Transforming Ambition into Reality

Comms Business Magazine met with Darren Watkins, Managing Director for Virtus Data Centres, to ask how the government can realise its own digital potential.

In the UK, the case for public sector digital transformation is clear; to serve everyone – regardless of location, ability, age or gender – a reliable and scalable delivery method for services and information is required.

How is that going and what is the best approach for the government to take?

Darren Watkins (DW): Digital technology is an obvious way to deliver, but many believe that the government has been slow to use the transformative potential of digital technology. And despite the UK government’s clear commitment to using technology to improve services and save money, squeezed public sector budgets and complex requirements make adopting digital technologies on a large scale difficult.

Much progress has been made since the introduction of Government Digital Strategy in 2012, which demonstrated the potential of public service transformation by making some of the most high volume services ‘digital by default’. New digital professions are now established across the public sector and departments are better at sharing platforms and components, code, patterns and best practices.

However, reports show that the UK is still at the early stages of its digital journey, where the primary aims are to cut costs and make savings, rather than to embrace the truly transformative potential of digital disruption.

Currently, there is a focus on discrete initiatives, such as a move to more digital communications with the public, or workplace programmes which aim to provide government workers with digital skills. But a broader strategy is needed – one that harnesses the power of technology to provide for all in an inclusive, accessible and sustainable way.

Clearly this is an enormous undertaking, so how do you get the basics right?

(DW): For some, creating a smart city – which uses Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to collect and use data to manage assets and resources – is the ultimate aim of a successful digital transformation programme.

There are plenty of good examples: in Barcelona, extensive use of sensors has helped to reduce traffic congestion by a quarter; in Singapore, the city-state has developed a dynamic 3D model that enables city planners to run virtual tests – verifying, for instance, how crowds might evacuate from a neighbourhood facing an emergency; and in Oslo, great strides have been made in using information technology to curb energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

These truly transformative schemes are only possible when the IT Infrastructure is in place to support them.

Public sector organisations must be able to physically link dispersed machines and sensors quickly, securely and reliably. But the stakes are high – failures in the network could result in transport systems being shut down, power outages and huge disruption to citizens. A huge amount of connectivity, storage and computing power is required – facilitated by the data centre.

Most will have to deal with legacy infrastructure as well as creating new facilities. This might mean that traditional ‘core’ connectivity hubs will have to work alongside smaller data centres optimised for Edge computing.

So where do the channels fit in to this scenario – where are the opportunities?

(DW): The extensive nature of digital transformation needs something beyond a company or Government department’s in-house storage capabilities, and this presents significant opportunities for managed service providers (MSPs) to help.

For example, many government departments and wider organisations are turning to third party IT suppliers to help them navigate their data centre strategies – engaging with colocation facilities that provide the best in interconnectivity, flexibility and scalability.

Managed services provide peace of mind, reduce risk and allow public sector executives to focus on their core competencies – leaving IT management to the experts.

For any wide scale digital transformation to succeed, it’s vital to start with getting the basics right – ensuring the impact of new technologies on infrastructure is well managed.

Digitally savvy public sector organisations must to look “under the hood” at the infrastructure. As our UK cities grow, whether they thrive and deliver a good quality of life to millions of citizens is down to the IT backbone that underpins them.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine