The second lever

We are hiring. And we want more world-class digital talent in Government.

It’s been a pleasant surprise to find outstanding digital talent across Government. From the Technology in Business Fast Stream to the excellent work done to make technology procurement easier by John Collington and the Government Procurement Service, there is too much digital change occurring to list here. It’s a great time to be working in Government, and I believe all new applicants will be entering a perfect storm. The demand for innovation, focus on the user and a move away from long-term, gold-plated IT projects means that a digital generation can transform public services to cater for changing user demand.

Yet the reason we are looking to bring people into the GDS is a cautionary tale, but one which bears re-telling. Over the last 15 years or more, across Government we have engineered digital products and services using risk aversion and long-term programme management as our guiding principles. Now that it is clear that rapid, user-led development using open source technologies, agile approaches to delivery and cloud-based infrastructure is the order of the day, we find ourselves badly in need of the talent to engineer ourselves out of our torpor. In short, with long-term contracts giving programme managers and departments only one lever to pull in order to change or create digital services, it’s never been more important that there is a choice within Government.

While there have been a few raised eyebrows at hiring in these straitened times, let me be clear that we need digital talent all across Government. In policy, legal, procurement and service delivery, deep digital experience in Government is scarce. So I would recommend that we see this drive not just a one-off recruitment campaign for GDS, but the start of the digital transformation of all Government services. As well as hiring, I spend large amounts of my time looking to help transform existing people and processes.

Yet in my three months in Whitehall, I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked to provide digital resources to ‘take a look’ at a project or ‘help make sense’ of a supplier quote and proposal. We are making substantial changes within the system, which I will reveal in due course. But it is self-evident that we need more talent, and equally obvious that this talent will pay for itself many times over as new platforms, products and services reduce the taxpayer bill for digital services.

(You will have to trust me on the numbers for now, but our first cut across Government services shows that the potential savings on moving transactions to digital make this type of recruitment cost insignificant. An example: in 2009/10 Government services excluding PCTs received at least 693 million telephone calls, at an average cost call of over £6 each, and over 150m of these calls were self-reported as avoidable. If we can move a fraction of these to compelling, digital transactional services with very high completion rates, the savings are quite clear.)

Right now, we are looking for the following positions to complement the team in GDS. Over the last 3 months we have worked hard to transform the teams at DirectGov, the Single Government Domain team, Digital Engagement, Innovation and the Identity Assurance team into the GDS. We aren’t there yet, and I will write about our new home soon, but for now we need to attract more talent. We are looking for talent in these areas right now:

  • Developers - The engine room of transformation, we are embedding a developer-led digital culture at the heart of Government.
  • Product Management - Introducing this discipline across high-volume Government services is a huge change in approach.
  • Interaction Designers - World-class interaction design is a critical component in the digital-by-default vision.
  • Web Ops - The crucial link between developers and architecture, ensuring we make the right technology choices and scale appropriately.
  • Technology Architecture - The challenge here could not be greater. Whether identity management or transactional process, the creation of an architectural framework across Government services is the goal.
  • Digital Engagement - The key to transforming the Government culture.

For new people, this is the start of a fascinating and exciting journey to transform digital services. Or, as one of our new recruits Mike Beaven, who is running our transformation programme put it more succinctly: “How often do you get the chance to digitise a G7 economy?”.


  1. Angry ex-Gov

    So why the hell have you let departments axe good digital staff all over the shop? Sorry, but we got screwed over by poor management prioritising silly print-led PR policies and ignoring digital for years. Then, we got told we weren't wanted.

    Now this?!

    I'm out.

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    • Nick

      Whilst I think you have a reasonable personal point, you can hardly cite or blame the replacement at the top for the errors of former (and possibly) misguided (perhaps even jobswothy) management and/or poorly thought out political 'digital' policy. You were obviously a casualty of the former 'regime'... Happily if you weren't that good, sadly if you've been overlooked.

      The government needs to learn a lot about being 'digital' and move far beyond the expansive, expensive projects farmed out to heavyweight IT 'partners' or 'integrators' of the past - Projects that were built upon proprietary hardware that, quite literally, cost the earth. It can proactively move forward by drawing on the considerable experience that exists in the UK of designing, building and developing scalable and usable digital services and platforms.

      Furthermore, the UK (largely the private sector) contains a talent pool that has been free from governmental policy/constraint, the bureaucracy-brigade and in an environment where innovation is openly fostered and to successful ends. Why would GDS not tap this pool?

      The government has the opportunity to build something bold and if it is free to draw on the talent pool I mention above as well as develop a framework and methodology built on the learnings of the wider and cutting-edge digital sector, then all the more reason to support it and the wish to develop a better digital future for government. A future that can't be magically travelled to, but that has to be built.

      Mike - show us what you and your team can do.

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      • alexcoley

        Nick, you miss the point of the Angry ex-Gov commenter. For a moment forget the previous regime and their mistakes, why kick out so many talented people and start again?

        Also, not all the previous regime are gone. Some still cling on while those beneath them suffer the consequences of poor decisions.

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  2. Twitted by swardley

    [...] This post was Twitted by swardley [...]

