Innovation Strategy pledges cross-government plan to ‘tackle legacy technology’

Other initiatives unveiled in hotly anticipated strategy include pledge to send more civil servants on private-sector secondment

Credit: Thomas Schanz/CC BY-SA 3.0

The long-awaited Government Technology Innovation Strategy includes a pledge to develop a government-wide understanding of Whitehall’s legacy technology estate and “put in place plans to tackle it”.

The strategy was first announced in August, when it was revealed that a dedicated team within the Government Digital Service had been established to deliver the strategy and spearhead government information more widely. The document, which originally scheduled to publish by the end of March, has now been released.

Its proposals are split into three categories: people; process; and data and technology.

The last of these centres on the plan to “develop a detailed cross-government view of the scale of the challenge of legacy technology, put in place plans to tackle it, and make sure there is continuous improvement in our technology estate”.

The strategy added: “Legacy technology and infrastructure will always exist and new will always become old. We need to proactively manage legacy systems so that they do not become urgent issues. We can do this through continuous improvement by learning while systems are being used, and by continuous maintenance, staying ahead of threats and actively managing risks. We must understand more about what our legacy looks like and where it is, so we can build a roadmap for the future.”

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Elsewhere in the data and tech section, the document revealed that government will also work to update its standards and guidance for technology, while ensuring innovation is aligned to the upcoming National Data Strategy being put together by DCMS.

The most eye-catching initiative in the ‘people’ section of the strategy is that government should “explore seconding senior civil service leaders to industry to allow them to witness the benefits of a culture of experimentation and empowering them to adopt these practices when they return to government”. Traffic will also travel in the opposite direction, with the government seeking to “bring people in from the tech industry to help government identify the best opportunities for using emerging technologies”. 

This part of the strategy also pledges to use facilities such as the GDS Academy and government’s Data Science Partnership to increase the overall data literacy of civil servants. The government also wishes to “establish a pipeline of digital talent to all levels of the civil service”, while helping senior managers to better take advantage of technology innovation by offering them training through The National Leadership Centre.

The ‘process’ segment of the strategy points to the recent creation of government’s £650m Spark marketplace – a dynamic purchasing system covering 64 types of technology across eight different areas: the internet of things; AI and automation; simulated and enhanced environments; engineering and materials science; data; wearable technology; transport; and security. 

Within these areas are new technologies such as bioprinting, smart fabrics, and muscle-technology interface, as well as more established ideas such as blockchain, drones, and body-worn cameras.

The marketplace has launched with seven suppliers: Accenture; Core Systems; CTI Digital; PFI Knowledge; Pinacl Solutions; Ocasta Studios; and GDS Group – which has no relation to the government agency of the same name. More firms will be added in due course.

There will be other tweaks to buying processes, including increased use of “challenge-based procurement methods” – such as the GovTech Catalyst programme, where public-sector entities put forward their challenges and invite proposed solutions

For government entities planning digital projects, there will be changes to the process of creating business cases, with the intention of reducing the need for “a high degree of upfront certainty in terms of the eventual costs and benefits of a project”.

Minister for implementation Oliver Dowden began his foreword to the strategy by noting that “the age of the internet is the age of opportunity”.

“Citizens don’t have an option when it comes to interacting with government. We provide services which no one else can,” he said. “It is the duty of a government to serve, and it’s in everyone’s interests that government serves with excellence. For me, excellence relies on innovation and the judicious implementation of new technologies.”

Dowden added: “I believe we can do this. Our foundations are strong. The work we’ve done over the past few years, underpinned by our user first philosophy, has made the UK’s public services some of the most digitally advanced in the world.”


Sam Trendall

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