It’s a huge privilege for me to welcome you to the first summit of D5.
For the next 2 days our sights are set firmly on the future. So we’re here in the heart of London’s Tech City – home to some of the most innovative and creative firms around, and what they lack in size they easily match in ambition. But great as Shoreditch is we are lucky to have start-ups and pioneering tech companies right across the country – from the Malvern valley to Glasgow; and from Manchester to Belfast.
Many of the world’s biggest and most transformative technology companies began as start-ups. They started with little more than a few bright individuals with the vision and determination to make their ideas happen.
I know that many of the firms we will see over the course of the next 2 days are going to thrive to become successful businesses of the future. This ability for progress and transformation – which can propel a single brilliant idea into a worldwide phenomenon almost overnight – is one of the many, many upsides of the digital age in which we now live.
When Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web 25 years ago, he did so in a way that was open and free.
That was an incredible gift to the world. It made it possible for anyone to take this invention and use it to create new technologies, solutions and opportunities. The private sector was quick to capitalise. Twenty years ago this August we had the first secure online transaction. The first internet banking service began 2 months later. eBay and Amazon arrived the following year. Since then online commerce has grown and grown until Cyber Monday last week where one UK retailer was selling 64 items a second.
The digital revolution has introduced more choice, more speed and greater convenience into the worlds of business and retail. It changed the way we live and work. Yet governments were generally much slower off the mark.
Certainly that was our experience in the UK. In 1999 the government promised that all services would be electronic by 2008. But those few services which were eventually digitised required applicants to print out dozens of pages, sign them and post them off. That supposedly online process was more dead tree than digital.
But now that’s beginning to change. Around the world governments are embracing the digital age and our 5 nations – Estonia, Israel, Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom – are at the vanguard of that transformation.
In Estonia, several years ago, I asked the Prime Minister why his country had so emphatically embraced digital government. He pointed to 2 factors that had pushed them down the digital path. Firstly, he said they had no legacy, because when the Russians left they had taken everything. Secondly, they had no money, which meant they had to do things differently.
I replied that in the UK we had managed to replicate the second condition. But that we were still burdened by some very poor IT contracts. When the money runs out, it’s time to start looking for new ideas. Online services cost 20 times less than over the phone, 30 times less than by post and 50 times less than face-to-face.
But digital government is about more than just savings. It’s also a chance to design truly 21st century public services. People can book a train ticket at midnight or order their shopping from their phone. They expect government to operate in an equally responsive way, providing services tailored to their needs, quickly, conveniently and affordably.
So governments must keep up with the pace of technological change. That means offering the kind of services people want, in the way they want.
The UK experience
This approach has driven our experience in the UK.
The need to save money wasn’t only a challenge. It was an opportunity to bring about a wider transformation – redesigning services from the bottom up, around the needs of the people using them.
So, at the heart of government we launched a new Government Digital Service (GDS). GDS rapidly established itself as a team of pioneering reformers – based halfway between Whitehall and Tech City. I know many of you visited there this morning – saw the post it notes, read the inspirational posters and savoured the atmosphere. Mike Bracken and Liam Maxwell have built up a fantastic team and I am so deeply impressed by all that they do.
First we set about addressing government’s web presence. We built GOV.UK – the single online home of all government information and services. It was based on the simple notion that people shouldn’t have to understand how government works – or where the responsibility of one department ends or another begins – to find the information they need on the internet.
GOV.UK replaced 1,700 government websites in a way that’s simpler, clearer and faster than before. It has saved over £60 million in the past year alone. The site won a coveted design award, beating the Olympic cauldron and the Shard tower. Last month we celebrated the one billionth visit to GOV.UK. All the source code is freely available so we’re delighted to share it with New Zealand for their GOVT.NZ. Our teams are sharing ideas – learning from what doesn’t work as well as what does.
We’ve now focused on transforming 25 of the highest-volume public services – our digital-by-default ‘exemplars’. Our aim is simple: everything that can be online should be online – and we want to make our online services so easy and convenient that people choose to use them.
And we want to help more people go online so they can use them. Our aim is that all those who can go online are online by 2020. For those who cannot, there will always be an assisted digital option available.
In the first 2 months since it went live, one million people used the new Independent Electoral Registration service. It secured an impressive 90% satisfaction rate.
Our new digital services won’t always be perfect first time. Nor do things finish when they go live. That’s not the point. It’s an iterative process which means things have to evolve continually. The feedback will continue and so will the refinements.
Last week we laid out our plans to go even further. We want to move from just digitising public services to a ‘government as platform’ model. This has already been pioneered by GOV.UK Verify, which allows people to identify themselves online. Over the coming years we will introduce a series of common platforms which will be used across all departments, including for appointments booking and to process payments. We also want you to be able to track your progress through an online service, just as you can follow a package which is being delivered to your address.
To foster greater innovation we will open up the APIs of our public services. We are accelerating our move into the cloud. And we are launching a simple test for all appropriate digital services: would you recommend this to a friend or family member?
We’ve taken this same agile, iterative approach and applied it to the way we buy and support IT within the public sector.