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  3. Tom Szekeres (@tomszekeres)

    Great news - it's incredibly difficult to get the kinds of skills needed inside any large organisation, and from my experience the large systems integrators don't have these kinds of skills either - they'd far rather defend the status quo. You'll get some stick for this, but really great to see this happen.

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    • Michael Saunby (@msaunby)

      "it’s incredibly difficult to get the kinds of skills needed inside any large organisation" - perhaps they don't belong there. Hire what is needed, when it's needed, borrow from other departments - but be generous - we're busy, we need others to cover while we're away.

      I really enjoyed participating/competing at the Guardian (h)activate in the summer
      and last year the EU paid for me to attend a "Mobile Observatory" in South Africa

      I would love to participate, or even help organise, in government hack days. If I believe what you are doing is worthwhile and if you cover my costs I'm sure my management would let you borrow me for a day or two from time to time.

      Meanwhile I'll be helping the climate scientists at the Hadley Centre get to grips with climate data because to be honest If I wanted to work purely on website development I'd seek out the most interesting such project I could find - and I don't think you're there, or ever will be. There is "outstanding digital talent across Government" and some great IT and science being done - and there's also a lot of stuff that still needs culling.

      Michael Saunby

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  4. Jobs on offer – Government in need of “digital” talent | Campaign4Change

    [...] Says Bracken: “Over the last 15 years or more, across Government we have engineered digital products and services using risk aversion and long-term programme management as our guiding principles. [...]

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  5. James Governor (@monkchips)

    "you will have to trust me on this" seems an odd line. just point the post about the economics of alphagov... that shows savings, and projections, pretty clearly.

    Link to this comment
  6. Elijiah Woods

    Three months at the coalface? - Sorry, not long enough for such sweeping statements and generalisations.

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  7. dmossesq

    Now that it is clear that rapid, user-led development using open source technologies, agile approaches to delivery and cloud-based infrastructure is the order of the day ...

    The Devil's Advocate writes:

    Mr Bracken suggests that a "cloud-based infrastructure" is widely accepted to be appropriate.

    It's worth testing that assumption.

    The OECD tested it and said:

    ... cloud computing creates security problems in the form of loss of confidentiality if authentication is not robust and loss of service if internet connectivity is unavailable or the supplier is in financial difficulties ...

    ENISA also tested it and said:

    ... its adoption should be limited to non-sensitive or non-critical applications and in the context of a defined strategy for cloud adoption which should include a clear exit strategy ...

    "Cloud" is not an open and shut case. You need robust authentication, you need alternative arrangements in case of loss of connectivity and you need a clear exit strategy. And CESG have a few other points to add in their RSDOPS reports here and here.

    Will the cost of making the G-Cloud reliable and secure outweigh the savings made by firing thousands of frontline public servants?

    Will the nine or ten million people in the UK who have still never used the web join in the cloud? Or will they be excluded?

    And what's wrong with the web access to public services we already have, viz. the UK Government Gateway? Why do we need another one? If people won't use the gateway, why should they use the Cloud?

    Before all the eager beavers roll up to attend the G-Cloud recruitment party, they might be well-advised to consider what it will look like on their CVs if, in a few years' time, "digital by default" has gone the same way as Transformational Government. That is, nowhere. Because the other departments of state ignore the call of the Cabinet Office, exercise their right to do so and simply refuse to share their data and other resources. That, really, is the order of the day.

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    • Harry Metcalfe

      I really don't think this makes sense. "The Cloud" is an ill-defined, definitely large and broadly neutral set of technologies. To call "the cloud" insecure or unreliable is a non-sequitur.

      The need for robust authentication and alternative arrangements for loss of connectivity is not peculiar to cloud technologies -- you need those things, among others, irrespective of the technical architecture you're using.

      I also strongly objected to the (thankfully deceased) UK Government ID Cards scheme, and would object to any scheme as poorly designed and dangerous as that one was, but "the cloud" has nothing in common with it.

      It's too generic a technology to have privacy or reliability concerns about.

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      • dmossesq

        Mr Metcalfe

        Clearly, the OECD and ENISA disagree with you. So do I. If G-Cloud is so different from what we normally understand by "the cloud", then it shouldn't use the word "cloud". As it is, what little is known by the public about G-Cloud makes it look as though concerns about privacy and reliability are inherent.

        David Moss

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  8. John Fox (@x333xxx)

    I, too, applaud the vision expressed here about building digital knowledge and experience across government. I know it is early days yet, but here is one example encountered within the past hour, of where internal digital engagement is a bit off the mark. I've just returned from a public policy picnic lunchtime briefing given by an IT supplier (no names, no pack drill). It concerns me that although the primary focus was future use of technology to deliver public services, neither speaker or host made reference to the Government Digital Service. Yet it seemed such an ideal opportunity to showcase and inform. Perhaps we (collectively) need to do more to co-ordinate key messages and road maps to ensure consistent promotion and delivery of all things digital to all audience types?

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  9. Louise

    I'm very pleased to hear you've worked hard to transform the teams at DirectGov, the Single Government Domain team, Digital Engagement, Innovation and the Identity Assurance team into the GDS. What about the teams at Businesslink and NHS Choices?

