Henri Verdier (in the red tie) meeting some of the PD team last week
We welcomed a very special guest to the PD office last week: Henri Verdier, the new French Ambassador for Digital Affairs. The mere fact that France even has an Ambassador for Digital Affairs says a lot about how seriously they’re taking public sector digital transformation.
In his previous roles as French Chief Technology Officer, Chief Data Officer, and leader of DINSIC (roughly the French equivalent of GDS) Henri was a peer of mine when I was in government. I like Henri. There are lots of reasons for that.
Some of the PD team are quite keen on football
Henri is doing all the right things to make sure that France’s government gets transformed the right way. He believes the strategy is delivery too. Henri, like me, does not believe that we should confer sovereignty status on the dominant technology platforms. Rather, we should strengthen government’s ability to work together to deal with these technologies consistently across nations
Under Henri’s leadership, the French have put a strong focus on service delivery and platforms. They’re thinking about how to link up different levels of government. They’re very strong on cities. (Local and city government is very important in France; regional politicians have a lot more power and control than their counterparts in the UK.)
The team at beta.gouv.fr (English version) has been running a programme of “state startups” where small agile teams build prototypes of new services that meet specific user needs. Successful prototypes end up being transferred to public sector ownership, where they are maintained and continuously improved.
In his new role as Ambassador, Henri is taking positions on broad topics such as online security, rolling out platforms, regulation, and using the internet for good. He talks to peers in other governments to help them tread a similar path, or to represent France’s interests in collaborative projects.
It’s the ideal role for someone who really knows his data and technology, but also understands how to inspire teams and then move things out of their way so they can deliver.
We need more people like Henri, in more positions like Ambassador for Digital Affairs, in more governments around the world. Henri’s a trailblazer. Do what he does, do what the French are doing, and you won’t go far wrong.