Public Services

GDS: Now we are Five

Rob Anderson Published 28 November 2017

The fifth birthday of GOV.UK recently showed GDS to be in an upbeat mood. The departure of several senior figures has certainly led to a more softly-softly approach in the way the centre seeks to work with the key parts of government


The Government Digital Service recently celebrated the 5th birthday of GOV.UK with a party at its shiny new offices in Whitechapel where staff were very upbeat about the prospects for digital transformation across government. Such a landmark anniversary often provokes a review of achievements in those formative years, but this was not obviously forthcoming, possibly because big ticket projects like Verify, the wider GaaP portfolio and examples of cogent joined-up public services are still few and far between.

Notwithstanding that, it's fair to say that GDS has exerted significant influence in the way central departments develop and deliver new services with the Digital Service Standard and agile working now truly embedded across Whitehall. Since the departure of Bracken, Maxwell and their lieutenants, we've also noted a more softly-softly approach in the way the centre seeks to collaborate with the key business units of government.

This week, a blog appeared , (in itself is a much rarer event than the early days of GDS) illustrating how GDS is working with the Crown Commercial Service, the Government Legal Department and law firm DLA Piper to develop new government contracts fit for the digital age. The idea is to make it make it easier and cheaper to sell to government, particularly for small and medium sized businesses. Very laudable of course, but it seems very strange that to date the user research has been focused internally without taking much account of the needs of the suppliers themselves, although future engagement with that community is promised through the 'good contract champions' programme.

Back to GaaP services, and we see that several contracts have been published this week to accelerate the rollout of the ID assurance tool. That target of 25m users by 2020 still looks an awfully steep mountain to climb; perhaps McKinsey & Co will come up with a cunning plan to reach the summit. Elsewhere, GDS supremo Kevin Cunnington tweeted that GovWiFi achieved the milestone of two million 'transactions' - for a service that began almost a year ago and supports up to 400,000 users across 100 locations, we're not sure 6,000 logins a day is too much to shout about, but let's celebrate the little victories, for the big ones may still be some way off.

Meanwhile in news from the real digital world of the key transactional departments, the Home Office is preparing to welcome its new CDDTO Joanna Davinson who is scheduled to arrive fresh from IBM on 20th November, with a CV focused rather more on transformation than technology - a sign of things to come perhaps in IT leadership roles? At HMRC meanwhile, they are pushing on with Scala development projects, following up on the £8.7m tender for Newcastle with a massive ; more grist to the mill for those digital shops thriving on furnishing transformation programmes with resources that are all too scarce within the civil service.

As always, our advice is to focus your energy on the events in the main tent(s) of government where policy delivery and business transformation is essential; GDS is but a sideshow, albeit a mildly entertaining one.

By Rob Anderson


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