Before the last general election Whitehall was procuring systems before they had even been designed – or over such a long period of time that the technology was out of date before it was delivered. Inevitably many of those projects ran over time or over budget.
Part of the problem was that we were almost completely reliant on a small group of suppliers. Smaller businesses were almost deliberately excluded by bureaucratic procurement processes. There will always be a place for big suppliers who offer innovative ideas at good prices and who are open to new ways of working.
But a truly vibrant, competitive economy is made up of businesses of all sizes, offering real choice to public sector customers. This can mean better services for the public at lower cost to the taxpayer.
How are we levelling the playing field for suppliers of all sizes, while cutting our costs and delivering even better IT?
First we introduced red lines for IT procurement which we’re pretty militant about enforcing: no hosting contracts should last longer than 2 years; no IT contracts should be over £100 million; there should be no automatic extensions of contracts; and we should separate service provision and service integration by one company within the same contract.
Second, we created the G Cloud and then the Digital Marketplace, where the public sector can purchase IT solutions off the shelf from various of suppliers, without being bound in to long contracts. More than half of the business to date has gone to SMEs.
Third, by committing to open standards and open source software, we’re increasing competition and lowering licencing costs while giving people a choice about the software they use to read government documents.
Our mantra is simple: civil servants should have digital technology which is just as good at work as they do at home.
I’m proud that the UK is already one of the world’s most digitally advanced countries. In fact I think it’s safe to say that thanks to our long-term economic plan we are the most digitally-advanced government in the G7. But we can’t be complacent. Where we have expertise – and we do – we want to share it. And where we need to improve, we’re ready and eager to learn. There is so much we can learn from other countries. And there’s so much we can achieve when we cooperate and work together.
A fortnight ago I visited Israel.
I have long admired the Israeli start-up nation which is home to more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other country. On a previous trip I visited the impressive Technion in Haifa. This time we headed to Beersheva to visit the so-called ‘Silicon Wadi’ - home to Ben Gurion University and the CyberSpark cluster. What struck me most was that the Israeli culture of innovation wasn’t down to the facilities or the technology, impressive though they were. It was the people – and the human relationships – they were the critical element.
It came down to a group of individuals, perhaps as few as just 2 or 3, sitting together to find a solution or to work through a brilliant idea – thinking together, experimenting together, failing, learning, adapting and ultimately succeeding.
‘Move fast and break things’ and ‘fail fast’ have long been the mantra of places like Silicon Valley and Israel. Governments and the public sector could learn a lot from this start-up culture.
Too often there is a risk aversion within the public sector. People feel unable to try new things. Governments are very good at looking at new ideas and finding reasons not to do them. They never apply the same scrutiny to the status quo. We must encourage people to experiment and take risks to find new and better ways of doing things, even if they don’t always work. The greatest mistake is to never try anything new or to stick to something that doesn’t work.
And it’s the importance of learning and sharing from experience which brings us together as the D5.
No 2 countries are alike. Each must find the solution that best suits individual needs. But no country has a monopoly on good ideas – and we’re all searching for answers to the same basic question of how to harness digital technology to bring about better government. We all face similar challenges – ageing populations, less money, rising consumer expectations.
That’s why it’s so important that we get together to support each other, to discuss our experience and to spark ideas.
In the past 4 and a half years I’ve visited each of the D5 founding members. Every time, I come back impressed, inspired and with a renewed sense of purpose.
In New Zealand, I learned how the government’s shared ICT capacity offers products for use across multiple agencies and departments, ensuring significant savings, which is similar to a project we’re pursuing here in the UK.
In Seoul, I saw how the Government 3.0 programme seeks to break down barriers within government to provide comprehensive services for citizens. But I was particularly taken in my discussions with officials and with businesses by the Korean expression ‘Bali-bali’, meaning ‘quick! quick!’ – a phrase which my own long-suffering officials have got used to hearing.
The D5 is there to help its members become even better at digital government, faster and more efficiently, through sharing and learning from each other. None of us have a monopoly on best practice. And in future this group should expand to bring in other leaders in this field.
The D5 isn’t just a one-off, or even a series of meetings. It’s the creation of a new network that will help governments improve their online services, collaborate on common projects, and support and champion their growing digital economies.
For governments around the world, the digital revolution offers a massive opportunity.
To revolutionise public services in the way that eBay and Amazon have revolutionised the marketplace. To renew the relationship between citizens and the state, just as Skype has brought people closer together and Facebook keeps people connected. And to stimulate innovation, jobs, economic growth and ideas, so the success of places like Israel’s start up nation or London’s Tech City can be replicated around the world.
We can be proud to be at the forefront of digital government. But there is more to do. There always will be. The internet is growing and changing all the time, providing new challenges and opportunities, new technologies and solutions, new ideas and experiences.
That’s part and parcel of being a reformer. The job never ends. Because there are always new opportunities and it’s always possible to find better ways of doing things.
So it’s all the more important that we come together, today and tomorrow and in the future, to support each other as we harness the power of digital technology.