How Brexit Could Be an Opportunity as Well as a Challenge for the UK Public Sector

Think Digital recently sat down with our Chief Digital Officer and central government IT veteran Iain Patterson to get a sense of how he sees GDPR, leaving the EU and the return of transformation changing all our lives next year.

Who are you?
Iain Patterson, Chief Digital Officer at UKCloud.

How long have you been in post, and what is your role at UKCloud?

I joined in July this year, since then I have been looking at our business model, market penetration, and listening to what our users, partners and clients truly need from us as a cloud provider.

Sounds interesting, and a good challenge. What led you to take up this opportunity – what attracted you to the mission?

For several years I have been trying to harness technology to leverage user and corporate business objectives, both in the private and public sector. UKCloud was set up specifically to cater for the Digital Transformation of services in the public sector and has a public sector centric and user ethos, so that fits ideally with my values. It also offers specific and niche products and customer service which will not only help accelerate public sector transformation, but also can achieve this ensuring that citizen and secure data remains safe, secure and fully compliant with GDPR criteria.

I believe that I can help grow and improve our product and service offerings, which will in turn benefit the effectiveness and efficiency of the civil service, especially as we enter a period of rapid transformation due to Brexit.

UKCloud has the historic pedigree of being a company designed from the ground up to support the public sector. I intend to build upon that, and we should have some exciting news regarding some new products early in the new year.

Tell us a bit more about your journey to this job – what other roles have you had in hi-tech and helping the public sector IT buyer?

I have been involved in technology, from software development right through to CIO and CTO roles across differing industry sectors, from Utility, Centrica, the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, the transformation of Post Office and its separation from the Royal Mail to enable the sale of Royal Mail.

Following all that, I joined Mike Bracken at the Government Digital Service, where I was seconded as CTO to the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency. Our mission was to demonstrate that a large government function with high citizen transactions could become modern, digital-first and efficient, with citizen centric services that not only provided benefit for the civil service but also cut down the red tape for industry and stimulate growth in the UK motoring sector. To do all that, we utilised cloud for rapid and low cost deployment, saved money and rapidly delivered a stream of continuous business improvement.

I also ran the Cabinet Office multi-disciplinary Common Technology Programme, redefined the scope to secure cost effective commercial and technology contracts for the civil service, and for the first time mapped the whole technology estate of every department and drove the model for Ocean Liner (Large expiring technology contracts).

If Government wishes to truly transform itself, rather than become reactive to technology change, then it needs to re-engage the technology market as it did with the Digital Marketplace in 2012. It is also noticeable that GDS used to be at the top table of industry functions and keynote at industry presentations, but much less so now; Mike Bracken created a vision and drive in government transformation that industry wanted to be part of, it sadly now feels that things have reverted back to where they were ten years ago.

How do you see the landscape as we enter 2018? What changes, if any, do you see the delay of G10 having?

2018 will continue to be extremely challenging for the public sector. The civil service is still in the middle of major transformation with the spectre of Brexit looming. Obviously, there must be very good reasons for delaying G10… however, if there was ever a time to harness more SME talent, then that time is now!

I would also predict that there will be more stringent controls regarding citizen data, probably directly after the implementation of GDPR – basically because I don’t think every part of government will be ready.

I would also predict that more of Whitehall will ‘go their own way’ as central controls and direction setting seem to be dissipating. Some Departments are far more digitally advanced than others, but without common goals and understanding of the central picture, then I fear that government will lose efficiencies and alignment.

I also believe 2018 will see an emphasis on preparing for the operational changes of Brexit, but even so technological advances will continue regardless. We will see greater use of cloud, the introduction of Multi-Cloud environments to manage multi technology systems, and a realisation that cloud is not quite a commodity as people perceive. People are placing whole multi tech environments into singular cloud providers, but that makes no sense and plays against the ease of porting applications and workloads.

That’s why we are working with other cloud providers in order to build cloud environments that will cater for the complex technology stacks that serve the public sector. G10 would have definitely helped accelerate transformation of on premise to cloud, so it is a shame it’s being held back.

What is your view of how the market should best react to the challenge of Brexit?

I have many strong views on this subject. It is hard for the market to react when we currently have no clear technology lead figure for government. Without a Government CTO who does the market engage with, where is the leadership coming from?

