On the challenges and opportunities for the UK public sector. Interview with Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi
“Looking across the senior leadership in Government, very few top Civil Servants and Ministers have come from a technical background. Most Departments will have a CTO/CIO person who may or may not also been drawn from a relevant technical background. Those that are drawn from such a background and are empowered by their senior leadership, deliver a clear advantage to their organisation.”–Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi.
I have interviewed Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi, Director of Government Affairs at Maxeler Technologies. We covered in the interview the challenges and opportunities for the UK public sector in the Post-Brexit Era.
Q1. It has been suggested that some of the key challenges in government IT are: i) change aversion, ii) lack of technocratic leadership, and iii) processes that don’t scale down. What is your take on this?
Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi: Looking across the senior leadership in Government, very few top Civil Servants and Ministers have come from a technical background. Most Departments will have a CTO/CIO person who may or may not also been drawn from a relevant technical background. Those that are drawn from such a background and are empowered by their senior leadership, deliver a clear advantage to their organisation.
Where these people are not empowered, you will often find bad technical choices made by Departments that seem to be driven by short term commercial gain rather than long term interests. In the worst cases, they’d rather patch up systems knowing they will fail in the medium term than invest in a long term solution. This leads to rather inevitable problems when they can no longer pursue this strategy.
There are also issues in terms of understanding the total cost of computing. The cost of inefficient systems that consume vast amounts of electricity are often hidden from decision makers as running costs come out of an operational budget for the Department. So the decision makers will focus on a low purchase price for some systems even if the systems cost more in the long run to operate.
There needs to be a greater understanding of the challenges of running Government IT and there should be changes in leadership to support this. A focus on total cost of ownership (including transition costs) needs to be taken into account.
Q2. What are the main barriers to use new and innovative technologies in the UK Government?
Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi: Like most advanced countries that have been running big IT programmes from the 1950’s, the UK Government has a very heterogeneous IT estate and compatibility with older and archaic systems can still be a problem. There are further issues in terms of the threat of cyber warfare that need to be considered also when delivering new systems into this environment.
There are also issues around procurement which can stifle innovative and iterative approaches to technology deployment.
The recent move to create the G-Cloud does help in this respect, but we still see too many OJEU procedures which often crowd out smaller companies from the opportunities of working with Government.
Q3. How will Brexit affect the UK’s tech industry?
Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi: As Article 50 has just been invoked and nothing has been agreed it is a little too soon to tell.
Obviously, there are concerns in the UK’s Tech Industry around getting and recruiting the best staff from around the world in the UK, access to the Digital Single Market and any agreements the EU has around the safe storage of data. I’m sure these will all be top of mind for British negotiators.
Q4. What are the challenges and opportunities for the UK public sector in the Post-Brexit Era?
Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi: The challenges are manifold, the applicability of EU laws and the future of EU citizens in the UK and how that affects the administration of the country are probably paramount.
There are also opportunities for the British tech industry in the creation of parallel Governmental systems to replace the ones we are currently using that are from the EU.
Q5. What were your main motivations to leave the Government and go to Industry?
Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi: After many successful years of operation, Maxeler is emerging into an exciting new space. Maxeler has its first cloud based product with Amazon and is able to offer onsite and/or elastic cloud operations for the first time in its history. With more Government work moving to the cloud, this is an exciting time as we can bring the high levels of Maxeler performance to Government data sets at a reasonable cost.
We have applications in cyber security, big – complex data analysis and real time networking that are essential for Governments to deal with the emerging threats from around the world.
If one considers the wider context of Government – including research and scientific computing, Maxeler also has a good story to tell. We are in STFC Daresbury and can provide exceptionally performant computing at low energy cost for supercomputer environments. Complementing this we have an active university programme with over 150 top universities around the world where scientists are using DataFlow Engines for a variety of computational tasks that are outperforming traditional CPU setups.
Maxeler is ready to offer services to the UK Government as an approved G-Cloud supplier and can use its experience with large data sets to help Government move from on-premises hosting to take advantages of the cloud and its ultra-fast computing in line with the Government’s ‘Cloud First’ technology policy..
Q6. What are your aims and goals as new appointed Director of Government Affairs at Maxeler Technologies?
Sarbjit Singh Bakhshi: Improve our relations with Government in the UK and elsewhere. Maxeler technologies has experience of working with high pressure financial institutions, we’d like to offer Government the same opportunity to deal with its most pressing computational problems in a ultra-performant, energy efficient and easy to manage way.
Sarbjit Bakhshi joined Maxeler Technologies from a long career working for the British Government. Working mainly in areas of European Union Negotiations and Technology policy and promotion, Sarbjit’s appointment marks a new phase for Maxeler Technologies and its commitment to work with Government in the UK and overseas as part of its’ next phase of expansion.
Follow us on Twitter: @odbmsorg