Government-as-a-Platform provides “fantastic opportunity” for tech industry

TechUK welcomes common IT platforms approach, but recognises suppliers must “do things differently”

Whitehall's initiative to move away from large outsourced IT contracts, dubbed Government-as-a-Platform (GaaP), presents a "fantastic opportunity" for technology firms, according to techUK.

The trade body's CEO, Julian David, today called for better engagement between the government and tech industry to improve the state of public sector IT, using "the whole ecosystem, big and small".

In particular, he praised the concept of GaaP, revealed by the Cabinet Office last month as a way to cut IT procurement costs after years of expensive legacy contracts.

"The idea and proposal of Government-as-a-Platform ... can lead to a revolution in public service delivery," he said, at the techUK Public Services 2030 Conference. "We want to get on board. GaaP is a fantastic opportunity for British-based tech businesses and for British citizens."

By sharing common components such as a single payment platform, government departments could drastically cut costs by reducing the amount of duplicated  IT projects, according to Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude. Addressing the conference, he said that while government IT projects are no longer "catastrophic", there are still many legacy contracts and infrastructure in existence.

"We still have a huge legacy," he said. "By building common platforms for government we'll help departments focus on their core business, without having to build every single component of the service from scratch."

Whitehall's Government Digital Service (GDS the team driving digital transformation in central government) is leading the charge on GaaP, planning to release prototypes for three platforms early next Parliament. Those will be a payments platform, an appointments booking platform and a messaging platform, but the GDS has a list of 30 more it wants to create.

The new system will transform the face of public IT procurement, but the GDS suggested this could come at the cost of the widely-accepted tower IT model, where various aspects of an IT infrastructure are outsourced to different providers.

GDS's deputy director, Alex Holmes, told departments last month that such outsourcing was inefficient, telling them to build their own IT with in-house skills instead.

TechUK has hit back at Holmes, pointing out that the restructuring represents a drastic change in procurement policy that has caused alarm to some of the 850 firms the body represents.

However, as has already been demonstrated by identity assurance platform Verify, GaaP will still require Whitehall to outsource parts of the platforms to third parties - Verify is seeking up to five suppliers to perform identity checks for it, for example.

While IT outsourcer Atos was accused of simply rebranding its existing services as GaaP-friendly last month, David today indicated that organisations must be ready and willing to adapt to government's new ways of working.

"We want those new services, and at the end of the day, we don't have a choice. We have to do things differently," he said.

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