UK Government launches long-awaited digital transformation strategy

Written by Rebecca Hill on 9 February 2017 in News

The Government’s strategy promises “deep transformation” to deliver better public services

Ben Gummer - Image credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The UK Government’s digital transformation strategy has set out plans to fix back-end systems, boost the use of data and encourage culture change within Whitehall.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Ben Gummer, launched the much-delayed strategy at the annual Reform conference today, saying that the “heart of transformation” was in using digital to change the way government works.

The strategy calls for greater collaboration across government departments – with policy and service design brought closer together – and to offer the public a “more coherent experience” when interacting with services.


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In addition, it emphasises the importance of fixing the legacy systems that government uses – on top of delivering better public services – something Gummer referred to as “deep transformation”.

This might deliver different savings that the 2012 digital strategy did, he said, because a lot of the “low hanging fruit has been picked”.

However, much of Gummer’s speech aimed to emphasise that these reforms were necessary for both better public services and to allow civil servants to do their jobs effectively.

Civil servants currently work in “appallingly antiquated buildings”, under excessively hierarchical structures and with “what can be generously called suboptimal tech”, he said.

The 93-page strategy itself sets out five main areas of work: business transformation; people, skills and culture; tools, processes and governance; better use of data; and platforms, components and business capabilities.

Each area has a set of priorities to meet by 2020, with a list of ways in which the UK Government hopes to achieve these aims, and picks out key programmes that fall into that category.

The section on business transformation is the largest, coming in at 12 pages, and has three broad priorities: to design and deliver joined up services; deliver major transformation programmes; and establish a whole-government approach to transformation.

However, it stressed that transformation is a “continuous activity” that will involve many complex, long-running programmes that will “take many years to embed”.

It also noted the range of maturity across departments, with the strategy saying many departments without public-facing services have “not benefitted from the same degree of focus on digital transformation”.

Services listed for delivery include the Home Office’s services for coming to live and work in the UK and the Government Digital Service’s flagship identity assurance scheme Verify – which Gummer said should serve 25 million people by 2020.

The strategy stresses the need for government to design and deliver its own services, with plans to build more reusable, shared components and platforms to make it “quick, cheap and easy to assemble digital services”.

It will also expand the number of APIs available inside and outside government, overhaul the government’s legacy content on GOV.UK.

The strategy also confirms that exiting large, single supplier and multi-year IT contracts remains a priority, saying that it “is a precondition” for the work.

However, it added that “not all old technology is toxic” and that moving away from this type of long-term contract “does not solve the problem of legacy technology”, saying that as soon as any new tech is used it starts to age.

Instead, the government said its aim was to replace legacy systems progressively, by building a shared understanding of the outcomes government is working towards.

The government also announced the creation of the role of a chief data officer, supported by a data advisory board.

That person will supervise open data and policy across government; promote data analytics to departments; research ethics and public trust; and ensure civil servants have the right skills.

Meanwhile, the strategy will push for greater use of data by removing barriers to effective data use, setting up teams of analysts within departments and embedding behavioural insights work.

On top of this, the strategy sets out more details of plans announced by GDS leader Kevin Cunnington to strengthen the professions of digital, data and technology within the civil service.

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