    And maybe you could look at transforming the job application. A word application form that has to be emailed (with lots of sections not relevant to all) is hardly innovative, easy to use or reflective of the GDS work so far!

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  10. Ghost

    I was responsible for the first large scale transformation of government IT, and I had the benefit of working with people at a political level who knew how to stay out of the way until we had everything working. That was 15 years ago, and what I did is still working well.

    I'll apply, I fully agree it's time to shake things up again.

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  11. js

    I thought the role of this gov digital service was to introduce transactional services accross government - and have it done in two years (starting a year ago).

    These roles don't seem to reflect that, nor does the work done to date on the dreadfull (in concept, execution and expence)

    also, this blogginbg has a nasty self indulgent, self promotional feel about it.

    please get on and deliver what MLF asked you to get done - simple transactional services for the ordinary taxpayer (the people who pay your salaries)

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    • M

      Totally agree with your assessment of alpha gov. Read the report to see that a bunch of 'newbies' had discovered things that anyone who had worked in marketing communications already knew and had known for some considerable time - e.g. if you put the important stuff below the fold people won't scroll down - duh. 'Cult of amateurs' springs to mind and as you say self-indulgent.

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  12. Tania Lev

    It is a bit interesting to see new people are being hired while the overall theme across the government seems to be saving monery; i.e., to cut on all things that cost money. It is not unusual when everybody is trying to save money. At any rate it is important to keep improving the digital services.

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  13. Disillusioned in the UK

    I'm sorry but I'm never returning to the Public Sector.

    In the good times, we saw private sector salaries soar while our meagre rises are used to control inflation, and we're reminded of our final salary pension to make us feel better.

    In the bad times, the pay rises are cancelled and the Gov't decides to reduce the pension and increase our contributions, despite already reviewing arrangements in 2008.

    I've left to be properly rewarded for my talent with an instant pay increase of 26%.


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  14. Ahmed Nuaman (@ahmednuaman)

    How about freelancers?

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  15. Martyn Thomas

    There is substantial evidence that the overrun in time and cost on big IT projects is inversely proportional to the amount of time spent on requirements collection, analysis and refinement. It would be irresponsible to believe that a move to "agile" development will bring great benefits (whatever definition of "agile" you choose to adopt, out of the dozens available).

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    • dmossesq

      March 2011: Government ICT Strategy
      12 X "agile", 2 X "agility"

      October 2011: Government ICT Strategy – Strategic Implementation Plan, moving from the "what" to the "how"
      36 X "agile", 3 X "agility"

      Most instances correctly predicate agility of a systems development methodology but, perhaps inevitably, discipline slips sometimes and it is government departments themselves which somehow become agile.

      "Agile" sounds vaguely admirable (except in contexts where it might be better to be "relaxed", for example) and, stripped of any other meaning, it has the great advantage of allowing government CIOs to do whatever they like while sounding as though they are on board and there's nothing the Cabinet Office can do to stop them – "you wanted agile, we're doing agile".

      As quickly as usual, it's become just a word. Suppose we replaced it with "fragile"?

      And suppose the G-Cloud were the "G-Shroud"?

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  16. Cabinet Office seeks digital talent

    [...] digital tsar Mike Bracken announced the move on the Digital Government Service blog, declaring that the civil service is “badly in need of the talent to engineer ourselves out [...]

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  17. Simon Swan

    Interesting article, from my perspective, its been a case of rolling up your sleeves, thinking creatively and utilising the skill set and team we have in house at the Met Office to embrace, understand and to not be afraid of implementing our digital campaigns to assist our digital strategy.

    It is testament to this work that our team have been nominated for two national search awards 2011:

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  18. D Pomphret (@DP_140chr)

    Would love to apply as I have loads to give... but I've no wish to be based in London.
    Given the ability for 'Virtual' teams, what's my chances?


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  19. Steve Freeman

    The civil service site shows only one job for a User Interface expert (and also a cleaner). Does this mean that the application period has already closed?

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  20. Breathing new life to ‘Government’ with new hires in the Digital Service | The Connection

    [...] Engagement – The key to transforming the Government culture. To read more please visit Share News gds, government, jobs GAMEHORIZON LAUNCHES 2012 CONFERENCE PLANS Your [...]

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  21. Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, opens the new home of the Government Digital Service | Government Digital Service

    [...] Talent is arriving. The mission at GDS is attractive to digital experts and public policy specialists alike and we are starting to see new skills take root within Government. ‘Creating an environment for technology leaders to flourish’ is one of our key principles, and we are starting to live up to it. The other 6 are written on the walls and windows of the building. [...]

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  22. A simple guide to applying for a job at the GDS | Government Digital Service

    [...] we want to carry on doing amazing things here at GDS then we need to carry on building up the world-class digital talent in Government. We already have some excellent people in the team and there’s more on the way, but [...]

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  23. I’ll see you your 50 year storm … |

    [...] and raise you a Perfect Stormsays Mike Bracken. I do like the continuity of analogy around storms. GDS is certainly operating [...]

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