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Think tank urges GDS to open up government platform

19/05/15

Tech lead of Policy Exchange says private and third sectors should have more freedom to develop public service applications

The government should encourage more private and third sector organisations to develop online applications for public services, with the Government Digital Service (GDS) playing more of a guardianship role, according to the technology lead for an influential public services think tank.

Eddie CopelandEddie Copeland, head of technology policy for the right-leaning Policy Exchange, was speaking at post-election briefing held by industry association techUK. He praised the work that GDS has done in the past four years, but said the pace of developing online transactions has been too slow, and this is making it difficult for the public sector to evolve and cope with the financial pressures.

His argument was that while the GDS has a core of expertise, there is a much wider pool among specialist developers in the private and third sectors that could provide a wide range of new applications. As GDS develops a series of platforms for digital services - a plan which it has outlined as the next major step in its work - it could provide the standards that could be used by other developers.

He told the audience: "If we take the current model to its natural conclusion it would be like Google saying 'We've got the Android operating system but we're the only ones allowed to build apps for it'. It would work for a while, and has for the past five years, but going forward how much better would it be if the entire market could come and innovate on this platform."

Accelerate change

Private and third sector bodies could also accelerate the pace of change, Copeland claimed. He cited the example of HM Revenue & Customs working with Adobe to reduce the number of forms it uses and digitising them within six months.

"It shows government can work effectively with private sector players to harness the codes they've used in products for other customers around the world to increase the pace of digital change in a way that complements GDS's work," he said.

Copeland said that he believed GDS would remain in place and that: "As we've got this narrative of government as a platform GDS has every right to be guardian of the rules, to set the framework and say how it wants to see government IT to work, but it should be agnostic as to who provides it.

"GDS should build a sub-set of apps on that government as a platform, but should also be willing to let the smallest start-up or biggest tech company have a go, whoever is best placed to deliver that value."

He was more sceptical, however, about the proposal for a Local GDS, suggesting that it would not be right for dealing with the variety of approaches taken by local government.

"Rather than a Local GDS let's have some standardisation, government as a platform, so we get a marketplace of the best ideas and that local authorities en masse decide which are the best," he said.

Pictured: Eddie Copeland

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