Working together, looking ahead: IT partnering for the post election era

Closer collaboration is key to achieving IT value for money, says BT's Julie Tankard

The election dust has settled on a new political landscape. The government is moving swiftly ahead with local mayors, decentralisation, and closer integration of health and social services, as well as further spending cuts. Technology must undoubtedly play a big part in transforming policy into practice.  The question is: what does the public sector need from its IT partners as it faces up to the challenge? And how can government get the very best IT value for money?

The answer is that, just as local authorities, the NHS and other agencies will have to work more closely together, so will government and its IT providers. Government will need new levels of collaboration from its technology partners. Because the more we can tackle the issues together, the more we can share knowledge and learn from each other, the more able we will be to create the right technology solutions at the right price. 

One recent example is how BT worked with the Office of National Statistics to help make its multi-terabytes of data available online. As the complexity of the task ramped up, we collaborated even more closely and at the project’s height, 120 BT people were working alongside ONS, enabling knowledge transfer on an industrial scale. 

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Closer collaboration can help government and its IT providers to:

1. Focus on outcomes
The more IT companies understand about what the public sector wants to achieve the more helpful we can be. Whether it is keeping older people out of hospital or building a "Northern Powerhouse", the chances are that IT partners will have an insight or experience to bring to the table. Experience tells us that when we get involved early in a project, we can often suggest another way to look at the problem, or a more affordable solution. The key is to focus not on technology, but on outcomes. 

2. Re-use great ideas 
Starting everything from scratch is a high cost option, especially when there are others to copy and learn from. One example is flexible working, which can help the public sector significantly reduce its property costs. At BT, we have already gone through this transformation and our first hand experience has been essential when we’ve helped police forces and local authorities introduce more agile workstyles. Similarly, there is some great work by local NHS trusts around using mobile devices and applications to improve care and productivity. More sharing of this real life experience and learning will help others implement similar solutions faster, at the least expense. 

3. Join up the dots
In the past, government departments and agencies have tended to operate individually, creating stand alone silos of information and applications which are expensive to create and maintain. As we move towards a more interconnected age, we need to find ways of seeing the big picture, and how everything might work together. IT companies, with their R&D work, innovation teams, strategic partnerships (and even our own futurologist at BT) can help government take a fresh look at what the future might hold and how technology can bring people and processes together.

4. Be more flexible
Of course the public sector must operate to high standards. But imposing a single high standard for security levels or SLAs (Service Level Agreements) can push up the cost, without any real operational benefit. Identifying the appropriate service levels for different operations means that the contract will be more likely to give the right protection and performance, at the right cost. Some flexibility around SLAs will also give government the widest choice of vendors and more affordable options.

5. Balance risk sharing
Risk management in the public sector is increasingly seen as passing most risk to the supplier. But the more risk the vendor carries, the more expensive the contract will be. At a time of ongoing budget constraints, we should jointly explore the real risks and develop appropriate and proportionate risk management protocols. This approach will also make it easier for SMEs to become part of the government supply chain - typically, they are unable to take the risk which flows from the main contract. By taking a more balanced approach we can encourage more SME participation, which in turn will help drive more innovation.

Through our history and contribution to the national infrastructure, BT has an affinity with the public sector; our understanding of what makes you tick is probably as good as anyone in the industry. So it is natural that we should want to share what we know, explore new ideas with our government colleagues and help to get the most value for the taxpayer. We look forward to listening, to talking and helping the public sector meet the challenges of the next five years.

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