UK public sector technology predictions for 2020

Momentous developments in the British political landscape have set the stage for big changes in public sector technology

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The shockwaves felt from the Conservative party's thumping general election win and its pledge to "get Brexit done" will ripple through public sector IT plans and spending patterns in the year ahead.

A corporation tax freeze, rising R&D spending, new fast-track visa for oversea tech talent, mooted digital services tax and changes to the UK's relationship with the EU will all have an impact on the sector, but there is one area that industry insiders expect to remain largely unchanged: the much-maligned process of public IT procurement.

Duncan Jones, a principal analyst and vice president at Forrester, anticipates that the sector's "obsolete processes for sourcing technology" will continue.

"Most organisations continue to use the same consulting, advisory and research firms, who have failed for many years to drive real change," he told Computerworld. "Indeed many of the incumbents have a vested interest in retaining the bad processes, not only because it prevents new entrants replacing them but also because they make money by supporting the creation and use of excessively long RFPs.

"As a result, we’ll see more high-profile project disasters, the best providers continuing to avoid public sector work, and ongoing frustration from the better of the small firms that are unable to penetrate public sector organisations."

Read next: The UK's worst public sector IT disasters

Outsourcing is another area of public sector IT that is frequently lambasted but nonetheless likely to remain common.

"Partnerships between business and government will need to underpin any administration, so we expect to see continuation in some form of the cabinet office’s outsourcing programme and the post-Carillion drive to improve the outcomes from public sector contracts," Peter Coomber, vice president of consulting services at IT firm CGI UK.

Changing times

Jones at Forrester does expect to see a couple of bright spots amid the gloom. He is optimistic that IT leaders who are sufficiently brave and forward-thinking to commit to Agile development will have a positive effect, but adds that many leaders who profess to have embraced Agile have in fact only adopted one or two of its techniques.

"For instance, in our survey of software developers, 41 percent of those in the public sector claim to use Agile, but only 25 percent use DevOps, compared with 64 percent and 47 percent of those in financial services," he explained. "Similarly only 26 percent of [public sector] developers measure 'user satisfaction' as a success metric. I expect those rates [to] increase gradually in 2020, although the positive impact may not be immediately visible to citizens."

Nick Smee, CEO of asset management software and services provider Yotta, predicts that public sector organisations will take a more customer-centric approach to their digital strategies. He believes this will encompass greater use of smartphones and data visualisations that both extract granular insights and ensure that they make sense to every level of expertise – but also expects them to encounter significant silo challenges as their data estates expand.

"More silos will need to be broken down and data shared if digital transformation is to be achieved," he said. "Throughout 2020 and beyond, organisations will also need to be cognisant that more of their public is smartphone-enabled. Councils increasingly need to be providing instant messaging communications and apps for all their services. Any council that does not is missing out on a great opportunity to make their citizens happier and failing to improve efficiencies for themselves.”

Within national government, the turbulent history of the Government Digital Service (GDS) could be set to continue. In recent years, the unit's responsibilities have been curbed, but a request from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last year for the government to clarify the role of GDS is yet to arrive. 

Read next: The major milestones of the Government Digital Service (GDS)

CGI UK VP Coomber expects the unit's work to remain highly remain relevant – particularly its focus on the citizen.

Last September, GDS Director General Alison Pritchard announced that the unit would now focus on five pillars: data, digital identity, security, legacy IT and user experience. Coomber predicts that legacy IT will need the most attention over the course of the next parliament as investment in mordernisation "has been deferred for so long now".

Clouds on the horizon

The public sector's move to the cloud has been expedited in recent years by the introduction of the G-Cloud and DOS frameworks and the launch of an AWS UK region in late 2016. Dob Todorov, CEO of cloud computing consultancy HeleCloud, anticipates this to continue in 2019.

“Arguably, the public sector is best positioned to benefit from adopting a cloud-first approach," he said. "It already holds, and has access to, vast amounts of varied data spanning weather, healthcare records, traffic, city planning and citizens. What’s more, public sector organisations are very particular about the security of this data – and for good reason. Yet, unlike on AWS, limited budgets prevent these governmental bodies to heavily invest in the analytics technologies, nor security and compliance. Thus, adopting [a] cloud platform in an optimal way for cost-effectiveness, data protection and innovation is perfect for the public sector."

Those public sector organisations embracing a cloud-first strategy will have to ensure that it includes significant security measures.

Matt Lorentzen, principle security consultant at Trustwave, warns that the sweeping changes to procedural, technical and auditory requirements brought about by Brexit will create a vast attack surface around the supply chain.

Read next: Who’s who in Boris Johnson’s new digital government team?

"As soon as bad actors understand how the various processes within a new supply chain are going to function, it’s going to be easy for them to carry out successful social engineering or phishing attacks; for example, sending an urgent email about a change in legislation that requires specific business information to be handed over," he said.

"This type of activity will catch the larger businesses out just as much as the small ones, as everyone will be in the same position, and this change of approach won’t apply to one specific type of company, or one specific industry. Because the changes are at a governmental and national level, the attack surface is going to bubble out in all sorts of directions."

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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