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Event round-up: Building the Smarter State Conference 2021

On the 22 September, techUK brought together industry experts and senior leaders from across the public sector joined us online for the seventh edition of our flagship public services conference, Building the Smarter State. For the last six years the conference has successfully attracted digital leaders to showcase how technology is shaping todays and tomorrow’s public services – helping to build a smarter state.

It’s now been ten years since the launch of the report that led to the founding of the Government Digital Service. As well as the establishing of GDS, we’ve had the introduction of the Cloud First policy, the creation of the Digital Marketplace, the launch of the Local Digital Declaration and a new Local Digital Collaboration Unit, a renewed emphasis on user centricity and the disaggregation of large IT and technology contracts. And the decade has witnessed both significant disruption and progression in public sector transformation. Attendees explored the issues and technologies that will be key in delivering the next decade of transformation, including the legacy of COVID-19, changes to public procurement, key leaders in the heart of government, addressing legacy estate, harnessing data and developing capability across the public sector.

Keynote addresses

The Headline Sponsor Keynote was delivered by Louis Mosley from Palantir Technologies UK Ltd. He discussed how government can use data more effectively to deliver better outcomes for everyone in the UK. COVID-19 turned lives upside down, but also unleashed innovation and has helped shape how government works in the 21st Century. Highlighting the UK’s position near the top of the UN’s E-Government rankings and the enormous strides taken by the Government Digital Service over the last ten years, he believes that building a more joined up state where departments can share data more effectively, is essential. It must be used properly, for public good, to improve lives.

Following this we were joined by Tom Read, Chief Executive at the Government Digital Service, who gave the second keynote address. Attendees heard how the world has moved on significantly as part of the current digital revolution, how power has moved from the large companies to the end user, and how citizens want services to be built around how they live and their data. He explained how GDS is currently exploring whole user journeys, and how to make it seamless.

After a short break for lunch, attendees returned to the virtual space to hear from Dr Mark Thompson, Professor in Digital Economy at the University of Exeter Business School. Mark referenced the legacy of policy leaders who have brought in the SME initiative and spend controls – and how these have enabled a lot of things to happen in digital transformation but feels that the main factor is about bringing policy and technology together properly, and that the next ten years should be about cloud-based capabilities and utilities and more ambitious attempts to shape things up, with a decisive shift in government on the product, structure and the market.

Panel Sessions: A Data-Driven Smarter State & A Citizen-Centric Smarter State

The day featured two panel sessions. The morning panel was a discussion between Chris Naylor, Chief Executive, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and Alison Pritchard, Deputy National Statistician and Director General for Data Capability, Office for National Statistics, on current efforts to transform government’s use of data, the role of data in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the aims and ambitions of the National Data Strategy and areas of best practice when it comes to harnessing data across the public sector. The journey the UK is currently on is reflecting overarching change, and government has a role to make better use of data and serve it up for others to use properly. Furthermore, data sets across government should be a no brainer – every interaction is a chance to win trust with citizens or destroy it. Ultimately, public bodies need the ability to use data to make decisions effectively.

The afternoon panel session was on a Citizen-Centric Smarter State. The panel, Stephen McCarthy, Head of Design, GOV.UK and GDS; Jenny Nelson, Digital Newcastle Programme Manager, Newcastle City Council, and Sam Hall, Local Government Chief Digital Officer for Wales, focused on putting citizens at the heart of a smarter state. Panel members explored how organisations can create the environment and culture that delivers digital citizen-centric transformation, one that is inclusive and accessible to all.  They looked at how to collaborate better to deliver the vision that has been articulated for this panel, such as involving users in service design and better articulating requirements to suppliers. Ultimately, being citizen centred is about looking up and across from their individual areas, understanding the data that is currently available, finding areas of best practice, and understanding that services must be designed for everyone with accessibility at the heart of everything.

Breakout sessions

Thanks to our breakout sponsors we had four engaging breakout sessions. The morning breakouts were sponsored by Leidos and Elastic, alongside NIAXO. The session with Leidos looked at what is needed to successfully move and converge legacy platforms and break down legacy silos. Those who joined the session with Elastic and NIAXO explored how their tech is used across government and commercial organisations for IT Observability, Cyber Security and more.

The afternoon sessions were sponsored by ForgeRock and Risk Ledger, ForgeRock explored how citizens can safely and simply access digital services across Government while being assured that their data and privacy are protected; and Risk Ledger focused on tackling supply chain security risk in the public sector, and how to mitigate it to drive down the prevalence of security incidents.

The view from the centre: Fireside chat

Joanna Davinson, Executive Director, Central Digital and Data Office joined techUK CEO Julian David for a fireside chat. Joanna spoke about her role, the CDDO’s agenda and their key priorities. They want to work better with suppliers and figure out how to be more consistent in terms of joining up the end-to-end user experience and supporting a digital way of working. The aim is to have a clearer organisational strategy and to be able to look at their agenda in an interoperable way.

One of the ways in which they want to support this vision is to create a community of CTOs and CDOs who can develop this strategy. The ambition is to train more civil servants in DDaT and encouraging DDaT teams to embrace the wider Civil Service Community, ensuring they are as digitally and tech enabled as possible, and can make informed decisions. Joanna also wants to see the drive for open standards continue in order to increase interoperability, and increased transparency and visibility on the status of departments’ infrastructure to enable them to look at risk across the whole estate and focus on what needs to be fixed.

The business case for digital transformation is strong, and the message is getting through to the centre. Reducing things like legacy IT and increasing flexibility will be a challenge – government know it doesn’t come without operational risk or cost, but what they do know is that this next decade of digital transformation is an excellent opportunity.


Thank you to our headline sponsors Palantir and to all our breakout sponsors, Elastic, Leidos, ForgeRock and Risk Ledger, to our media partners Civil Service World and Public Technology, to all our speakers and panelists - and finally, many thanks to all our members and stakeholders who helped make this year’s conference a success. We look forward to you joining us next year on 29 September!


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