On policy and delivery

Speech by Mike Bracken (gov.uk): “…most of the work the civil service does goes unseen, or at least unheralded. But whether it’s Ebola screens, student loans, renewing your car tax, or a thousand other things, that work is vital to everyone in the UK.
Often that work is harder than it needs to be.
I don’t think anyone disagrees that the civil service needs reform. It’s the nature of that reform I want to talk about today.
The Internet has changed everything. Digital is the technological enabler of this century. And, in any sector you care to name, it’s been the lifeblood of organisations that have embraced it, and a death sentence for those that haven’t. If you take away one thing today, please make it this: government is not immune to the seismic changes that digital technology has brought to bear.
The Internet is changing the organising principle of every industry it touches, mostly for the better: finance, retail, media, transport, energy. Some industries refuse to change their organising principle. The music industry was dominated by producers – the record labels – now it’s dominated by digital distribution – like Spotify and their ilk.
Others, like airlines, have rapidly changed how they work internally, and are organised radically differently in order to serve users in a digital age. British Airways used to have over 80 ticket types, with departments and hierarchies competing to attract users. Now it has a handful, and the organisation is digital first and much simpler. These changes are invisible to the majority, but that’s doesn’t make the changes any less significant.
Twenty five years into the era of digital transformation, the Internet has a 100% track record of success making industries simpler to users while forcing organisations to fundamentally change how they’re structured. These characteristics are not going away. Yet the effect on the civil service has been, until very recently, marginal.
This is because we deferred our digital development by grouping digital services into enormous, multi-year IT contracts, or what we refer to as ‘Big IT’. Or in short, we gave away our digital future to the IT crowd. While most large organisations reversed these arrangements we have only recently separated our future strategy – digital literacy and digital service provision – from the same contracts that handle commodity technology. By clinging to this model for 15 years, we have created a huge problem for everyone involved in delivery and policy.
Today I want to talk about two things.
The first is delivery, because I believe delivery to users, not policy, should be the organising principle of a reformed civil service.
And the second is skills, and why it’s time for the civil service to put digital skills at the heart of the machine….”