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Government ‘Can Change’ Despite GDS Turmoil And Long-Term IT Contracts With Megavendors

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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UK Cloud CEO says there is evidence of a culture shift in Whitehall as smaller vendors wouldn’t have got a look in five years ago. And, Brexit could accelerate it

Amid the ongoing turmoil at the Government Digital Service (GDS) and reports several public sector departments continue to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on renewing contracts with large IT vendors,  it can be difficult to believe Westminster is still committed to digital transformation.

Only this week, a report from the Institute of Government claimed £2 billion could be saved by 2020 if the government was able to get its digital act together.

The report noted that more public services were going online and lamented that the ambition of having shorter supplier contracts with smaller firms was going unfulfilled. Indeed, it was scathing of the fact that few large IT contracts had been replaced.

Read More: GDS and HMRC changes signal demise of digital at Westminster

Same old

parliamentOnly this week, the Home Office extended a long-running IT outsourcing contract with Fujitsu by two years to 2018.

Several departments are locked into Oracle with no immediate plans to migrate, and the Metropolitan Police has been criticised for entering into several long-term deals.

But one supplier believes the culture is changing and that initiatives like GDS and G-Cloud are having an impact, but it will take time for everyone in Whitehall to get on board

UK Cloud provides public cloud services exclusively to the public sector and its CEO Simon Hansford believes the twin forces of austerity and a need to save money and the desire for better public services, hampered by the poor performance of tech oligopolies, will win out.

“People think government is one thing, it’s a political animal,” he said at Dell EMC Forum in London. “There are between 30,000 components if you include schools, 10,000 if you don’t. It’s a significant part of the UK economy.”

Changing culture

He cited Government as a Platform (GaaP) as an example of change but said that central government tended to be an adopter rather than a leader and that some departments like health and defence are slower than others to change.

When asked by TechWeekEurope why several public sector organisations continued to splash out with the usual suspects, Hansford expressed his belief that a shift was already taking place.

whitehallHe claimed five years ago, 70 percent of all IT contracts were with just eight companies, whereas now, smaller vendors actually had an opportunity.

“Startups that weren’t even here five years ago are working with government and creating a new marketplace,” he said, adding that many of the longer contracts would be disaggregated. “The incumbents have legacy business models. [Changing] is going to affect those contracts.

“I understand the scepticism but I will contend that five years ago you couldn’t open a door with [the incumbents]. Now, they might hold the master contract, but they will speak [to you].

“I think the UK is in a really great position. It’s not perfection but this at the centre of the government agenda. You see this is the money they’re spending on departments but also other initiatives like Digital Catapult and Tech UK.”

Brexit boost?

Despite the opposition of much of the technology industry to the UK leaving the European Union (EU), Hansford feels Brexit could accelerate the transformation.

“I really don’t know. For a while, I think we won’t see anything,” he said when asked about the impact of Brexit. “The one opportunity is that Brexit is going to drive change. There’s an awful lot of government that needs to be unpicked [if the UK leaves the EU].

“New departments will have to be created and that change is not going to happen by changing legacy systems, they’re too hard coded.”

“I hope they will be in the cloud because they need to move quickly.”

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