Over the past 5 years, the Government Digital Service (GDS) has helped save over £1 billion by working with departments to identify better and cheaper ways to deliver IT and digital products and services.
As part of this process, GDS works collaboratively with departments, before they even start to create digital services. One of the ways we’ve done this is through the spend controls process. Jointly, we make sure that they’re getting the best value from anything they’re building or buying.
The spend controls process was introduced in 2010. But time and technology moves on. We want to make sure that it continues to be as effective as possible and that it gives departments the support they need.
We’ve previously written about all the work and research we’ve done to improve the spend controls process. We’ve looked at providing earlier engagement and greater collaboration with departments as well as giving support where it is needed and when it is needed.
Based on this research, we’ve developed a new approach, which we’ve piloted with 4 departments.
Now we’re ready to roll out the new spend controls process more widely. Here’s what we’re doing:
Putting a pipeline in place
When we carried out research with departments, they told us they wanted more autonomy to assure their own projects and programmes, where appropriate. They also said they wanted to make it easier to jointly determine where and how help is provided.
To enable this, we’re introducing a new system that we call a pipeline approach. This means that rather than looking at individual services or technology projects, we’re going to work with departments to develop a 15 to 18-month forward-look at all their commercial, digital and technology spend. We will look at all digital and technology activity, rather than just looking at spend above a certain threshold.
Work in the pipeline will be assured against government standards, such as the recently updated Technology Code of Practice. This will show us where and how GDS and departments need to work together to improve things.
This is a more agile, iterative model which will rely on and strengthen departments’ existing governance processes.
The benefits this will bring
We’ve been piloting this new process for some time and we have seen it bring lots of new benefits. These include:
- enabling earlier engagement between departments and GDS, ensuring approval is a smoother process for everyone
- allowing better planning and decision-making, and better outcomes
- ensuring consistent application of standards, including the Digital Service Standard and the Technology Code of Practice
- increasing collaboration between experts, such as technologists or commercial professionals, regardless of departmental boundaries
- bringing in a more iterative, holistic approach, while keeping the backstop of a hard control when standards are not being met
Rolling out this new approach
Following our pilot with 4 departments, we’re now ready to roll out the new process to a small number of additional departments.
We’re pleased to announce that the new spend controls guidance for IT and digital was published on Monday, collaboratively penned by 5 departments working with a technical writer to ensure clarity.
The process is not something that has been dictated by the centre of government – it has been built with and for users in departments.
We’re going to work with departments that have a pipeline ready and have their own design authorities, as laid out in the Government Transformation Strategy.
We want to hear from you
We’ve been thinking about how we understand spend across government. We’ve done some excellent research work with dxw (read more here) talking to standards and assurance teams across government. What we’ve found has helped us understand a set of user needs that are not only good for the civil servants who need better data, but for the public at large in starting to create a transparent, auditable pipeline of digital spend.
Are you working on how to manage the process, governance and data around digital spend portfolios? We’re working on procuring a tool and would like to talk to people who we could share it with. We are particularly interested in local and devolved governments (we’re already building for the user needs of central). We've already started conversations with a few organisations about whether we can share, but we'd like to talk to more.
We will be sharing further information with the Standards and Assurance community on the rollout and how it may affect them and their individual departments. If you work in government, you can join the GDS Advice and Assurance community.