Open source Gov.UK is 'example of UK soft power'

G-Cloud is enormous success, says Civil Service CEO

El Reg joined 13,000 registrants to attend the first day of HPE Discover at the ExCel centre in London's Docklands and what a huge affair it is. We have already covered the first big news announcement (on "composable infrastructure") and in this article we zoom in on the keynote delivered to a packed auditorium by CEO Megan Whitman and several senior colleagues.

To be more precise we shall zoom even more on an interesting interview that Mike Nefkens, EVP and general manager, enterprise services conducted with John Manzoni.

Manzoni is the Chief Executive of the Civil Service and permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office, who joined the public sector in 2014 after 30 years at BP.

His job is to make the UK government “more efficient, more effective and … faster” in how it spends its £700bn budget, His remitincludes oversight of the IT budget and of the digitisation of government services, a Herculean task in itself.

Reg readers are probably well aware of’s many teething issues in delivering the new “citizen-centricity”. And so it is easy to lose sight that elsewhere, the UK is seen as a trailblazer in “government as a platform”.

In introducing Manzoni, Nefkens described the UK as a world leader in the “digital transformation of government”, a model even for similar schemes in the USA and Australia. Furthermore, New Zealand has used source code - it’s based on open standards and is open source - to help build out own digital services.

Manzoni mentioned the UK’s participation in D5, a group of tech-savvy countries that banded together last year to develop and promote best practices for digital development of government services. The founding members are the United Kingdom, Estonia, Israel, New Zealand and South Korea. This was an example of “how we play our part with soft power”, he said.

Manzoni was a little more forthcoming in his statements on government procurement. He hailed the G-Cloud digital marketplace as an “enormous success for us [that has] opened up access to government in a way that we haven’t seen before". Public sector departments are currently pushing £800m a year through G-Cloud, about half going to small and medium businesses, according to Manzoni.

But in a neat segue, especially considering that HPE was his host, he added: “Just focusing on the small companies is not going to be good enough. We need partnerships with the biggest companies too … we just don’t have enough of the right skills in government and we will never be able to get enough skills.”

Manzoni said the public sector is a “complex, difficult environment and the [digitisation] job is far from done”. The government needed to find “constructive and collaborative ways of partnering with the private sector that is mutually beneficial”.

He cited two key differences between working in the public sector and in the private sector. For starters, "the operating environment is inherently more complex”, while the profit motive of private business can sometimes simplify decision making.

Also in government, “one’s mistakes are a little more public”. Manzoni referred to data on infrastructure projects that suggested that public sector performance was no different than the private. And though he had not looked at technology data, he said: “I’m sure we all struggle”.

That is quite the understatement, considering the many vastly expensive cost-overruns that has beset the UK government’s failed mega IT projects. ®

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