I’m delighted to be here in Dubai.
Silicon is the basis of the technology that brings us together - so what better venue than a city that has risen out of the desert sands.
I’m also pleased that there are so many innovators, technology groups and businesses represented here from across the Middle East and beyond.
GITEX is a fantastic showcase of the prosperity, creativity and potential that comes from the information age.
My task is to ensure the UK reaps maximum benefit from that information age – growing our economy, reforming public services, and securing our interests.
Where there are opportunities, the UK is definitely open for business. Where we have expertise, we want to share it. And where we need to improve our capability, we are ready and eager to learn.
Around the world, governments were slow to grasp the possibilities of the digital world.
The internet wasn’t like anything they had seen before.
It didn’t obey the usual rules.
It grew from the bottom up, in a way that was organic, self-sustaining and self-propelling.
When governments finally woke up to the digital revolution, their response was stumbling.
Certainly that was true of our experience in the UK if you look back to the time of the last general election.
Back then, Britain had little vision for how the digital world could make government work better – let alone its potential to recast the relationship between the citizen and the state.
But by then the economic downturn had happened.
The world changed decisively.
Britain had to deal with the enormous deficit we inherited at the same time as taking bold action to meet long-term challenges, including an increasingly competitive global race for skills, jobs and growth.
Our strategy is to back the industries of the future, to help grow the private sector and make Britain a great place to do business. We are making the UK tax system one of the most competitive in the world. From April 2015 we will cut corporation tax again, down to 20%, giving us the lowest level in the G20;
At the same time, we are reforming the public sector. For the whole period of 1997 to 2010, public sector productivity remained entirely flat according to Britain’s Office of National Statistics. We need to see growth across the public sector as well as the private sector. And we want to ensure that what the government does – and the money it spends – boosts, rather than undermines Britain’s competitiveness.
So for the UK in particular, digital government, transparency and big data are ideas whose time has come. And as Victor Hugo wrote, there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
Competition in digital government
After the last general election in May 2010, one of our first tasks was to get to grips with how government procures and manages technology.
Previously Whitehall had ploughed ahead with little commercial awareness – so it was hardly surprising that projects were consistently delivered late and over budget.
Some of the big failures are well known – above all the disastrous experience with the National Health Service’s IT system.
In the past government would rely on a small pool of large IT suppliers. For Whitehall the tech SMEs and digital start-ups were all but frozen out, despite offering the very innovation that Britain so sorely needed.
We lost sight of the needs of our citizens – of what people required from their public services. Services were designed around the bureaucrat not the users.
And we all but forgot about the taxpayers who foot the bill.
So, when the coalition came to power, we set about building a more digital government underpinned by our strong commitment to competition.
After less than 4 years we still have much to do – but we have made a good start.
Many months ago, I visited some of the companies of the future in Silicon Valley. And I saw for myself that you don’t need to be big to succeed – you just need to be good.
With that in mind, we set about creating the conditions to find the very best solutions for Britain.
We committed ourselves to open standards, recognising that this levels the playing field between open source and proprietary software…and allows them to compete.
So when we launched the award-winning GOV.UK - a new, single domain for all government information and services – we made the code available for anyone to use – indeed the New Zealand government has recently started using the code for a new beta of their website.
We are developing our in house commercial acumen, bringing in hard-nosed business people who can sift through the small print line-by-line. And we are ensuring, as we reform the civil service, that we focus on sharpening commercial skills and commercial awareness. The best civil servants are hungry for new skills and do a fantastic job seeking them out.
We have also laid out new red lines that we are unashamedly militant about enforcing.
One rule is that we will no longer let ICT contracts over £100 million in value – unless there is an exceptional reason to do so. Contracts should be smaller to ensure the widest possible range of suppliers can compete for them.
Another rule is that we will not give a contract for service provision to a company providing the system integration function in the same part of government. It’s an important way of ensuring we are an intelligent customer.
We won’t extend existing contracts unless there is a compelling case - it’s rare to find any good reason to extend the pricing and technology of the past.
And we do not expect to let hosting contracts for more than 2 years. The cost of hosting seems to halve every 18 months. Businesses wouldn’t sign up for years upon end - and neither should government.
We need to leave behind the heavy metal world – the tin and the wire. We need to stop hugging the tin.
We want to see a new world, start-up world, where what you can do now matters more than what you did in the past.
For this to work we need an open market, where innovative SMEs can compete for and win government business. We launched our Government CloudStore and the public sector can now buy solutions on a pay-as-you-go basis.
