate surrounding the benefits of outsourcing SIAM capability are, I believe, symptomatic of the growing divide between more traditional approaches to specifying IT requirements and the need to complement the work of GDS in the digital domain. G-Cloud offers an opportunity to deliver a quantum step forward.

However, to date, consumption has been piecemeal and to some extent this reflects a natural reluctance by architects to be early adopters.
Debate on new architecture designs underpinned by developments in end user computing, cloud and big data are starting to appear. For instance, Jiten Patil in Cloud Computing Journal suggests a new 9-layer IT stack starting with End User Computing and moving through Discrete Application Services and Cloud Operating Systems to highly virtualised infrastructure.

In the article, he makes a good point that there is ‘no one-size-fits-all’ and if there is one thing I’ve learned it is that Government and the wider public sector is an extremely complex, heterogeneous mix. However, this should not be allowed to slow uptake of the requisite Cloud services needed for new online transactional services.

The recent independent report ‘Digital Scotland 2020 - Achieving World-Class digital infrastructure: a final report to the Scottish Government’ adds to the debate and highlights the key influences of connectivity, ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things, cloud services and big data as the predominant forces at play. It focuses on putting the individual at the centre of the digital world of 2020.

Use cases provide some meaningful examples of how individuals could benefit in the areas of transport, managing the home, the paperless office, ‘death of linear TV viewing’ (which should appeal to my son) and the transformation of health services, along similar lines to the proposed NHS Change Model.

If Whitehall departments are to both cut costs and support the drive to ‘digital by default’ they need to focus on developing requirements for new cloud-based digital infrastructure designed to utilise the latest re-engineered IT stack and highly automated, software defined data centres.

Stephen Kelly’s focus on re-invigorating the drive to consolidate data centres is to be applauded. Hopefully this new impetus will not suffer a similar fate to previous efforts and will go much further with the delivery of a strategy that moves Government into the age of highly cost-efficient digital infrastructure capable of satisfying the requirements of a truly digital Government.
Finally, as usual, a quote from one of my favourite authors:

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C.S.Lewis

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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