Liam Maxwell: Making tech work for Whitehall

There’s a long way to go, but civil servants are finally starting to get the IT they need, says the government’s chief technology officer Liam Maxwell

By Liam Maxwell

02 Apr 2015

We’ve done great things with digital. Today, more and more government services are available online, from registering to vote to renewing your tax disc. We’ve also developed an award-winning website, GOV.UK, which brought together hundreds of separate government websites and is saving taxpayers £60m a year. And GOV.UK Verify, our identity assurance service, represents a fundamental change to government technology – an online identity scheme that fits with the way people use the web.

While we’ve been working hard to improve the user experience of public services, we’ve also been making the technology for civil servants better.

After all, while the underlying wires, networks, laptops and mobile phones may not be the focus in our daily lives, how well they work — or get in our way — makes a big difference to how effectively we can do our jobs.

Related articles
Rural Payments Agency U-turn on digital payment system for farmers
Bring IT service management in-house, says government’s digital chief
Departments ‘get nowhere’ without in-house capability, says digital chief

That’s why, over the last few months, we’ve been improving the IT for Cabinet Office staff with our Technology Transformation Programme. 

Showcasing a different way of delivering IT to the civil service, the aim is simple – to deliver modern, flexible technology services that are at least as good as the IT that staff use at home.  
We’ve achieved this by doing three things.

Firstly, we’ve changed the way we buy IT. Technology advances at a rapid pace and government needs to be able to keep up. In the past, this was difficult because we were locked into big long-term contracts with outsourcers. But as these contracts come to an end, we’re now bringing the management of our technology services in-house and signing short contracts with specialist technologists and suppliers.  

This approach puts control in our hands and lets us meet the needs of our users and choose more effective services when they become available. 

We’re also building services based on open standards because it allows us to more easily share, reuse or exchange data, and also gives us a choice in which technology to implement.  
This means that we’re now allowing users to choose from a range of devices that best suit them. We’ve also installed secure wi-fi so everyone can pick up their laptop and work flexibly, and introduced cloud-based collaborative tools such as Trello, Evernote, Prezi, WorkFlowy and Google Apps for Work to help staff work more efficiently.

Finally, we’ve also changed the way we protect our work. The new Government Protective Marking Scheme helps us protect work appropriately. Most of the work government does is similar to a high-end professional services firm, and this means we can use the same industry-leading security that top accountancy, consultancy or law firms would.

This programme has been a resounding success with users. They tell us they are enjoying their work and they are more effective at their jobs. One user said: “At last they’ve given us good tech – they haven’t given us crap.”

There’s a long way to go with this; we’ve established an effective approach to identifying our users’ needs and delivering technology that works for them. But we still have to transform the technology across government.  

The Cabinet Office programme, which we have also rolled out to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, shows us that a cross-department platform works — and that we can make the technology work for civil servants, not the other way round.

Share this page