Trusted partner looks to future

Only a decade ago, it would have been hard to realise many of the initiatives currently being put into practice around digital public services. As technology has shifted, so too does the nature of procurement. The ability for government to be able to source partners that bring innovation, integrity and reliability to the public sector, at the right cost, is a delicate line to walk.

While the current public services digital agenda in the UK may have its origins in austerity, and a desire to move away from very large IT contracts and suppliers, its objectives will be far reaching.

The launch of the UK government CloudStore enabled a broad range of public sector services, such as SaaS and IaaS, to be purchased online by creating a marketplace where traditional government suppliers and niche experts, often small to medium innovative enterprises, can compete. CloudStore has very quickly expanded the government’s options for supply.

The government is also pursuing a Digital by Default programme aimed at modernising public services while also achieving significant cost-savings for the taxpayer.

We are used to the tender process, the required accreditations and stringent service levels such contracts bring

Organisations such as De La Rue are developing solutions for the so-called digital citizen, but we already live in a hybrid world of digital and physical. Passports are a good example – all UK passports are e-passports. They include a chip, which holds the owner’s biometric data that can only be accessed via a reader and complex encoded keys, but it is still a printed document. Tax discs are going digital, but we still all hold a physical card and piece of paper as a driving licence.

This hybrid supply chain infers complexity. While many reports indicate that citizens in the UK would be happy to transact online for government services – generally more than 50 per cent or higher – there are still understandable sensitivities around the use and control of personal data.

What is the impact on value for money? A complex supply chain potentially adds margin upon margin, and can confuse ownership and accountability of service delivery.

A robust, and perhaps prolonged, tender process is therefore required. And depending on the sensitivity of the data and services needed, the tender may demand dual-sourcing and disaster recovery alongside other best-practice certification, such as ISO, ITIL and so on.

How then, in the brave new digital world, are smaller, agile and innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) going to be able to compete?

As noted, De La Rue has worked with government for many years. We make, personalise and issue UK passports. We also print sterling for the Bank of England. We are used to the tender process, the required accreditations and stringent service levels such contracts bring.

In order to personalise passports, De La Rue handles the data of more than five million UK citizens a year. This demands the highest levels of physical and digital security. It also requires a strong working partnership with many SMEs, who provide specialist equipment or components for the manufacturing process. We are adept at building them into a consortium that allows innovation and agility within the framework of a major government contract.

In a world where it is digital by default, the concept of innovative consortiums represents a realistic alternative to the traditional singular and large integrator. The joining of smaller businesses with mid-sized organisations for government contracts may well be the answer. This could truly enable smaller firms to compete, and the public sector to achieve required innovation, integrity and reliability, while driving the cost-savings and efficiencies the government continues to seek.