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UK government aims to measure success of digital initiatives

Responding to a critical parliamentary report on digital progress, the government has laid out plans to develop better metrics and to overhaul legacy IT

The government wants to develop a “robust” set of metrics to measure the progress of digital initiatives across Whitehall and is planning an audit of its legacy IT systems.

The initiatives were revealed in the official response to a Science and Technology Committee report published in July that was highly critical of progress on digital government. The report found that the UK’s digital momentum had slowed and was being overtaken by other countries.

Responding to the committee’s recommendations, the government agreed with MPs that it needs to publicly set out the measures for success.  

“There should be clear metrics to measure the progress of government digitisation, and we are currently working across government to improve our data infrastructure so that we are able to develop metrics that are as robust as possible,” said the government’s response. “We will take forward work with departments to set out a robust set of metrics that will enable us to measure and evaluate our success.”

The committee had also been critical of progress on replacing ageing IT systems across Whitehall. During the inquiry, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden acknowledged at a meeting in March that the government wanted to replace legacy IT with up-to-date systems, but said this would need extra funding from the Treasury.

The official response said that the Cabinet Office, the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the National Cyber Security Centre are already undertaking a review focusing on legacy IT, including the security risks associated with older systems.

“We will seek to use the next Spending Review as an opportunity to address the issues identified as part of this review,” it said.

“GDS will also use the outcome of this discovery phase to conduct an enhanced audit of the legacy IT estate, leading to support to individual departments in developing business cases to reduce their exposure to risk.”

The committee had also called for greater clarity around the role of GDS, and claimed the organisation was lacking in authority to drive digital change across the public sector.

The government response said: “Government departments will continue to retain the ability to develop platforms and software, and GDS’s purpose is to help government deliver user-focused services and embrace, adapt and respond to the dynamic and innovative digital world.”

The government also highlighted GDS’s role in developing digital skills and capabilities across Whitehall.

“GDS will continue to be the centre of DDaT [digital, data and technology] capability building, with the introduction of capability-based pay to encourage the development and retention of deep expertise, and training, building and maturing the DDaT function and profession across government,” it said.

“Our approach in this space allows departments to retain the flexibility to respond to local pressures within existing structures, budgets and business strategies while providing a consistent set of data tools to inform departmental pay strategies.”

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The government also rejected the MPs’ proposal to “facilitate a national debate on single unique identifiers for citizens”, as a potential solution for digital identity, as a result of the ongoing troubles with Gov.uk Verify, GDS’s flagship digital ID system.

“While the government understands that users need to trust that their personal data is used responsibly and lawfully, the government believes that the best way forward is through developing secure digital identities as opposed to single unique identifiers,” said the response to the committee.

“The government is confident that its approach to digital identity will support innovation, reduce fraud and cost, safeguard our privacy and streamline online services. We are working in partnership across government, the private and voluntary sectors, academia and civil society to achieve this goal.”

The government also defended its record against criticism of progress on developing digital skills and data sharing across departments.

“The government is already undertaking a public call for evidence, direct engagement with a broad range of organisations and a mapping exercise for data-related policies across government as part of the first phase in the development of the National Data Strategy,” it said. “The strategy will highlight best practice case studies and help to build a better understanding of data-sharing arrangements within central government.

“The government transformation strategy set out the government’s ambition to create ‘one of the most digitally skilled populations of civil servants in the world’, and this continues to be our aim. GDS’s leadership of the digital, data and technology profession has been collaborating across government to ensure departments attract, develop and retain the people and skills they need to transform public services. It enables us to act at scale through cross-government strategic programmes and initiatives.”

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