Finding Tech Success In The Public Sector

Peter Judge

Public sector IT has a bad name, says Peter Judge. Could you help change that?

Government IT projects often get shockingly bad press – some of it deserved. But what would a successful public sector IT project look like?

In my experience, public sector projects are often very different from those in the private sector, and that’s one reason I’m looking forward to this category of our Tech Success Awards. We’re scouting for innovative IT projects in any tech field, and part of the reason is to counter the bad publicity surrounding the public sector. At the moment, IT is only news when it fails.

When things go well…

At its best, public sector IT can be world-beating. The sector has several characteristics that ought to foster good ideas:

  • 1. It is not constrained to making profit, although value for money is important
  • 2. It has a demanding set of users and a management with strong ideas
  • 3. It has massive buying power over vendors

All this could add up to a culture where risks are taken on solid prospects, and projects move towards clear benefits. Far-sighted public sector workers can find opportunities to link data in more efficient ways, and to use IT to target services where genuinely needed.

But the flip side can be a difficulty in getting innovation off the ground. “The big challenge is to test out any innovation and ensure that it can be scaled to generate the savings,” says Melissa Frewin, head of public sector at industry body Intellect, TechWeekEurope’s partner in the Tech Success Awards.

Juggling priorities

Under the leadership of Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, the public sector is trying to simultaneously make the best use of its collective buying power by aggregating projects, while allowing more flexibility and signing good-value contracts with smaller businesses.

So big providers are signing Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), to supply across Government, while  at the same time Maude is shaking up procurement by banning big consultants and asking for more government contracts to go to small to medium enterprises (SMEs) instead of the old, big suppliers.

The government cloud or G-Cloud is the epitome of this, providing a centralised service for the public sector,  but enabling smaller providers to get a foothold into providing for government – while at the same time making the capabilities of  cloud services more prominent.

“The G-Cloud is effectively a simple way for public sector IT maangers and commercial colleagues to find services and then to actually procure them,” says Frewin. “It is still in its early days, but it is getting more suppliers on board and working on promoting its existence and purpose across the public sector.”

Where is the public sector likely to be ahead? “Local government is always cited as the place within the public sector, where things can be more leading edge,” says Frewin. “Services are more localised and there are clear measurables around what is delivered.”

So whatever press government IT gets, we know there is real excitement out there – and we look forward to hearing of projects that embody that.

The Tech Success Awards are open till 19 October, and cover several broad categories. Just email us some information about a project that has been implemented in the UK, since May 2011, and you could be in the running.

UPDATE: We’ve made it easier to enter.  Fill in a form here!

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