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Common Technology Services: technology is a tool, not a barrier

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital Service Platforms, Technology

Civil servants using technology

The technology you use to do your job should help you achieve more. When it doesn’t it’s frustrating. That’s true for the wide variety of users who come into contact with government technology, from the civil servant doing an inspection to a developer trying to make improvements.

Over the last four years, we’ve encountered many frustrated users. Government departments all over the country experience common problems with technology.

We’ve found that quite often, the technology that people use across the Civil Service is outdated. It doesn’t meet their varying needs and it impedes collaboration between departments.

Too often technology acts as a barrier to innovation – a really expensive one.

Government’s technology leaders are addressing these problems and know that many of the answers lie in their code of practice.  The technology leaders know that their users’ needs are similar and are investing in making progress together.

Their next step is Common Technology Services (CTS).

Introducing Common Technology Services

CTS helps government departments provide their staff with better value technology, technology that helps meet user needs, makes cross-government collaboration easier and costs less. This should help civil servants work more flexibly and efficiently.

We call some technology 'common' because it is as familiar at home as it is at work. It’s technology like mobile and desktop devices, and the productivity software you use, like email and single sign-on services. It is also the way you connect, like wifi, and the servers and data centres that make these possible.

Our aim is to make the Civil Service more flexible and more productive. We do this by ensuring technology is a tool, not a barrier.

CTS grew out of work undertaken by the Government Digital Service on technology infrastructure including two transformational projects: Cabinet Office Technology Transformation and the Crown Hosting service. The first was about providing civil servants with better everyday tools, the second helped departments to use cost effective data centre capacity much more easily. Combined, they gave us an informed starting point for a new team and a new focus.

That new team is CTS.

What CTS does

We are already working with departments investigating user needs, identifying what is common and how design can be done once. At the same time we are working out how to unpick contracts, allowing for steady improvement.

Already we have some good examples of what the savings from change could be.  Savings will be possible from:

  • common designs and products
  • reusable services
  • cheaper cloud solutions
  • pricing that takes advantage of our scale
  • shorter, more flexible contracts
  • competitive supplier rates due to SME market access

Our early designs and products are being tested against user needs and security essentials, and we are already iterating them. We are working with departments and suppliers. We are helping departments deploy and operate reusable services,  avoiding getting locked in to long-term contracts with specific suppliers or technologies.

CTS is not a replacement for IT teams, nor are we an in-house systems integrator.

What’s happening now

We’re working closely with departments to identify what will become our initial projects. Some are already underway.

We’re building teams and project plans in four areas:

  • departmental engagement builds understanding of user needs and business needs. Team leader: Sana Khareghani.
  • commercial works with departments and CCS to review current IT contracts and uncover saving opportunities. Team leader: Victoria Filkin.
  • technical leads the design and build phase, working with departments’ experts to create designs for common technology products that align to government’s technology strategy. Team leader: Shan Rahulan.
  • delivery works closely with departments to test and iterate new technology before it is deployed at scale. Team leader: Nathan Swift.

You’ll hear more from those teams as we start work inside departments.

The next few months

We will be accelerating the creation of the CTS organisation and working with more departments.

Some really useful results came from early work with the Home Office. We identified profiles of the common ways of working. These profiles build up a picture of the specific needs and pain points. These are already looking highly relevant to other departments, which we are now confirming.

As our early work lands, Common Technology Services will allow departments to transform themselves quicker.

We want to make the Civil Service more flexible and more productive. We’ll keep updating as we go.

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  1. Comment by simonfj posted on

    Thanks Magnus,

    It's so nice to so that we've reached the point where we'll be talking about Common (i.e. shared) services now.

    I suppose that - as unis around the world have been through - we can expect it will take quite some time for departments of (two levels of) gov to understand a sharing (services) culture. As you say "Each department ..... make the decisions as to what technology they buy". (not share)

    Obviously creating a "trust fabric" across government and reusing departmental IDs will seem heretical at this stage. Perhaps you might ask users if a (eduroam) govroam account might be useful. It would certainly get some agreement between departments on a low level of security for the most common services.

    Is it still too early for Nathan to head a project team called "Shared Services" rather than "Delivered Services"?

  2. Comment by Paul posted on

    This is potentially a welcome development but it's not immediately clear from this post what the specific products of CTS will be. For me the key issues which other departments can learn from is the cabinet offices decision to secure the device and be network agnostic. Even where departments are exploring wifi they still use a secure network and a device in 'office mode' which makes the remote exprience sub optimal and massively adds to costs when you bring departments together in a single building.

    The other major issue is differing SIRO views on security issues, if we could approve once and use anywhere this would massively improve the efforts to have a common IT platform and drive out cost savings.

    • Replies to Paul>

      Comment by Shan Rahulan posted on

      Hi Paul. Each department needs to go through its own approval process​ - that's by design, because they make the decisions as to what technology they buy. We'll simplify and support by outlining a clear process for colleagues (SIROs) in departments to follow when buying ​common ​technology. This will reduce how much work they have to do, and by making it clearer, they'll have a better understanding of any risks and implications.

  3. Comment by Chris Thompson posted on

    This is a really interesting update from GDS as to how they are moving forward. The technology is definitely a factor but I'd suggest that improving technology collaboration between departments will also require a focus on common understanding of business processes and information context. I tend to find that technology is the often the more straightforward bit. Sometimes it's what you want to do with it that is the issue.

  4. Comment by julie posted on

    This is all very well but when your technology staff are working on reconditioned windows 8 machines with so much needless security that logging on takes 20 minutes - well it's not going to make a blind bit of difference that you develop on the cloud or anything else from your list. Time to get rid of thhe old TDA mindset and start giving everyone good tools. At the moment GDS get their Macs - what about the rest of gov?