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Straight Talk IT

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If 2016 was defined by citizens confounding the psephology industry and making their feelings known on the need for government to work better, 2017 will be defined by how government agencies address the underlying issues at the heart of citizen dissatisfaction such as creating economic opportunities, improving access to healthcare and education, improving social cohesion, and introducing improvements to city-level services.

In the absence of longer-term responses, governments are again turning to digital services to shoulder the load: the Australian government has announced the new Digital Transformation Agenda to be delivered by mid-2018, the UK's Government Digital Service (GDS) will be publishing its long-delayed digital plans, and the new administration in the US will most likely come up with a new direction for the United States Digital Service and 18F.

These, and the responses from other countries, must focus on more than simply applying shiny new front ends to traditional services. Disassociated citizens in the US rust belt, northern parts of England, or Southern Europe will want to see a joined-up government that is tackling the issues driving dissatisfaction. The sense of urgency for governments to deliver better citizen outcomes is unlikely to dissipate in 2017.

Digital transformation will become an increasingly significant driver for change. Ovum expects CIOs to accelerate the evolution of architecture in support of the adoption of cloud, mobile, social, analytical, automation, IoT, and cybersecurity tools. These tools will play an increasing part as governments strive to be seen as more transparent, responsive, and trustworthy.

Vendors are already positioning themselves in response. The next instalment of the cloud arms race is just starting, with the likes of AWS and Microsoft Azure racing to build out in-country coverage to satisfy sovereignty issues around data. In turn, this will allow ISVs that use these platforms to expand beyond their national markets into new public sector markets, further expanding government access to apps that can be used to improve public services.

However, new data centers alone are not a remedy for all that ails government IT. Traditional thinking about IT teams as simply internal service providers is no longer sufficient. The offloading of commodity functions will likely continue as internal teams reorientate around the provision of digital tools. Governments in countries such as the US and Australia view shared services as a means to delivery efficiencies (savings) and standardizing back-office functions in an attempt to address these issues.

But, governments should be wary of pushing through shared services agendas. The experience of the UK and Canada would indicate that this approach is not without risks and, even where adoption is mandated, it is difficult to deliver against plans where there is a lack of understanding of business processes. It is better to focus on developing platforms on which government departments can build common and repeatable services that allow agencies to develop services that citizens want, rather than need.

These are all themes that Ovum will be continue to focus on in 2017 as we explore in more detail the practical way governments can deliver the change demanded by citizens in 2016 across public sector services.

Straight Talk is a weekly briefing from the desk of the Chief Research Officer. To receive this newsletter by email, please contact us.

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