The Cabinet Office is to start work on a £12m project to build a single internal IT system that will, within the next two years, require users across the department to “align with the rest of central government” and move from Google platforms onto Microsoft alternatives.
The department currently operates two Official IT platforms. Official is the lowest of the government’s three main grades of security classification – below Secret and Top Secret – and covers the majority government records and data. The two systems allow accredited users – including civil servants and ministers, as well as security-cleared contractors and other third parties – to access internal government data and documents.
Alongside its main internal system – which was launched in 2015 and is used by 13,200 users across the central department and its other units and agencies, such as the Crown Commercial Service and the Government Property Agency – there is a second platform, which was launched in 2011 to support the work of the then-nascent GDS.
This system now supports 1,400 accounts across GDS and the Central Digital and Data Office, as well as other technology-centric Cabinet Office functions, including the Data Science Accelerator programme and the National Situation Centre, a high-tech £9m facility emergency response facility created in 2021 and modelled on the White House situation room.
GDS and its sister unit CDDO, which was created two years ago to lead on cross-government digital strategy, have long been known for favouring the Google Workspace suite of core productivity applications, rather the Microsoft technologies used across much of the rest of government. The wider Cabinet Office adopted the Google apps in 2015, in what seen as a major coup for the enterprise software arm of the search-engine firm. The department signed an upgraded two-year deal with the vendor 18 months ago.
But newly released commercial documents reveal that, as part of a project to develop and implement a new unified Official IT system, the department intends to “migrate all business information and data from Google Workspaces to Microsoft 365 to align with the rest of central government and enable better collaboration opportunities”.
Once the new system is up and running, the Cabinet Office will also move “all personnel from a Google-based business environment to a Microsoft 365- based environment, to enable better interoperability between central government departments”.
To support the project to develop and deliver the unified platform, at the start of this month the central department entered into a three-year deal with Capgemini. The contract is worth £11.7m and covers everything from initial user research, through design and testing, and onto the implementation of a live service. Migration of all users – across 35 Cabinet Office locations – is due to be completed by March 2025, according to the contract.
Bring your own dilemma
One of the foremost considerations during the initial exploratory phases is whether to or not to allow users to access the system via their own personal computing devices. The incumbent GDS-led system has “a large number devices granted access under a BYOD (bring your own device) policy” – while the central Cabinet Office system “has technical controls in place to stop BYOD”.
The discovery phase of the project “will include re-opening architectural and security questions, such as the implications, benefits and complexities of enabling BYOD in the new system”. Research will also examine the Cabinet Office’s internal IT resources and “recommended set of capabilities to allow the team to operate the system effectively post-migration”. Also under consideration will be “IT vendor and component analysis”.
The department’s long-term objective in constructing the new system is to implement infrastructure that is “easier and cheaper to run… more resilient… user-centric, easy to use, and supportive of business user requirements [and] easier to support, resulting in IT support teams focusing on more complex tasks through the use of automated workflows”.
The contract said: “This programme will encompass over 15,000 personnel – including civil servants, contractors, and other personnel types [such as] ministers. The IT systems are relied upon by all personnel types for the core function of the organisation, therefore IT downtime and migration disruptions should be well planned, minimised, and well communicated. Longer-term support and running of these services will be brought in-house, therefore it is imperative that the delivery partner works closely with the Cabinet Office Intelligent Customer Function throughout the contract period to ensure seamless handover of the service to business as usual.”
The document added: “The Cabinet Office wishes to challenge traditional IT architecture models, so while the delivery partner’s expertise will be leveraged to progress the programme, such a partner is required to work closely with the Cabinet Office to investigate and test a number of draft architectural goals including removing reliance on VPN technologies and other centralised network routing models, taking into account the Government Property Agency shared network infrastructure.”
The Cabinet Office was contacted for a comment but had yet to respond at time of going to press.
Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this exclusive story first appeared