Year Published: 2106
Sector: Cross-government, Public administration
Issue: Information Security
Five years ago, we highlighted the importance of three major themes in tackling government’s challenges:
- taking a structured approach to reducing costs;
- improving financial management; and
- using information effectively.
We argued that without significant progress in all three areas, government would not be able to transform services and achieve sustainable improvements and savings. Our work over the last five years has identified some improvements in these areas. Across government, there is a much deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities of transformation. But our work also shows that attempts to transform government have had mixed success. Many public services appear increasingly unsustainable. Those responsible for major programmes have continued to exhibit over-optimism and make slow progress towards their objectives.
Government’s recent experience has highlighted several important building blocks for transformation:
- Strategic business planning and management: Our report Government’s management of its performance: progress with single departmental plans found that a strong planning framework is needed to counter problems in delivering new services successfully.
- Building and deploying capabilities: Our report Capability in the civil service highlighted the importance of getting the right skills and experience to support new ways of working
- Improving the use of technology and data: Our work on major transformation programmes has shown how difficult it is to use technology effectively to enable transformation.
- Managing evolving programmes and portfolios Our work on major programmes has also shown how difficult it can be to assure and manage major transformation programmes, balancing more iterative approaches with robust programme and project management disciplines.
These building blocks will help to counter tendencies to make decisions for tactical reasons without addressing wider considerations. They allow departments to balance short-term spending targets with long-term strategies. At the same time, better information and access to expertise will help to support and assure complex programmes.
Government faces significant challenges in providing public services. Continuing austerity has put additional demands on departments, which are already trying to tackle complex reforms with fewer staff and smaller budgets. Our work across government has highlighted the problems this can create for financial sustainability and the need to transform public services. 2 In 2011, the Coalition Government launched its Government ICT Strategy and set up Government Digital Service (GDS) as a centre of digital expertise within the Cabinet Office. Since then, GDS has worked to improve the quality of online information and help transform services so that they meet users’ needs. 3 Transformation has not been straightforward. While many government services are now available online, departments and GDS have struggled to manage more complicated programmes and to improve the complex systems and processes that support public services. 4 In February 2017, the government published its Government Transformation Strategy. The strategy sets out GDS’s new approach to supporting transformation across government and its aims for the current spending review period. 5 In this report, we review the role of GDS in supporting transformation and the use of technology across government. Our report is structured as follows: • Part One describes how GDS has evolved and sets out some of the questions that a central technology function needs to consider. • Part Two considers GDS’s role in coordinating and setting strategy across government. • Part Three looks at how GDS has supported other departments, including by promoting new technologies and uses of data. • Part Four examines how GDS has developed a more common approach to digital development across government through setting standards, establishing reusable central systems and controlling spending.