July 2024


Digital and data roadmap passes two-year milestone

By Sascha Giese, Tech Evangelist at SolarWinds

It’s now two years since the UK published its 2022-2025 roadmap for digital and data to transform government services and ensure every penny of taxpayers’ money is well spent.

Sascha Giese

The roadmap set out ambitious plans to “transform digital public services, deliver world-class digital technology and systems, and attract and retain the best in digital talent”—and it didn’t pull any punches. 

“Our services are often slow, difficult to use and expensive to deliver,” the roadmap said in no uncertain terms. “Departments operate many competing digital identity solutions as well as duplicative identity verification transformation programmes. Data quality is inconsistent and frequently poor, while effective data sharing between departments is limited.”

It also went on to discuss how it is held back by “costly and outdated technology” and how the government machine fails to “leverage our scale in technology procurement.” It talked about “failing to attract top digital talent” and that ways of working “do not enable or incentivise agile delivery methodologies.”

No one said government transformation was easy

Even today, this honest assessment makes for pretty uncomfortable reading. Fast forward two years, and although no one would have expected an immediate turnaround, those in charge are reporting that progress is being made.

For example, One Login—the solution that allows people to access government services online with one username and password, and without having to repeatedly confirm their identity—has now been used by more than 4.4 million people, according to the latest update from the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO).

While 21 of the top 75 government services—everything from claiming maternity allowance to obtaining an export health certificate—are now ranked as ‘great,’ which means they are quick and easy to use.

Progress has also been made regarding the publication of the Generative AI Framework and the launch of the new Secure by Design approach to help embed cybersecurity digital services.

While all this is a step in the right direction, there is still plenty that needs to be addressed.

Legacy systems continue to hamper progress

There is still an ongoing reliance on legacy systems, which not only fail to provide the level of functionality required for modern public services but also act as a brake on progress and a drain on resources.

There are also ongoing concerns about data—how to store it, what to do with it and how best to protect it.

Despite the gains made, the public sector suffers from data fragmentation that spans numerous systems and databases spread across multiple agencies and departments. In terms of complexity, it’s off the scale. No wonder the march towards digital transformation can sometimes feel like a crawl.

Closer collaboration is required to ensure security

And then there’s the issue of security. One of the best ways to shore up defences is to take a more collaborative approach. That means both the public and private sectors must come together to strengthen security efforts. It also means promoting transparent and open information-sharing within the industry to better understand the threats that are out there.

But a new collaborative approach to security is only part of the solution. The government also needs to ensure it can attract people with the skills and know-how to secure our cyber borders.

For while much of the discussion about legacy systems pivots around cost—and the fact that they’re not designed for today’s data-demanding world—there is another issue that is ever-present.

Like every industry and geography, the public sector is always on the lookout for new talent, not just in its drive towards digital transformation but in the rapidly expanding world of artificial intelligence (AI).

The UK government has made no secret of its ambition to become an ‘AI superpower’.

And with IT and engineering staff in high demand across the public and private sectors, more must be done to attract new talent into the sector so that we can narrow the skills gap.

The roll-out of skills boot camps is one approach that has the potential to deliver results, although much more needs to be done to make up the shortfall. Despite all this, there are reasons to be optimistic.

As Sam Lawler, Deputy Director Strategy, Analysis and Reform, CDDO, wrote in the latest update: “For the past two years, teams across government have been making great strides in digital delivery, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and fixing the foundations of data and legacy that will enable us to transform at scale.

“We’ve still got plenty of work ahead of us to deliver the commitments in the roadmap by next year, from transforming more services to growing digital and data capability and harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence.”

It should be an interesting 12 months.

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