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Making better choices for the technology we use

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital strategy

Getting a new message out

This week the IT Reform team within GDS released new guidance to government departments and suppliers around the technology we use. We've done this to make sure our technology doesn't end up becoming inflexible, overdesigned, or adversely burdened with unnecessary management or security controls.

What problem are we trying to solve?

We know that civil servants have often described their experience of using technology as 'frustrating'. And we know that the cost of our desktops and laptops has often been far too high, sometimes running to several hundred pounds per person per year.

We also know that it’s not always easy, cost-effective or obvious how to use the best available tools for a particular need, be they convenient devices or innovative digital services. It's also vital that we can use different tools when our needs change, and to be able to adopt the best solutions from rapidly innovating markets.

A few years ago we were all using desktops and laptops, then very quickly tablets and smartphones became convenient tools. It's difficult to predict the next innovation in digital tools. We need to design ways of being able to take advantage of new innovations quickly and easily.

Office technology photo

We also need to make sure that small and medium sized suppliers can provide nimble and cost-effective services to government. The systems we use day-to-day shouldn’t be so complex that they are out of the reach of a wide range of suppliers. If they are, we’ve designed them wrong.

What must a solution address?

We need to get 4 basic things right:

User Experience - we need to design services with users' needs in mind - and that goes for our own technology as much as it does for what we deliver to the public

Proportionate Security - security should be proportionate to the risk, and for the vast majority of government business, this means using controls in the same way that a well run commercial business would

Sustained Value - making sure that value can be sustained after something has been bought. This means designing for change, and opening up access to all types of suppliers, including open source or small businesses

Consumerised IT - we need to make it possible to use the sort of general, commodity technology that works well for consumers, and for other businesses

What does this mean in practice?

We need to take some tips from the way that digital services have developed on the web. Openly and with technologies that are both simple and good enough for developers to use. What we don't want are heavy, expensive technologies designed by committees that limit our flexibility. We want to use digital technologies that are of the web.

We need to set clear, open standards; to give ourselves the option of short, flexible contracts, and make sure that technology choices don't lock us in as our needs and organisations change.

Photo of Apple laptop


We’ve developed guidance to help departments and suppliers understand what kinds of design decisions they should now be making. There's specific guidance on the standards that need to be met to ensure that digital services don't become heavily dependent on particular products or suppliers. A new security framework has been developed with CESG (the government's specialist technology security advisors) for those working with government information across all types of mobile devices.

What happens next?

Departments and suppliers can get in touch to find out more or to get help in making this happen. We’ll clarify what this strategy and guidance means, how to implement it, and we'll bust a few of the myths around security and other common concerns. Departments can and should start using this new guidance now.

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  1. Comment by Kris C posted on

    "We need to take some tips from the way that digital services have developed on the web. Openly and with technologies that are both simple and good enough for developers to use" What does this mean? The mix of openness and developers implies Linux, but not sure that's the point being made. Also I'm not sure that technology that is 'simple' and 'good enough for developers' go together (see Linux).

  2. Comment by Marnie McCall posted on

    I read this blog daily and find it very helpful. But today, I have a problem.
    Clicking the link to the NEW guidance lands you on a page with the following:

    Policy paper
    End User Device strategy
    Ministerial departmentCabinet Office
    Sub-organisationEfficiency and Reform Group
    Published: 27 October 2011

    I don't know whether this is a wrong link or a missing Updated: line. The Guidance may be revised, updated or new, but I am not going to open each document to find out its publication date.

    I recommend a general rule of putting the document date in parentheses following the document title. This would be a HUGE help!!

    Many thanks.

    • Replies to Marnie McCall>

      Comment by paulclarke posted on

      Agreed - we're working on tidying that page now.

      • Replies to paulclarke>

        Comment by Jan Ford posted on

        Waiting with eager anticipation! Please tweet when done!

  3. Comment by David Chassels posted on

    You need good research capability to be aware of technology innovations that deliver on a lot more for a lot less yet enhance the user experience. Sugget you read this
    Sums up why your "agile" push may need "attention" after all it is only treating a symptom of needing coders to build the cure is not to need them!

    “..from procedural to models-driven, metadata-rich and increasingly definitional – Workday is a good example within our industry of the improved time, quality and cost-to-market this approach delivers once the foundation tools are built/tuned (and these aren’t growing on the commercially available bush yet) and assuming the foundation object models are right and stable. More importantly, those advantages are cumulative, providing considerable leverage as each new release is built on the last one. Workday is by no means the only example of this and there’s a lot more coming. This is one area where I have to keep my mouth SHUT as to who’s doing what, but any vendor who’s not looking deeply into these capabilities is going to wish they had done so long before now. One reason why this has been the holy grail of computing for as long as I can remember is that it eliminates one of the most confusing, error-prone, costly and time-consuming steps in bringing new functionality to market, which is translating the always imperfect verbal and text requirements for product into the procedural logic of program code. By capturing those requirements within the models themselves and then letting those models be the application, much less is lost in the translation.”

    And available in the UK but you should know that.....? So please get in touch to find out more to help achieve "intelligent customer" status which is what the title of your comment suggests?

  4. Comment by Carl Cilenti posted on

    I appreciate the need to have shorted flexible contracts, thus ensuring that suppliers don’t become complacent, however for some services it is usually through the long term contract that efficiency in costs are delivered.

  5. Comment by Darren Fentonsworth posted on

    few years ago we were all using desktops and laptops, then very quickly tablets and smartphones became convenient tools -

    You miss out the bit where we were then locet out of using these "more convenient tools as everyone was taking the hardline security approach that overarches most of the IT we have in place today...

    New guidelines on technology are all well and good but the usage policies need updating too.