What is GovTech? This was the question debated by a senior group of IT executives at a recent meeting of techUK’s Central Government Council. Having spent over 25 years in this exciting industry myself I never cease to be amazed by our capacity for linguistic innovation – what are we actually talking about when we say ‘GovTech’.
GovTech and the inextricably linked concept of disruption which is now widely considered to be a good thing has risen up the political agenda in the past 12 months. This was demonstrated by Oliver Dowden CBE MP launching a round of GovTech Challenges at techUK’s flagship conference Building the Smarter State.
Governments have always been the dominant consumers of Information Technology. So how does GovTech, an exciting new thing, differ from technology used by Government in the past? The answer of course is if it is disruptive, in a good way. The convention seems to be that we can use an abbreviation like Gov or Fin or Reg and concatenate it with Tech, with or without a dot, to denote a brave new opportunity for start ups and SMEs to disrupt an established and stagnant sector.
Digital transformation is the goal, and the incredible achievements of transformational technology companies and their associated platform based business models in the private sector are the role model here. The problem is that the public sector has no idea how to procure innovation and one could argue that there is a fear from both industry and the public sector to risk challenging the status quo.
Personally, I have a foot in both camps, firstly as the CEO of PDMS an SME which happens to be very good at supplying technology to government to meet specific and complex requirements. Wearing this hat I am very wary of the idea that there is some magic wand being developed in a garage somewhere which will make managing the health, defence, education and law of the land as easy as letting out a desirable property in the Lake District on AirBnB! On the other hand, there is no denying the huge scope for innovation and transformation in the way public services are administered and made available to us all in the many roles we have in work, in families and in the wider community.
I am a believer in the power of technology to transform productivity in any administrative activity. There is scope for the UK to be a leading player in an emerging business sector based on the empowerment of the individual to manage their own information and collaborate with government and the wider community in a more timely, cost effective and satisfying way using digital technology. For the sake of argument why don’t we call it CitizenTech?