Public Services > Central Government

GDS boss Cunnington outlines “ambitious” digital strategy expectations

Neil Merrett Published 09 February 2017

Strategy for future operations and role of GDS reaffirms existing skills, platform and data commitments; technology industry responds to proposals


Government Digital Service (GDS) director general Kevin Cunnington has claimed the Government Transformation Strategy unveiled today, which reaffirms many of the organisation’s key pledges over the last five years, will be the start of a new way of working across Whitehall.

In a blog post published following the unveiling of the new strategy, which sets out GDS' work in the wider context of Whitehall reform - as opposed to a standalone focus as originally promised last year - Cunnington argued that it was accepted knowledge of the need to embed digital transformation deeper into government than ever before.

“We’ve already demonstrated the potential for the digital transformation of public services through the work carried out under the 2012 strategy. We’ve redesigned and rebuilt some of the most used services, including Register to vote, View driving licence and Carer’s Allowance,” he said.

“For the first time, digital professions have been established across the public sector, increasing our capability in this crucial area. And strong foundations have been laid for departments to share digital platforms, components, code and best practice for building user-focused services.”

After successive delays to the publication of the new GDS strategy, which is intended to set out details for £450m in funding set out in the 2015 spending review, the transformation plans reaffirms many existing GDS commitments to data sharing, digital services and common platforms.

In what he calls an ambitious agenda for GDS up to 2020, Cunnington said he was confident that the goals of digital transformation were shared across government, with his organisation working to “support, enable and assure” in working to meet these aims.

“Collaboration across government will not always be simple,” he said.

Cunnington, who assumed leadership of GDS last year, added that the latest strategy document was divided into five key themes, including business transformation, as well as a push on developing sufficient skills and capabilities to implement more citizen-focused services.

The other core focuses include:

  • Enabling the Civil Service to provide better tools and processes to work more effectively, supported via a focus on common technology use and “improved human resources processes”
  • Better use of data to meet stated aims for more transparent working and collaboration between departments
  • The creation and implementation of shared platforms including pushing use of the GOV.UK Verify ID assurance platform with an aim to expand registered users from around one million to 25 million people in three years

Cunnington wrote that government needed to show that meaningful changes were being introduced to better meet ongoing challenges facing the Civil Service.

“For this reason, we’ve set ourselves some milestones. The plans detailed in the strategy are set to be complete by 2020. But we know 2020 is not the finish line,” he said.

“The strategy will lay a foundation for the digital government of the future: a government that is adaptable and flexible enough to keep pace with changes in society and technology. We’re already planning for the things we’ll do beyond 2020, and we’ll keep you updated as we go.”

Industry view

Responding to the unveiling of the strategy document, industry association techUK welcomed the strategy, claiming it was recognition of digital transformation being more relevant than ever to government following the EU referendum decision last year.

Julian David, techUK’s chief executive officer praised commitments in the document to skills, information sharing commitments led by a new chief digital officer, and pledges to expand use of the GOV.UK Verify platform.

“The government hits many of the right notes in bringing together technology, policy and delivery in creating the public services that our citizens need in times of change. The focus on skills, information sharing and end-to-end transformation aligns with techUK’s key priorities for public services,” said David.

“As ever, the challenge will be in the execution and we look forward to working with the government to help it achieve its 2020 targets, embracing the full diversity and strengths of UK tech suppliers.”

Chris Price, director of public sector operations for IT infrastructure group Computacenter, said the strategy was an “important step” to ensure UK government could try and be a competitive global player in overhauling public service delivery via technology.

“The government has made significant strides in the adoption of digital over the last six years, and this new strategy rightly recognises the need now to focus on the wholesale end-to-end transformation. This means tackling the 'back-end' plumbing, and driving efficiency with an internal focus on equipping civil servants with the right workplace tools,” said Price.

Elwyn Jones, senior vice president, central government at CGI said, “The arrival of the Government Transformation Strategy directly aimed at the public sector can only be seen as positive. Digital transformation is being widely debated by many and whilst the government is investing in new systems and processes, in terms of the implementation of wide-spread digital strategies within public sector, things are still very much in their infancy in places so it’s good to see its objectives clearly stated.

"Providing public servants with stronger end-to-end systems will improve the sharing of data, platforms and codes etc. which will lead to greater efficiencies within government business. The approach outlined by the government in its newly released document, will ultimately in time better support employees, organisations and citizens that interact with its various departments. The true value of digital transformation is around planning to address value creation from the outset, and this applies to government, so to see a clear direction presented today enforces positive steps around the strengthening of its digital capabilities.”

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