Rebalancing technology across government

Today we are releasing a further iteration of the Government Service Design Manual. We’ve updated this with more guidance for service managers and, for the first time, information for Chief Technology Officers on how government is rebalancing its approach to technology.

Users need services that are genuinely agile and responsive to changing needs – where change reduces costs and risks rather than raising them and so making government more productive and our public services better.

Our guiding principles for this change are simple:

  • focusing on user needs, ensuring that technology becomes so good that our colleagues, citizens and businesses want to use it
  • putting outcomes first; such as reductions in cost per transaction
  • using 'openness' to our advantage – open data, open standards, open source, open markets

Making a start

The Cabinet Office has already begun to make some changes. The delivery of commodity infrastructure services – connectivity, application hosting, hosting, collaboration and productivity services, devices and support – is moving towards the use of standard services procured via common frameworks such as the Public Services Network and G-Cloud. The Integrated Shared Services programme is driving towards the delivery of browser-based shared services through a small number of common service centres. And then there’s us, GDS,  in place to co-deliver Digital Strategies with Digital Leaders in departments and agencies.

In making these changes, we are enabling departments to focus on their Mission IT systems - the technologies needed to address the specific user needs of that department. GDS is working on a review of the governance and support provided to IT professionals. This is an important part of ensuring that we are providing structures in which they can flourish, and work in tandem with their digital colleagues to deliver great services for users.

The shape of government technology

We have mapped government technology into four distinct functional areas:

  1. Digital public services: the transactional services that drive citizen engagement with the state.

  2. Mission IT: the line of business applications that run the individual internal processes of departments and agencies. These are often specific to their business functions and many can be defined as 'special', although they draw upon underlying commodity components.

  3. Infrastructure: the common connectivity, hosting and device management services that enable organisations to have the tools they need in the hands of officials and colleagues.

  4. Back office: the day to day services like HR and Finance that run the operations of all our departments and agencies

Some of these areas are things that meet common user needs across government. To address those, we will implement government as a platform, providing departments with common business functionality that can be re-used by multiple users in multiple service areas. For specific needs, such as those in Mission IT and digital public services, GDS and the Cabinet Office will work alongside departments to ensure they have the capability and support they need to meet them. The service manual is a big part of building that digital capability across government, and GDS plans to provide a similar level of support to technology services.

Other organisations like eBay and Paypal have already successfully implemented the platform model, developing a core technology infrastructure that others have then built upon – driving the success of the platform and meeting users’ needs more effectively than the original provider could have achieved alone.

These changes will be introduced over the next 5 years as deals for existing services come to their natural end. As these expire, departments and users will be transitioned to common services. The Cabinet Office will support departments in ensuring that it can be successfully delivered. The outcomes will be worth it: early adoption of this approach has already made significant savings.

By focusing on our users’ needs, driving towards commodity services wherever possible, sharing services and breaking down departmental silos we will be able to make large savings for the taxpayer. But we will also be able to deliver technology that is fit for purpose and supports civil service reform.


  1. Graham Jenkins

    Is there an easy way to tell what has changed? Thanks

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    • Graham Jenkins

      For an example of a significant change that I didn't spot at first read, consider the removal of the "open source preference" from "making software". That preference was prominently reported when it was first included. I think it was removed between the beta and the first release. But short of searching GitHub for all changes, I can't see a way of finding this sort of thing.

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  2. Kahootz (@Kahootz)

    Ah ha, now I see where we fit - in the bottom left quadrant as a commodity infrastructure service.

    This is a much clearer statement of alignment of G-Cloud suppliers, bespoke back-office solutions and GDS services.

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  3. Mark Foden

    Bit confused by the logic of the model. Can you label the axes?

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    • James Rogers

      Hi Mark, they weren’t intended to be axes as such, just 4 functional areas. We understand how this could cause confusion though, so thank you for the feedback.

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  4. Graham

    The link from Government as a Platform in this article directs to O'Reilly book on Government 2.0. Shouldn't it direct to page

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  5. Neville Fernandes

    The people that will behind delivering this ambition do not appear to have been included explicitly in the plan. The utilisation of dormant people skills is an issue that needs to acknowledged and addressed.

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    • James Rogers

      Hi Neville, thanks for the feedback. We worked closely with departments to create the technology code of practice and guidance for CTOs, and will continue to do so. GDS is also working with departments on a review of the governance and support provided to IT professionals to help them make this change happen - we’ll be publishing a follow up blog post soon which talks more about this.

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  6. Andy Powell

    Of your 3 guiding principles, the third feels somewhat different to the other two. I'd have expected the adoption of openness to fall out of the first two principles (or not, as appropriate). Stating it as a principle at the same level as the others runs the risk of it being seen as rather dogmatic? (Note: I'm in favour of openness but only because, in general, it leads to benefits under the first two principles - meeting user needs and improving outcomes). Further, the four types of openness listed are all rather different and tend to have different characteristics in terms of application and benefits.

    I find the presentation of the 4 functional areas as a quadrant a little confusing. Would it work better as a stack, with 'infrastructure' at the bottom, 'mission IT' and 'back office' in the middle and 'public digital services' at the top? Am I right in thinking that the key difference between 'mission IT' and 'back office' is the level of bespokeness of mission IT stuff to individual departments?

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    […] sometimes make the Italian Mafia look benign in comparison.”Over here in the UK, policy is being put in place which favours local companies like my employer (FOSS only). Pogson writes: “There it is, a […]

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  8. Tony Medawar

    Is webhosting a digital or IT service?

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  9. Mark Stringer

    I have a question. You say "GDS is working on a review of the governance and support provided to IT professionals." Is any of that review currently publicly available?

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