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Vendor lock-in, legacy IT and cultural resistance blamed for slow rollout of government digital services

Half of government departments are making slow progress when it comes to rolling out digital services, a new survey of civil servants indicates.

Cultural resistance, vendor lock-in and a lack of staff resources were cited as some of the biggest hurdles to the implementation of digital transformation projects.

The research, which was commissioned by digital services provider Zaizi, also revealed that 65 per cent of surveyed staff thought their existing IT infrastructure was holding back modernisation efforts.

But the survey, which features responses from staff at 95 different departments and agencies, did indicate that at least half of digital transformation projects involved some kind of emerging technology, such as the internet of things, robotic process automation, machine learning or AI.

Aingaran Pillai, the chief executive of Zaizai, warned that the government risks wasting public money if it cannot upgrade services fast enough. “The risk is that current projects will become a burden on the public purse because in five years’ time – or less – they will need to be revamped.”

“Brexit looms large on the horizon and will compound the digital limbo government departments find themselves in,” Pillai added. “In the short term, it will need to digitise rapidly and smartly to minimise disruption to how Government does business, but longer term, now is the time to think more creatively about how this digital chasm is addressed from early talent capture through to embracing new ways of working.”

Multi-million pound outsourcing deals are often blamed for the public sector’s comparatively slow adoption of new digital products and services. Speaking at the GovTech Summit in Paris earlier this month, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said “in the past […] governments have gone to large system integrators so that a very small team can spend a huge amount of money asking somebody else to project manage it”.

In recent years, the government has attempted to break up legacy tech contracts into smaller deals and increase the number of SMEs that are working with government.

Research conducted by Tussell, a government contract data source, indicated that the government is making progress, albeit slowly. As NS Tech reported, the value of awards won by the 10 biggest suppliers over the last three years fell from 60 per cent of the total to 36 per cent.

During the same period, the proportion of the value of awards won by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) rose from nine to 16 per cent, indicating the government still has some distance to go if it is to meet its 33 per cent target by 2022.