Civil servants voice their doubts on Whitehall’s digital transformation

Fewer than a fifth of civil servants would rate their department’s digital capability as “good” despite believing technology is critical to delivering on their plans, according to a new survey of officials.

The study of almost 1,500 civil servants, carried out by industry body TechUK and’s sister organisation Dods Research, found  that 84% agree or strongly agree that tech is vital to achieving the aims set out in their department’s business plan.

But the survey highlighted ongoing concern over Whitehall’s digital skills, with just 14% of those asked rating their organisation’s digital capability as “good” and only a fifth (20%) of those asked agreeing or strongly agreeing that their department possessed the right skills to properly manage IT supplier contracts and relationships.

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Respondents were also asked to name the biggest technology issue their department had faced in the past twelve months, with the answers providing insight on some of the challenges civil servants are grappling with as the Cabinet Office emphasises the need for “digital transformation” of departmental processes.

One official policy official in a central government department berated the “general slowness” of their IT and said outdated system restrictions were making it “difficult and time consuming to deliver all but the most basic level of service”.

Another expressed their frustrations at “reconciling governance”, saying “multiple approval boards” and “decision makers who want fixed costs” stood at odds with the more agile working methods required by the digital agenda.

Meanwhile, others hit out at a lack of digital compatibility across Whitehall, with one operational delivery civil servant saying: “Some other departments’ IT don’t recognise ours. Not everyone is on Google!”

The survey also found strong support for mobile working, with 61% of those asked saying increased use of mobile working could help them become more efficient in their roles. Among senior officials, that rises to 77%. 

One Ministry of Justice official called for more access to smarter working support, saying that the Cabinet Office-led The Way We Work (TW3) programme designed to make smart working easier should not be restricted solely to the department’s London HQ and should be allocated to staff “on a need basis”. A DWP civil servant meanwhile said a lack of Wi-fi in their office was hindering the adoption of smarter working.

Julian David, CEO of techUK said that while there had been a “positive shift” over the last twelve months in how officials see tech, there remained a “lack of understanding” of the potential for digital to “revolutionise public services”.

He added: “We must take a new approach to show – not tell – civil servants how new tech can transform both their working environment and the services they provide.”


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