How Will Brexit Affect Public Sector Transformation & Innovation?

If we compare the EU to an Enterprise that is successfully working in a DevOps way with collaborative Agile teams, sharing ideas and enabling continuous innovation, it’s a genuine concern that Brexit could push Britain back into a lonely silo and outmoded waterfall processes.

~ Written By Yannis Kafantaris

A Backwards Slide to Waterfall?

We’re already seeing how the Brexit vote has further reduced Public Sector technology spend, with tenders down 36% between September 2015 and October 2016. The tone of existing tenders has also changed with an even greater focus on driving efficiencies and saving costs. While this may seem like step back, on 9th February, the government took a big step forward and finally released its Transformation Strategy.

Slated to update and fix back-end legacy systems, improve data usage and bring about cultural change, this long-awaited document must have been created with a Brexit mindset. But can it deliver quickly and efficiently enough to facilitate a successful digital transformation, so the UK remains at the forefront of technological advancement and continues to be seen as an appealing place to work and a viable destination for foreign investment? Or will Brexit be the death knell of Agility and innovation?

Public Sector Transformation Strategy

The 93 page Digital Strategy demonstrated the intention to deliver better public services; enable better policymaking; ensure equality in the civil service; and drive better cost and time efficiencies within the government. The 5 main areas of work are:

  1. Business transformation;
  2. People, skills and culture;
  3. Tools, processes and governance
  4. Better use of data; and
  5. Platforms, components and business capabilities.

So what is the best way for government organisations to implement this strategy and protect against the potentially negative Brexit backlash? Let’s look at the implications for what Ben Gummer says can generously be called the government’s “Suboptimal Technology”; overcoming potential skills shortages; facilitating cultural change; the GDPR and Data Protection; and Cybercrime and security.

Technology & Automation

The Transformation Strategy identifies automation as a common theme across all organisations. In its recent Report, “Work in Progress” the Think Tank Reform, suggested that the government should take an aggressive stance and use technology to automate up to 250,000 Public Sector jobs and make an estimated annual wage saving of up to £2.6bn. The Reform Report also rightly observes that civil servants need to be more customer centric and capable of using and developing new technology with a focus on the needs of the end user be they internal or external. It also criticises governments hierarchical structure and underlines the need to use technology break down silos and work in a more collaborative way.

Of course all of this new technology needs to be rigorously tested with a new test strategy that is shifted firmly to the left in terms of quality assurance with an eye to the right on the customer experience. It’s not just about new technology either; the current technology in areas such as the Passport Office are about to come under unprecedented strain and will require a new approach to testing and QA.

Automation is of course an essential ingredient for successful digital transformation and a more DevOps way of working. However, government organisations need to ensure that new automation technology is working effectively before reducing their headcount. We need to avoid a repeat of the HMRC debacle in 2015, which saw the department laying off staff too soon, resulting in a customer service and PR disaster and an embarrassing volte face to recruit more civil servants.

Since the Brexit vote the pound has dropped significantly, especially against the dollar. Most technology imports are priced in USD so it’s likely that the cost of technology is going to exponentially increase.  If so, then a strategy that aims to buy technology to automate as many processes and tests as possible, will not provide the desired cost savings.  Government organisations therefore need to get expert advice on buying the right technology for their particular requirements, embedding it properly and only automating and laying-off or redeploying staff when it is most efficient, cost effective and strategically sensible to do so. As always, it’s a careful balancing act.

Digital Upskilling

Digital transformation and DevOps are pushing stakeholders to learn new skills and gain a much deeper understanding of each other’s jobs. The Strategy stresses the necessity for both analysts and non-analysts to be trained in data analytics, which should soon include the new cutting-edge predictive analytics capabilities.  The Reform report comes down hard on the skills deficit in the Public Sector and the importance of cultivating a culture of creativity and continuous innovation. To some degree the Strategy is on the same page, detailing the need to upskill in digital, data and technology and create a single set of job families and a new pay strategy. The role of the testers is set to change in the Public Sector, just as it is in the corporate world, transforming the traditional tester into a quality engineer.   

Our impending Brexit could be a real blow in this area as it arguably makes the UK a far less attractive proposition with more restrictive bars to entry, for overseas students and experts looking for a new role. Similarly it may be harder for us to learn from other European nations as the flow on information and innovation is disrupted by our retreat and we no longer have access to their intellectual property.   To combat this the government has admittedly stated an intention to fund formal qualification programs, but of course this will take time, and again, could be at odds with the desire to be more cost efficient.

Innovation & Culture

“We will create an environment and culture that supports making policy based on cycles of user research and rapid iteration”, the Strategy boldly promises. Sounds good so far doesn’t it? But the Reform Report reminds us that historically the risk-averse government doesn’t always learn from its mistakes and there is still a culture of sweeping them under the carpet or shifting blame rather than viewing them as an opportunity to get invaluable feedback and improve services.  The impact of Brexit on cultural change is similar to the skills issue; we could be less readily influenced by overseas culture changes and could find it hard to find the right leaders to make it happen. Reform may have the right idea, suggesting that government organisations continue to poach strong leaders from the private sector and empower them to make real culture changes, instigating a more Agile way of working with flexibility on motivation techniques and even pay.

Data Privacy and Cybersecurity

There’s been a lot of talk about whether the UK will adhere to the GDPR post-Brexit. Looking at all the opinions and facts, it seems likely we will have to implement the GDPR pretty much in full if we want to retain access to the Single Market. Also the standard is high and it makes sense to adhere to it in order to ensure excellent security. Skills may not be such an issue in this area, as the UK currently has the most Cybersecurity companies in Europe and it is an area where we excel. This means Europe should still be keen to actively engage with us to innovate and improve Cybersecurity. There is a growing skills shortage though, as experts become ever more in demand and the concerns over Brexit may also lead some of these companies to move their business elsewhere. It’s interesting to note that Tripwire recently asked a group of security professionals at InfoSecurity Europe 2016 what they thought and 64% said they didn’t think Brexit would have an adverse effect on Cybersecurity.

Eyes Forward, Left, Right and all Around

There is no doubt that Brexit will have an impact on the Public Sector’s transformation strategy as well as the Private Sector. The way forward for government organisations is to work towards higher levels of automation and continuous delivery where appropriate and most effective; iterate wins; be more customer-focused; train with a 360 degree approach; shift testing left but look right; be a Quality Assurance Engineer not a Tester; mirror the corporate world; and work with partners who can implement a deep cultural change over what is probably going to be a long period of time.

If you would like to hear more around the Public Sector's transformation strategy, with particular attention to accelerating your Digital Delivery in the war for talent - register for our upcoming webinar! Register today >

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