How we might build a smarter state
By Michael Thomas on September 29, 2023

On Wednesday, myself (Michael Thomas) and Aspasia Dellaporta attended Marvell Consulting’s very first TechUK event, Building the Smarter State 2023. We were looking forward to hearing a range of talks exploring what the future of innovation within the public sector might look like, and meeting a range of people to share ideas on how we can all make it happen. We were not to be disappointed.

The event was held in the grand Royal Society building, and consisted of a number of panels and talks, delivered and facilitated by practitioners across the public and private sector. The whole day had a real sense of enthusiasm and optimism for the opportunities innovation can open up across the government service landscape.

Designing services with AI and automation 

There was (undoubtedly) a fair bit of discussion around AI and how it can drive efficiencies and cost savings across the public sector–while I personally may have been a little apprehensive of excessive hyperbole of ‘how AI can be the solution to everything’, the discussions were in fact well grounded and greatly insightful. We even heard sensible caveats and warnings that anyone thinking about implementing AI should heed. For instance, if you’re thinking about automating a process within a fundamentally broken workflow you simply risk just moving that bottleneck further down the line.

The evolution of GOV.UK

While each of the panels and presentations covered a broad range of subject matter, some of our particular highlights included getting a fascinating insight into what’s coming up for GOV.UK from Tom Read, GDS’s CEO. As GDS approaches its 10th year, they’re exploring an interesting shift into developing a GOV.UK app, potentially including features like a digital wallet for government credentials, a view of all government data held on you and even a chatbot (This is all with the caveat of being in it’s prototyping phase). This sounds like quite a shift from GDS’s earlier stance that ‘native apps are rarely justified’. However, we've obviously moved on a long way since 2012–the additional features available exclusively on mobile devices, including much higher security (such as Apple’s secure enclave), potentially facilitate a lot more value these days–justifying this shift in approach.

Managing transition from legacy tech 

We also heard an in-depth discussion around how best to leave legacy software behind – a particularly interesting discussion for us as this is a challenge we regularly see our clients facing and asking for help with – it was interesting to hear a range of different approaches to solving this, such as ‘continuous currency’ or agreeing and accepting an organisation's appetite for risk.

Managing effectively from the centre

Lastly, we particularly enjoyed a panel discussion exploring how to embed impact throughout digital transformation which provided insights into the challenges and approaches faced across the police, local and central government – it was particularly interesting to hear how DLUHC manage devolution to local authorities while still providing central support and guidance on specific key areas (e.g. managing risk around data sharing) – there must be a lot of other departments out there that delicate balancing act.

Creating better services for the public

The most enduring point that has stuck with us most was from Rich Corbridge (FBCS) of DWP point that we need to remember that we’re often dealing with public services that can be critical in many people's lives. No matter what innovative approaches are explored and applied, they must be done so ‘in a calm and considered way’.

We’d lastly like to thank everyone at TechUK for putting on such an enjoyable and informative event. We’ve learnt a great deal about innovation and fostered some great new relationships. We can’t wait to join the next one.

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