Cabinet Office promises ‘deep transformation’ in long-awaited digital vision

Government Transformation Strategy sets out plans to encourage a pro-digital culture change in Whitehall, with unified pay strategy for central government roles

By Rebecca Hill

09 Feb 2017

The Cabinet Office’s long-awaited Government Transformation Strategy has finally been revealed, with ministers describing the “heart of transformation” as using digital to change the way government works.

Unveiling the document at the annual Reform conference, Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer said the strategy had four broad aims: to use digital government to deliver better public services; to harness the value of data for better policymaking; to ensure equality within the civil service; and to drive further efficiencies within the government.

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”, which he accepted might deliver savings of a different magnitude to 2012's digital strategy because of less “low-hanging fruit”.

Gummer’s speech emphasised reform was necessary for both better public services and to allow civil servants to do their jobs effectively.

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

Whole-government transformation

The 93-page strategy 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 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.

It notes the range of differing digital “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.

Other targets include making 90% of passport applications online by the end of 2020 and a 75% online response-rate to the 2021 Census, up from the most recent rate of 16.7%.

Exiting large contracts "won’t solve" legacy problems

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 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, the strategy adds 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”.

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

New “chief data officer” role

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.

In addition to a push for more data analytics training, the strategy calls for more digital skills training for civil servants. There is also a push to change the culture within the civil service so it makes better use of digital opportunities.

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.

This will includes a single set of job “families” and a different pay strategy for central government roles, as well as a drive for culture change.

Other elements of the strategy include a commitment to creating better, more modern workspaces for civil servants, and working with the Crown Commercial Service to create a step-change in procurement that also increases adoption of digital-procurement frameworks.


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