By Microsoft

27 Jan 2016

Microsoft examines the complex path to Government as a Platform

Picture a lake in the summer. Why not? With more wintry weather ahead of us, it helps to have warmer times to look forward to. So, picture a perfect summer day on a big lake. Kids are feeding ducks on the pebbly shore. A dripping wet golden lab is rushing into the water after a soggy tennis ball. Sailboats skim smoothly past old friends casting their fishing rods off piers. All of them are sharing the same body of water, but none of them are experiencing it in the same way. 

Now imagine that kids have to queue to be assigned a duck to feed, the golden lab can only access his tennis ball if he’s already in the water – not from shore, fish are only available to fishermen from the piers on the other side of the lake, and there’s an error with the wind which can only be fixed during normal working hours. Unfortunately, this is closer to the perception most people have of the experience of interacting with government services.

The Government as a Platform Gap
It’s the gap between the two scenarios – how government services should work and how many still do work – that the Government Digital Service (GDS) is looking to close by transforming dozens of siloed offices with separate systems and processes into Government as a Platform (GaaP). The idea is fairly simple: as part of a single UK government, GDS should be able to provide a common set of core systems (i.e. a platform) that allow various departments to share digital services, technology and processes. This is the driving principle behind the significant spike (£450M until 2020) in GDS budget, and the significant investment (£1.8B) in digital transformation. 

And GDS is already starting to see success by providing shared services. The Department for Work & Pensions is sharing data with other public sector bodies to help tackle fraud. Sharing information between social services and emergency services is helping to reach vulnerable people in crisis situations. By sharing systems such as GOV.UK Notify or GOV.UK Pay across departments and offices, not only will the government reduce the costs inherent in redundant systems, it will also provide citizens with a streamlined and more unified experience.

Taken one step further, this unified set of systems could be made available to non-government businesses who can use the platform to build new and innovative applications for citizens. Similar to the Windows Store, Google Play, or other app stores, the government would provide the stable, secure and robust common platform, and developers would make apps available on top of this.

Managing Government Data: Getting into the Deep Water
While the benefits of GaaP are fairly clear – reduced costs, better access to information, more opportunities for innovative ideas – the path to getting there is quite complex. And much of that complexity stems from the challenges of managing data. The government (central and local) currently manages enough data to fill all the waters of the Lake District. The problem is that this data isn’t in a single unified body of water, so to speak. It’s separated into hundreds of varying-size puddles, each with their own unique currents and contents. 

When you delve deeper into the problem, you’ll find that there are incompatible databases, and data sets – so the exact same thing could be called different things in different systems. There are issues with security: one system not having the right level of security to share with another. There are ownership and budget issues around the data sets: where does the data actually reside, and whose budget is going to pay for it?

Getting your Data Ship Shape
One of the biggest steps that government can take to close the GaaP gap is unifying its data on a single modern data platform. There are many options for unification. Of course, we think SQL Server 2014 is an excellent choice for this. While we may be a bit biased on the matter, over 7,000 government offices already use some version of SQL Server. Also, other independent experts such as Gartner rank us as industry leaders for our completeness of vision ability to execute. 

Regardless of which platform is used to transform digital government, here are a few benefits of a unified modern data platform. First is security. A unified platform means the government will be able to keep up with constantly evolving security standards and threats. This means that if you wanted to create a service using data shared across other departments or offices, you wouldn’t have to worry about which one was the weak link. Second is creating a single view of the citizen. Unifying platforms makes it easier to standardise the data so that information associated with a citizen is called the same thing across different offices and departments. Third is the cloud. By unifying to a modern data platform, it allows government to build a hybrid cloud model that – among other things – improves disaster recovery, makes it easier for you to deploy mobile applications, and helps you develop and launch new services faster.

Upgrading your data platform won’t instantly transform the way government delivers services. It is, however, an important first step in making the vision of government as a platform a reality. The question is: are you (and is your data) ready to take that first step?

Are you ready for the plunge?
Here are a few of the questions you need to consider if you want your office to be able to share the benefits of government as a platform. Are you using open standards and common government platforms to deliver digital services? Can your current data platform handle open standards? What security standards are you using for the citizen data your department/service interacts with? Is your data taxonomy consistent with other GOV.UK offices or is there a plan to align if it isn’t? Do you have a plan for moving to the cloud? 

Perhaps you might not be in a position to answer these questions, but there’s definitely someone in your IT group who is (and these are probably the same questions that keep them up at night). It may be a good idea to start a dialogue with them, because without answers to these questions you may not be able to reap the full benefits of digital transformation.

Modernising your platform doesn’t need to be painful and it doesn’t need to be costly. And the result is improved service levels and greater agility. Click here to register for our Data Platform Modernisation webinar to find out how architecture refresh, software upgrades and targeted application remediation can help you deliver real performance and business innovation with a low total cost of ownership.

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