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Kevin Cunnington looks to year 6 and beyond for GDS

Neil Merrett Published 08 December 2016

Current GDS lead sets out broad direction for organisation on the fifth anniversary of its founding ahead of new digital strategy publication


Government Digital Service (GDS) head Kevin Cunnington has pledged to publish open application programming interfaces (APIS) for data and establish eight regional academies to skill-up future staff as a broad indication of the organisation’s future plans.

The commitments have been made to mark the five year anniversary of GDS being founded as a means to take a more central approach to standardising and supporting digital transformation across Whitehall. 

Ahead of publishing a more detailed strategy outlining organisational reform as to how the organisation may function and support technology change, Cunnington, who assumed the role of GDS executive director in August, has committed to build on a number of existing focuses.

In a post on the GDS blog, he said the department would invest in the GOV.UK Verify platform to expand user take up and department adoption over the next year, as well as trying to ensure cross-government working and an end to Whitehall siloes in the use of technology and data.

The exact details on how these aims, many of which have been outlined as key data and service commitments for GDS over the last several years, are expected to be set out in a revised digital strategy anticipated to be published before New Year.

Cunnington pledged to "fix" how data was stored and used by the government, citing structural barriers that he said were preventing the sharing of information between departments

“The creation of joined up services across government is inhibited by legacy structures. GDS will work to lower these barriers, and help to establish secure, ethical ways for working with data for the benefit of the citizen. As part of this work, we will be publishing a roadmap of open APIs for data,” he said,

Cunnington also pledged to build on the “brilliant foundation” set out by his predecessors Mike bracken and Stephen Foreshew-Cain as he looks towards the organisation’s sixth year of operations.

“Although there is no ‘finish line’ for digital transformation, we can set targets. There are fewer than 1,000 working days until 2020, and we want to see as many of these objectives realised as we can. That means there is a lot of work for us to do. And, there is a lot to be excited about,” he said.

From a workforce perspective, Cunnington said the establishment of eight regional digital academies, building on his work at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), would aim to train 3,000 people from across government annually.  He also pledged to build on diversity commitments.

The change in GDS leadership, which cane shortly after Theresa May assumed the role of prime minister in June, has led to intense speculation about a potential shake up or end to the existing remit of the organisation.

However, Since taking up the role of GDS executive director, Cunnington has pledged there would be "no break up” of the organisation.  He also dismissed speculation that specific components of GDS’ work - such as developing a common ID assurance platform through GOV.UK Verify, might be taken over by individual departments.

Setting out his thinking over the direction of the organisation in October, Cunnington said he would not be planning to stop its existing focuses, or curb staff levels.

He also claimed at the time that GDS would be expected to retain a role in spend controls, though the relationship will be more collaborative and collegiate than in the past.

Following the decision in August to replace former GDS chief executive Stephen Foreshew-Cain with Cunnington, there has been a number of changes to senior technology-focused leadership roles in GDS and across Whitehall.

Last month, James Stewart, the director of technical architecture at GDS and deputy government chief technology officer (CTO) announced he would be leaving Whitehall in January.

This came on the back of GDS interim chief technology officer (CTO) Andy Beale stating he would be stepping down from his role in the New Year after helping Cunnington set out a new strategy for the organisation.

Other key departures from Whitehall in recent months include former identity assurance programme director Janet Hughes and HMRC chief digital officer Mark Dearnley, as well as GDS director of data Paul Maltby.

Related articles:

GDS: by the words

Cunnington: GDS strategy expected to be out by Christmas

Whitehall’s role changes reflect data and process goals

DWP’s Prakash commits to product integration and data drive

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