On the CloudStore, SMEs are now competing against corporate giants on the same terms. More than 8 out of 10 companies on the store are SMEs, and they often bid at a fraction of the cost of other firms.
As you would expect we have encountered opposition from the vested interests – suppliers who knew they had a cosy deal and were eager to safeguard it. I understand that, but it’s not acceptable. Some have woken up to the changed world and are finding new ways of doing things.
I’ve been accused of being ‘divisive’.
What our critics don’t seem to get is that our approach is about securing the very best value for taxpayers, where value includes both cost and quality. That’s something only real competition can deliver. We want the best possible services, designed around the need of users at the lowest possible cost. We are not biased against large suppliers but to get the best possible value we need a level playing field for all.
When larger companies prioritise innovation and offer powerful solutions for government of course they must be considered. I’ve just returned from Korea where I saw how it was possible for a very large company, Samsung electronics, to prioritise innovation and make an impressive offer to government.
Across the wider public sector in the UK, the top 20 software and IT providers earn about £10.4 billion a year. The UK Office of Fair Trading is currently investigating the IT market because, like the government, it’s keen to ensure that competition in this sector works well. We will follow their investigations closely and will be interested to see the conclusions they reach.
As I mentioned our other motivating factor has been to ensure the needs of the user are front and centre.
As Steve Jobs once said:
You’ve got to start with the customer experience, and work back to the technology – not the other way around.
The government’s own web presence was a case in point. In developing the GOV.UK single domain, we understood that people shouldn’t need to know how government works to find a certain service or an answer to a question. Why should they need to know if – for little more than historical reasons – tax credits belong to the Department for Work and Pensions or Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs when they’re trying to find the answer to a straightforward question. They expect the government to provide a straightforward answer. This user-centric attitude extends to digitalising more and more government services.
We started with publication and have now moved onto digitising services. As well as winning an award for GOV.UK, we also saved 70% of the costs.
Although businesses have long been alive to the transformative opportunities that online commerce present, somehow the UK government lagged terribly behind.
When we came into government we found that some government services were available online – the quality of these was varied. I’ve even heard that although the last government went to the effort of offering one particular service online, the total number of users by 2010 barely stretched into the tens.
Switching the services by which people transact with the state to digital channels has the potential to save the taxpayer a staggering amount of money. But it will also make things easier for our citizens and our business. And that’s a prize worth having.
We’ve started with 25 transactions as a first wave of exemplar services. The 12th service is now in public beta and the second service has gone live. The first was making student finance applications available online – and it already has a 92% take-up rate. The lasting legal power of attorney will be one of the next, and others will follow soon.
The UK Digital Strategy commits us to being digital by default in everything we do – and by 2018 we expect all government services handling over 100,000 transactions a year to be offered online.
Government data and big data
The massive volumes of data created as a by-product of digital transactions also offer opportunities for better public services and greater government efficiency. But we know we are behind the private sector on how we use data.
Instinctively, governments have tended to hoard this information. It was locked away, forgotten - never scrutinised or questioned. It couldn’t be compared or quality assured. And consequently, we failed to maximise its potential.
The value of big data analytics is that it can draw out new meanings, insights and value from bringing together individual datasets, which on their own might have limited value.
The UK government has classified big data as one of the ‘8 Great Technologies’ which will propel us ahead in the global race.
As a first step on this road we’ve set about improving how we collect, scrutinize and use data for our own purposes within government.
This is vital in our efforts to strip out waste and work more efficiently - and raising the quality of information available to ministers and civil service leaders will improve decision-making.
Related to this is the need to overcome traditional cultural or legal barriers that stand in the way while ensuring appropriate protections for privacy.
We know that better data sharing could support the provision of services to vulnerable individuals like ex-offenders and people with complex care needs. The health service or the justice system may be working on the same case from different ends – but they may not have the necessary permissions to share the information.
Companies such as Tesco and Amazon have led the way – and people now expect personalised services, tailored to their needs. That’s why we have already committed to establishing a centre of excellence to reduce the complexity of sharing data between services.
Every day more and more data is being generated, while new types of computing power give the ability to reap its true value.
McKinsey has said that across Europe data could be worth £250 billion – the EU says £140 billion. What is clear is it’s an eye-watering amount.
And to think – all this time governments had data sitting unused, when it could have been stimulating economic growth and innovation, or scientific research.
So we launched our Open Data Institute, to incubate new start-up companies that could use this data as a raw material.
And we set out our commitment to a ‘right to data’.
This August the 10,000th dataset was released on data.gov.uk website. We also want people to know what data government holds to enable realistic data requests.
