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Mind the policy-technology gap


Opinion: There is a growing realisation that fancy websites alone will not deliver the transformation that the leaders of our public services are desperate to deliver: better, faster, simpler and cheaper services

Delivering real transformation requires a deep understanding of what technology can do today, and how it has already transformed society and citizen expectations, and it has to be embedded at the heart of policy. In other words, the potential of technology needs to be embedded in the instruments that make governments’ policies real.

Part of the problem, says Kulveer Ranger, vice president for public affairs at Atos UK, is that policymakers are often operating in a bubble, unaware of the art of the digitally possible. And there is an equally large bubble in the digital world – overflowing with possibilities but with only surface knowledge of how government operates and how policy instruments drive delivery of political decisions.

Put simply, says Ranger: “We need to bring those two things together.” Security and the capabilities of the latest technologies should be embedded into policy, however “you don’t need to have large teams sitting in the centre of government".

His argument is that policy teams should be looking at what the best of both the public and private sectors can offer and using a mix-and-match approach to embed technology into the instruments of policy.

“Government should be looking at the opportunity to deliver policy and services that put the citizen first - for the citizen by design. It should focus on what the required outputs are and then bring in the technology partners to help you deliver those outputs, that then meet your policy requirements.

“That is the process that needs to happen, but the thing that needs to be done first is to capture the imagination.”

Digital London background

Ranger has a credible track record on both sides of the policy-technology divide, having served as Digital London policy director for the Mayor of London prior to moving into the private sector.

His contribution was key to Atos’ recent ‘Digital Vision for Government’ paper, which “aims to present a buffet of ideas and start a conversation about how these could evolve to support policy requirements”.

Ranger argues that the citizen relationship with government is changing and expectations rising, in line with the digital customer experience in the commercial world. Policy making, he believes, should be evolving to respond to that change – and using technology to meet those expectations. “There is going to be a citizen focused change, it is going to be around the individual; their relationship with government is going to change, and that change is going to be underpinned by a lot of what technology delivers.

“The primary focus should be output delivery: ‘What’s the outcome you’re trying to achieve?’”

A core problem is that technology is constantly evolving and no one team can to keep track of all the changes. Therefore, it’s a question of the technology community – across the public-private divide – working together to deliver the potential for transformation.

Contracts problem

Indeed, this constant change has been the root problem with many long term technology projects in the past, says Ranger: “The technology keeps changing and contracts were not managed in an agile and dynamic way.”

“There is now an opportunity across the whole technology landscape for government to take advantage of how the requirement for efficiency, change and improvement can be met by technology providers.

“We’re looking at probably a decade of opportunity to change the citizen-government relationship through the paradigm of technology. Let’s discuss that.”

Which brings us back to the Atos digital vision paper. As Ranger says, “Why don’t we show you the technology while you’re thinking about your policy and your strategy.”


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