Whitehall CTOs agree ‘principles and guardrails’ for government mobile app strategy to be published next year

Intent to develop a central strategy for government apps was first revealed two years ago and, after meetings of CTOs and CDIOs, the plan is set for release in 2025

Technology leaders across Whitehall departments have got together to set out the objectives and guidelines that will inform a cross-government mobile app strategy set to be published next year.

Plans to create such a strategy – accompanied by a framework of technical standards to support app developers – were first outlined in the three-year government digital and data roadmap published in 2022. The creation and an implementation of the roadmap is being overseen by the Central Digital and Data Office, which has organised meetings of senior tech officials from various departments and agencies to help shape the content of the mobile app plan, according to Alex Burghart, a minister at the Cabinet Office.

“The CDDO has convened discussions with chief digital and information officers and chief technology officers from across government to identify key principles and guardrails for the mobile app strategy,” he said. “The strategy will be finalised next year.”

The minister, who was answering a written parliamentary question from Labour MP and shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth, also reiterated plans for CDDO sister agency the Government Digital Service to launch a central GOV.UK App which will provide a unified digital front door to departments’ online services. This program will work alongside the new GOV.UK One Login system that will provide a single identify-assurance system to be adopted across all departments’ services.

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“GDS is developing a GOV.UK App that builds upon the success of the existing GOV.UK One Login identity checking app, which has been downloaded over 5.7 million times,” Burghart said.

The 2022 digital and data roadmap outlines the intention that “CDDO, GDS, and departments will provide a joined-up mobile experience of government services, by agreeing a common mobile app strategy, framework and technical standards, and tracking the availability and rating of mobile services”.

The work of the Cabinet Office-based digital agencies in recent years to develop and promote the use of government apps marks a reversal of the policy pursued during the early years of GDS, when departments were advised that that their time – and money – was better spent on developing web services that worked well on both desktop and mobile platforms.

In a 2013 blog post, GDS co-founder Tom Loosemore said that the organisation had adopted a “by default, no apps approach”, in which departments wishing to create a mobile app for one or more of their services needed first to apply to the Cabinet Office for a special exemption to do so.

“For government services, we believe the benefits of developing and maintaining apps will very rarely justify their costs, especially if the underlying service design is sub-optimal,” he wrote. “Departments should focus on improving the quality of the core web service.”

Speaking at the annual PublicTechnology Live conference in 2022, current GDS chief executive Tom Read told attendees that this approach was “absolutely right in 2014”, but that this is “not necessarily the case now”.

Sam Trendall

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