We want to move from a culture where data was hoarded to being open by default.
Everything must be presumed open and accessible unless there is a strong reason for it not to be.
So through the Open Data User Group, individuals and businesses can request data to be released as open data. And many government departments now have dedicated transparency sector boards of their own, which challenge them to publish more data.
Ironically, the same qualities that made the internet desirable for entrepreneurs, and such a catalyst for economic growth, has also made it a magnet for those with less attractive intentions.
Earlier this month, 3 million customers had personal information stolen through a sophisticated attack on Adobe’s source code. And last month Twitter, Associated Press and Reuters came under coordinated attack.
Of course, the threats do need to be put into perspective.
The internet is a global trading route – and historically these have always attracted criminals, from the masked highwayman of 18th Century England to the modern day pirates drawn to the shipping routes of the Somali basin.
But for citizens to have confidence in using government services online, and for customers to make payments, security matters. And everyone has a part to play – businesses, government, and individuals.
In the UK, we are acutely aware that cyber security and economic growth are inextricably linked.
A recent review put annual losses to the UK economy from cybercrime at between £18 and £27 billion. That’s a price we should not be paying.
And according to another report, more than 1.5 million people in the UAE were affected by cybercrime in the course of a year.
Around the world, cybercrime is costing economies and individuals alike.
So in the UK we are drawing on our skills within government to raise the cyber security standards of key British companies.
Much of this is about education – and we are raising awareness of both the risks and the measures for business to protect themselves.
It’s also about information sharing - in March we launched the Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership, where government and industry partners can exchange information on cyber threats and vulnerabilities as they occur.
But the internet is global – and cybercrime is not an issue we can solve by ourselves – and the same is true for any other country.
Our interdependence, not just in cyberspace but across our wider economies, leads to a universal interest in all states having the skills and capacity to tackle cybercrime threats and increase the resilience of their networks.
With last year’s cyber-attacks on Aramco and Rasgas in mind, the UK is acutely aware of the importance of ensuring the resilience of energy supplies. We were delighted when Qatar hosted the 2012 Meridian Conference on critical information infrastructure protection, a process we established a decade ago to share experience on protecting national networks.
11 UK universities have now been awarded “Academic Centre of Excellence” status in cyber security. We want to share this expertise with our international partners – and learn from their experience too.
We have committed £2 million per annum through the National Cyber Security Programme for the establishment of a capacity building fund, including the creation of a Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre at Oxford University.
And I’m pleased to say we are already seeing results from these partnerships, such as the recent arrest of a major e-fraud network based in South East Asia
Global governance and transparency
We are also seeking international consensus around how the future of the internet is shaped, recognising the importance of cyberspace in furthering economic growth and social development.
On the one hand there are those countries who favour a greater role for governments in managing the internet… which I believe would be a fragmented and restricted internet, suffocating innovation and stifling creativity.
On the other hand there are countries, like the UK, that believe no single institution or organisation should dominate.
We back an open and collective approach – one that prizes ingenuity, competition and the free exchange of ideas.
2 years ago we organised the London Cyber Conference to promote the vision of a stable, open and free internet as the best way to deliver prosperity and growth for all.
I’m pleased this agenda is progressing well, with last year’s conference in Budapest, and a follow up in Seoul only last week, gathering together ever an ever wider range of countries.
The impact of cyberspace’s expansion has been as profound in the developing world as in the developed, but we have yet to bridge the global ‘digital divide’.
The international community must do more to spread the economic benefits of the digital economy more widely.
And because we’ve found the rewards for the UK to be numerous, we are also committed to helping other countries enhance and share the benefits of transparency.
Hand-in-hand with secure digital technology, transparency can deliver faster growth, better public services, less corruption and less poverty.
The UK is currently chair of the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative, designed to improve governance by securing concrete commitments towards openness and greater transparency.
In the time we have been the chair I have seen one thing very clearly: transparency is the friend of the reformer.
This is particularly the case in countries that have undergone enormous transition in the last few years. Making commitments to greater openness and engaging with your citizens is the great opportunity for governments of the future.
At the end of the month, the 60 member states of the Open Government Partnership will meet in London. It will be attended by numerous civil society organisations and businesses, not just governments. We will exchange stories of successes and failures, measure performance against previous commitments and set ambitious new objectives for greater openness.
Over 2 billion people are currently connected to the internet.
It is transforming people’s lives.
And it is only going to get bigger – the threats and opportunities with it.
I am proud that the UK is one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world – and playing a leading international role.
And I am determined that we should continue building a digital government for the future.