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The next steps for digital, data and technology in government

A person placing sticky notes on a wall.
Alex Chisholm, Chief Operating Officer for the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office, blogged about our appointments to the senior leadership of the DDaT (Digital, Data and Technology) profession in January of this year.

Since we started our respective roles in February, we have done a lot of listening to our teams, other government departments, and other important stakeholders. What we’ve identified is that we all have considerable ambitions for digital products, platforms and services, and for the government DDaT function.

The lessons we learned from coronavirus (COVID-19) have shown us that now, more than ever, digital must be front and centre of government’s priorities to meet user needs and this is the perfect time for us to accelerate the digital transformation of public services across the whole of government.

What we’ve been less clear about previously though is that there are 2 quite distinct challenges and opportunities that we need to support:

  • leading the cross-government community of DDaT professionals and putting the strategy, standards and assurance mechanisms in place to deliver transformation at scale
  • building, supporting and iterating digital products, platforms and services that can be built once and used across government

From today, the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) will lead the DDaT function. This is the next step for DDaT in government, allowing us to go further and faster by strengthening our collective leadership.

The CDDO will lead the DDaT function across departments, setting the strategy for DDaT in collaboration with leaders across government. It will have ambitious goals that get to the heart of digital and technology transformation, and will improve user access and experience of government services and harness the power of data.

Monitoring and assessing the health of the delivery of the government’s major digital and data programmes will be fundamental to CDDO as will tackling big problems like how we engineer for availability, resilience and interoperability, how we embed agile ways of working across departments supported by digital and technology funding models, sourcing strategies and procurement.

Meanwhile, GDS steps into its new role as the centre of the government’s digital transformation of products, platforms and services. The emerging strategy, alongside a clear mandate to address the challenges the government faces, is to deliver the next stage of modernisation by developing our digital products and infrastructure.

We’ll build on our small pilot to create a GOV.UK Account and our work on digital identity, working towards providing the kind of personalised, seamless and intuitive online service and information users should expect from government. We also want to build on the successes of GOV.UK Notify and GOV.UK Pay to identify the new common problems that departments face, fixing the basics to give better experiences to our users.

Over the upcoming months, both GDS and CDDO are moving forward with the next phase of digital delivery and transformation. This is essential to the modernisation and reform of government and you’ll be hearing more from both of us on what that looks like in practice.

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  1. Comment by Tim Brooks posted on

    Services should be human by default supported with digital where it works to give value to service users. This is(DBD) expensive nonsense.

    • Replies to Tim Brooks>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Thanks for sharing your views withs us, Tim.

      The GDS Team

    • Replies to Tim Brooks>

      Comment by Alistair Milne posted on


      a common misperception.

      properly designed digital is human (orientated to be used seamlessly by humans, think i-phone etc.). It is not a choice or an alternative

      given this, would you as a human rather have commuication be written letter from e.g. home office , DWP , NHS or Inland REvenue? Or would you prefer an email or text message? I think on whole you woudl prefer the digital alternative as the default.

      More broadly DBD means using email/ text/ shared integrated database as the default form of communication/ record keeping, supported where necessary and helpful to improve service by non-digital parallel system (physical letters and physical files) . As long as it is well designed DBD saves money and improves service quality.

      • Replies to Alistair Milne>

        Comment by Tim Brooks posted on

        I have worked in Local Authorities, Housing Associations trying to improve services for customers. One of the main obstacles to creating real values for service users is the management focus on DBD. It usually acts - in reality, out here in the real world - to create costs and provide less value. Certainly digital can be used to enhance service but using 'by default' means it is used regardless of its unintended consequences - making service worse at higher cost. There are some excellent examples of good use of digital, but sadly way too many examples where it is misused. How we use digital IS a choice - though less of one as Government incentivise the use digital without much thought nor care. Thank you for informing me of my preferences - sadly you have demonstrated the mindset of Govt and Public Service Management (as driven by government) - ie you know better than service users what they want!!
        I think the caveat in your final sentence is the root of the problem - they have to be designed for purpose. But I'd love to see evidence of it saving money without damaging performance (in customer terms.) I recommend John Seddon's book 'Beyond Command and Control' - he is a leading expert on service systems and why they are sub-optimal (and how to fix them.) I think Government Departments would be wise to pay attention to those that know and have evidence (lots of it) that will contradict your claims. Happy to provide more info if you are at all curious.

