A permanent beta mindset for 2021 [Q&A]

2020 turned the world on its head, and 2021 is proving to be just as challenging for many at the moment. The UK government, and those working to deliver the technology for it, not only have the current pandemic to worry about, but also fallout from Brexit.

Prahlad Koti, Partner at Netcompany explains why, as technologists, we must heed the lessons, look out for the speed bumps ahead and build technology that will bring sustainable good to the public sector.

BN: Do you think, despite its many challenges, 2020 was a good year for digital transformation?

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PK: Just 12 months ago we could never have predicted the turbulence that would come from an invisible foe, or its implications in terms of technological progress. For progress at pace has to be the defining characteristic of the year that was, and technology has sat at the heart of the UK’s fight against the pandemic; and will no doubt play an increasingly large role in its recovery.

Public sector technology has long been defined by big transformation, that often took too long and cost too much. This year, transformation that we all thought would take three, four, or even five years happened within a matter of weeks or months. Digital has been the answer to nearly every utterance of "what do we do now". If we can find any positives from this year, then one has to be the great strides we have made in public acceptance and uptake of digital or citizen services.

BN: What do you think are the main lessons learned when it comes to GovTech this year?

PK: In 2020 we have all learnt that big is not necessarily beautiful. Earlier this year government spend with SMEs was just under 30 percent of all procurement, and there is every hint that government will continue to beat the SME drum. While the entire IT industry stepped up, many of the most successful IT solutions this year (especially solutions developed in response to Covid-19), were delivered by small, nimble suppliers with the energy and agility to react to evolving situations. While I’m not saying that big IT cannot be nimble, it’s encouraging to see a renewed focus on small and innovative IT again, and I hope to see that run into next year, to the Government and public’s benefit.

BN: What do you think will be the biggest challenges for both providers and public sector teams in 2021?

PK: We have seen in the last year how our industry can react and deliver good solutions quickly. The challenge for the government, is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The IT solutions being built today will largely just get us out of the starting blocks. Brexit will bring about change across nearly every part of Government. From how we import and export, travel, work and regulate or differentiate ourselves on a global platform. There will be big change over the next four to five years with technology underpinning everything.

But there will be a debt to pay for change, at pace. We’ve already seen that play out this year on a massive scale as we’ve risen to the challenge of providing solutions to the pandemic. When faced with an immovable milestone, understandably, a pragmatic approach is needed to get the job done. Or the solution delivered only meets 50 percent of the requirement, because its end goal changed. While we can’t, and shouldn’t, stop progress, we have to acknowledge that many of the solutions built for the pandemic, and for Brexit transition are not sustainable.

BN: What technology do you hope to see next year, that you think could better support public sector services? 

As technologists we must heed the lessons, look out for the speed bumps ahead and build technology that will bring sustainable good. 

As we look towards 2021 public digital service delivery is going to continue to change the way we interact with government, as more of us are comfortable using digital. Where previously government was hesitant, it now has a heritage of successful digital services from which to build. However, there are two things any government should be careful about; the first is privacy concerns and the second is digital inclusion. The gulf between 'digital-haves' and 'digital have-nots' will widen next year, as uptake of digital services has not been balanced across all age groups and cohorts. It must be a priority for the Government next year to bring more people on its digital journey, which in turn will make it easier to roll out new services.

Over the next 12-24 months we will have to evolve everything we’ve done this year. A lot of the systems and solutions will be nugatory or will need a re-think. So, a "permanent beta mindset" must be the principle by which government operates IT. Fail to do that and we’ll be left with a patchwork of solutions without the cohesion necessary for world-class modern citizen services.

Image credit: Natali _ Mis / Shutterstock

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