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GDS working to secure Google Apps for government

Caroline Baldwin

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is in talks with CESG, the IT security arm of GCHQ, to get approval for using Google Apps within government.

As part of its continued push for civil servants to use consumer technologies it is hoping to get security approval for Google Apps, as well as other collaboration products including Box, Trello and Salesforce.

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“We want users to have modern, flexible technology services that are at least as good as those they use at home. These services will also be cheaper than the services currently in place,” it was stated in GDS’s quarterly progress report April 2014.

Cabinet Office’s transformation project

Earlier this year, the Cabinet Office completed its first user trial of consumer technologies within the department with help from GDS.

As part of the project, Cabinet Office and GDS investigated possible consumer technologies and cloud services that could be rolled out to the 3,000 civil servants working at the Cabinet Office.

The department trialled laptops, tablets, email, collaboration and Wi-Fi access with 50 staff during December and January as part of its technology transformation project to overhaul the department’s use of IT.

At the time, Andy Beale, common technology services lead in the office of the CTO at GDS told Computer Weekly that the 50 alpha testers were given a multitude of technologies, including Google Apps for mail, calendar, document creation and collaboration, Evernote for notetaking, Libre Office for offline document creation, and portable 4G devices, Wi-Fi and printing solutions.

Writing on the Cabinet Office blog in March, civil servant Will van Rensburg said Google Docs and similar applications had received mixed reviews during trials.

“During the trials they were able to work on the same document at the same time, from multiple locations – resulting in higher quality output, achieved faster. While their existing technology forced them to work a certain way, the trial technology enabled them to work how they wanted, and for the better,” said van Rensburg.

But the trial discovered that when alpha testers needed to work with civil servants outside of the trial who were not using the same technology, they faced issues trying to collaborate.

Additionally, many users did not see Google Docs as being able to replace their existing applications, due to differences in formatting functionality. Users also said they would find it hard to adjust without support.

“Interestingly, very few users commented on not being able to use Outlook, and then only that their filing system within Outlook had no obvious parallel within Google Mail,” said van Rensburg.

In April’s quarterly update report, GDS said it had been learning from real users to come up with collaboration solutions.

Following these trials, GDS wants security accreditation for not only Google Apps but other collaborative tools.

“We’ve found out that there isn’t a system that suits everyone,” said GDS. “We’ll be giving teams and users a choice about the applications and devices they feel would make them most productive.”

Quarterly update

As well as pushing for security accreditation for collaboration tools, GDS also announced progress in the government’s digital by default programme.

The government’s transformation project is progressing, according to GDS. The project, which aims to digitally transform 25 of the most widely used public services in a 400-day time period, has seen two more services go into public beta at the end of March, including Waste Carrier Registration and View Driving Record.

Putting agencies on Gov.uk will help us maintain a high-quality user experience

Between April and June GDS intends to make four more exemplars live (patents renewal, claim Carers Allowance, electoral registration and lasting power of attorney) and take four more to public beta (PAYE for employees, digital Self Assessment, digital tax account and visas).

It also announced that more than half of agencies and arm’s length bodies have now transitioned their websites to the single Gov.uk site, moving 25 websites including UKVI between January and March of this year.

But its plans to complete the entire transition by the summer will be delayed.

“Looking at the needs of some specialist users and the information, we need to transition from the more complex sites, we’ve found that the original timetable could compromise users’ experience of Gov.uk,” said GDS.

It now hopes that it will have 75% of agencies on Gov.uk by the end of July, and it will then develop additional features (like new ‘finder’ tools) for the remaining complex websites.

“That will help us maintain a high-quality user experience​, and should let us complete the transition process by the end of this year.”

Social media and internet access

GDS also highlighted that a significant number of civil servants in major departments still don’t have access to the internet and social media at work.

“These restrictions conflict with the Civil Service Reform Plan aims for government to work digitally. They also hinder us in educating civil servants on digital and how it can help in their work.”

GDS intends to continue to work to remove the technology and security restrictions causing the problems.


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