        • Replies to Tim Brooks>

          Comment by Frank Burnett-Alleyne posted on

          I work for a Norwegian company that has developed software that enables intelligent virtual assistants (VAs) to be developed by non-technical people, typically customer service agents. These VAs have been adopted at local govt level by 90+ Kommunes (local authority equivalents) in the Nordics, and central govt level (Finnish Immigration service, Norwegian Labour & Welfare Administration (NAV) service ). Rollout is expanding because citizens are demanding easier, more immediate access & because we're delivering value to the institutions - our VA enabled the NAV to successfully cope with huge Covid-driven increase in queries. Fortunately for the UK govt we're now here in the UK. We're proof digital can & does work in government.

        • Replies to Tim Brooks>

          Comment by Alistair Milne posted on


          thanks for detailed reply, explaining your views, which are not as "anti digital" as they appeared in your original brief comment.

          I wrote as someone who (a) works in a university researching and advising on digital transformation in financial services; and is also (b) a recipient of public services -- myself and family members have had to deal with appalling levels of service from home office, department of work and pensions and HMRC. Public services can be navigated in this country if you are well educated and persistent. But woe betide you if you are not.

          Millions across the country suffer grievously because public services cannot deliver clearly and consistently, often not even compliant with the law, and those at the receiving end of arbitrary and inappropriate decisions do not have the tools to correct these problems. We can't all turn to judicial review.

          Also, from what Ilearn from relatives and friends, other countries do public services much better than we do -- appalling service quality in public services seems to be a particularly severe problem in the UK.

          Local authorities and NHS in my experience a little bit better, but can be still painfully tied to paper based processes.

          Agree that DBD as a slogan is over simplified, and top down change processes are prone to wasting resources and may result in deterioration not improvement in service.

          But to me that is a sign of too little resource and attention being given to digital transformation of public services, not too much. There needs to be much much more discussion across public services at all levels about weaknesses in operational processes -- which in today's world are inherently digital -- and what can be done to improve them.

          by the way, worth pointing out that financial services firms, I mean the large firms we all deal with, are not much better than public services at digital transformation . But at least the threat of disruptive innovation from new tech based firms means conversations and discussion are happening.

  2. Comment by John Mortimer posted on

    Thank you for your information about Julia Lopez. The examples she gives are a very small part of highly transactional services that used Digital. She makes no mention of the actual work on the ground - that was achieved by people getting together to sort out problems and act.
    Unfortunately Julia Lopez fails to provide actual evidence, and seems to repeat the mantra that is helps us, and allow us to collaborate.
    It is not about data, or single sign-on. Speeches like that simply reinforce the distance between citizens actual needs, and politicians standing up and deciding that their idea is the one to go with is what has happened over the last few decades with disastrous results.
    Universal Credit, the NHS single record IT project and the Fire & Rescue Control centres have all taught us that lesson that we must learn before we proceed with transforming services.
    If she truly means person centred services, then lets get on and do it. The public sector has a myriad of person centred prototypes that have been tried and tested over the past two decades. We need to learn from those, and realise that dealing with citizens issues is primarily around dealing with complexity - something Digital does not really do.

    • Replies to John Mortimer>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi John,

      We appreciate you taking the time to reply again, and will pass on your feedback.

      The GDS Team

  3. Comment by James Cattell posted on

    Is DDaT a community, profession or function, please?

  4. Comment by John Mortimer posted on

    "The lessons we learned from coronavirus (COVID-19) have shown us that now, more than ever, digital must be front and centre of government’s priorities to meet user needs and this is the perfect time for us to accelerate the digital transformation of public services across the whole of government."

    The learning from the response to COVID, is that Digital had a marginal and small impact when considering all the impacts of the support to people and communities in need. Perhaps the greatest learning was the value in local voluntary groups, and the way that local authorities got into action through responding to demands.
    The key was putting people together with people to solve problems. Digital had a very small part to play in it.
    Muvh of the public sector deals with complexity, and the best way to deal with complexity, it via people.
    Beware making the mistake that because Digital works well for highly transactional services, that is can be expanded to cover all services. We learned this from the disaster that is Universal Credit.
    Understand complexity, and use systems thinking as a foundation to the design, that would be a great start.

    • Replies to John Mortimer>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi John,

      We appreciate the time you've taken to respond. Julia Lopez MP spoke about the challenges of COVID - the pandemic has put a spotlight on the power and potential of digital and data to inform, empower and serve our citizens and it has also underlined the need for reform to ensure government services are digital by default, more personalised and more efficient. You can read all the details on GOV.UK.

      The GDS Team