Civil service chief endorses 'government as platform' digital strategy

Civil service chief Jeremy Heywood endorses the government digital strategy, hailing it as key to Whitehall reform

The head of the civil service, Jeremy Heywood, has endorsed the government digital strategy, hailing the move to “government as a platform” as a key part of Whitehall reform.

Writing in a blog post, Heywood said the pace of digital change in the civil service is accelerating.

“Things are changing in the civil service. The changes might be hard to see from outside – you won’t have heard about them on the news – but they are happening,” he said.

“Technology and the internet in particular, are the driving forces. Many in the world of business understood this and adapted to it years ago. The civil service lagged behind. Now we are changing that.”

Heywood discussed a number of elements of the government digital strategy, such as the Gov.UK web publishing platform and work to digitise 25 high-volume government transactions.

He revealed that HP CEO Meg Whitman and her team met with some of Whitehall’s digital leaders and permanent secretaries last week. HP remains the biggest IT supplier to the UK government by revenue, earning about £1.7bn per year – but moves to end big outsourcing deals and bring in smaller and more agile suppliers have threatened HP's dominance.  

“The discussion indicated just how significant this agenda is and also – in my view – the good progress we have already made,” said Heywood.

Heywood said the move to “government as a platform” was intended to change Whitehall from “a series of disjointed silos” to “a more unified, efficient service” – echoing closely the words of government digital chief Mike Bracken. In a recent interview with Computer Weekly, Bracken described the move from silos to platforms as a “generational” switch: “That is going to be the bulk of the activity technically in the next parliament,” he said.

Heywood acknowledged the role of the Government Digital Service (GDS), which Bracken leads, and said the digital principles GDS has established need to be applied to policy making, and not just to technology.

“I believe that, thanks to the excellent work of the Government Digital Service and the increasing digital capability within each individual department, the British civil service is already at the cutting edge of applying digital technology to public service delivery. But we now need to take this to the next level, and apply the same principles and techniques in policy design,” he said.

“A huge amount of work has been done already, but we have just scratched the surface of what’s possible. New services will emerge – bespoke, personalised services government couldn’t normally justify spending money on, especially in a tight budgetary environment or services no-one else has even thought of before.”

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