What I have learnt from my time working across the public sector is that it is reactive and not too pro-active. That may sound harsh, but it is true in my experience. I expect that too late in the day the government will form a transparent and cohesive programme which would look across all the impacts of the UK leaving the European Union. The model for such a mega-programme would look very similar to that I experienced at the Olympics.

Because the government has yet to set up this structure, though, we will be forced to work at pace. This could be the singular opportunity we have to restructure the processes and technology of Government. It will force us to utilise cloud for rapid development, and at UKCloud we are preparing for the high security elements that will undoubtedly be required.

We will also see that the SME and UK tech markets will be very responsive, although the manpower costs will be high, since the civil service has not yet solved the digital and technical skills gap that were identified in 2015. There will be a need for process modelling and AI in process management. Cloud technologies that enable rapid testing, modelling, and delivery will also be a pre-requisite. Interconnectivity and safe transferable use of data will also be key.

The problem today is that, traditionally, Departments have run programmes that have not had close enough input or transparency to industry and UK commerce. Brexit is an opportunity for all these facets to be brought into play, but requires a central leadership that doesn’t exist today. Until that comes along, it is difficult for UK commerce and UK tech companies to engage with it in a meaningful way.

Is the UK public sector IT market very different than it was 5 years ago?

Driven by a strong and clear central government strategy under Francis Maude and Mike Bracken, I would have expected the market to be further advanced than it is today. There was a continuation of momentum under their successors, however, it is clear that the market is reverting back to where we were pre-2011. Saying that, technology has advanced and the continued use of cloud and new tech is there for sure. The one thing that you cannot halt or stifle is the advancement and greater efficiency of technology, but the ability to best utilise it, and even to procure it effectively, remains the pervasive issue for the public sector.

What GCloud did was enable fast and safe procurement. So if procurement cycles extend back to where they were in a pre-2012 environment, then we will potentially be procuring slower than the pace of revised software or operating system upgrade paths. What may happen is that larger and more embedded technology and service companies could look to partner or acquire smaller SME companies, either to create their own ecosystems or to grow their internal technology capability. This would increase the cost and expenditure to the public sector, but would shield those small companies from the exposure of longer procurement lead times and resource planning.

How different do you think it might be 5 years hence?

I am optimistic that – probably due to Brexit – we will see a shift back in emphasis in public sector digital to transformation, something that’s been on the back burner since 2016 in my view. As I said before, the public sector is very resistant to change; however, when it does recognise the need for change it throws everything behind it. So Brexit, however we feel about it, needs to be the catalyst for change, both in public sector services and the technology underpinning it. Change that, and the way to rapidly and safely procure it, and we could see a very positive on-going outcome. The use of cloud for data as well as application use will be normal, too, I am convinced.

Summing up, if we come back to talk to you in a year, what would you like to be able to say you’d achieved?

Next year is shaping up to be a big year for us at UKCloud. I would expect to see new partnerships with hyper-scalers, and growth in the number of our implementation partners and us moving up the value chain to service our customer needs, as well as opening up greater service offerings for our public sector clients.

I’d also like to see greater growth into the health sector with UKCloud Health, and a greater emphasis on our high security credentials into product offerings geared towards our defence industries and public sector defence functions – all of this with a greater transparency and focus on customer experience, which I see as a clear differentiator in the market place. We need to assist our customers to transform to cloud, rather than to just provide technology. I can say the above, as I have been working with UKCloud’s leadership team and our clients and partners to pursue all of this.

As I said, 2018 will a very interesting year for UKCloud and UKCloud Health. We are well prepared for helping with GDPR, are well positioned to support on Brexit, and are already catering for our users’ needs with better, more efficient, propositions.

Iain Patterson Bio:

Iain joined UKCloud earlier this year, with 20 years’ CIO experience and having previously led many key IT transformation including for GDS, the DVLA and Post Office.

Prior to joining UKCloud Iain was Director of Common Technology Services at Government Digital Service (GDS) and responsible for working with government departments to provide the right technology that helps the public sector deliver great services. 

Iain was seconded to DVLA in 2013, where he was Chief Technology Officer, leading their digital transformation. This included making the Tax Disc Digital and successfully exiting a 12-year outsourced IT contract bringing both the responsibility and capability for managing the IT back in house.

Iain joined UKCloud as Chief Digital Officer and is helping with a review of UKCloud’s technical platform and operations, its product propositions and external messaging.