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Discussing government as a platform

In a world of digitisation, transparency and broader engagement, the traditional corporate business model of “doing it all yourself” is increasingly under threat.

Our interconnected world means that businesses are coming to see themselves at the centre of a vast network of stakeholders that includes suppliers, consumers, employees, partners, analysts and others.

As a result, the most envied and discussed businesses in the world are increasingly founded on open platforms that encourage others around them to interact, innovate and form collaborative communities. The ability to build and grow these ecosystems is fundamental to the success of companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Such successes in the private sector have led some to suggest that these ideas and techniques should also be applied to the public sector. Would it be possible, for example, for UK Government departments and agencies to see themselves as inter-connected communities based on a common platform of open services?

Addressing this question has led us to consider the idea of ‘Government as a Platform’ (GaaP) – a shorthand for the use of open standards and agile delivery practices that could accelerate access to digitized Government services.

Would it be possible for UK Government departments and agencies to see themselves as inter-connected communities based on a common platform of open services?

While GaaP has been broadly debated in the US, until recently the term has received considerably less attention in the UK. Two years ago, however, the Cabinet Office's Government Digital Strategy (GDS) was announced with the aim of revolutionising service delivery in UK Government to become ‘digital-by-default’. A scramble of activities to bring service online soon followed (see for example, gov.uk) which can be seen as a positive first step in embracing platform-based technologies for government.

There is, however, much more to GaaP than new online service portals and moving from paper to electronic forms. In this context, the University of Surrey recently hosted ‘Mind the GaaP - Beyond digital to realising a platform for the UK public sector’, a workshop for assembled experts to discuss and debate the future of GaaP.

Organised by Professor Alan Brown of Surrey Business School and Professor Ian Sommerville from the University of St. Andrews, the event brought together technologists, policy makers, and educators in an interactive forum on 17 & 18 September.

There is much more to GaaP than new online service portals and moving from paper to electronic forms.

The invitation-only attendance was limited to 20 senior figures drawn from industry, government and universities, with the goal of forming a new viewpoint on redefining digital government, and accelerating the move to ‘digital-by-default’. The workshop looked at best practices for leveraging open technology and services to drive platforms and open innovation in the context of large-scale socio-technical systems.

For more details on the issues discussed in the workshop, contact Professor Brown, or visit YouTube where you can see him in conversation with Professor Sommerville, Lucie Glenday of Surrey County Council and Professor Muffy Calder, Chief Scientific Advisor for the Scottish Government.

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