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Government publishes update on plan to tackle legacy IT

A Cabinet Office report outlines progress around areas such as new structures and leadership to address the issue of legacy IT

The UK government has provided an update on how it is progressing with its goal of being “the world’s leading digital government”, including mentions around tackling ageing IT infrastructure.

The update provided to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) is a response to the recommendations made in the report the Cabinet Office commissioned alongside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) from the Digital Economy Council (DEC) on how the government should achieve its digital ambitions, and the Maude Review on strengthening cross-government functions.

According to the update, which listed the six actions completed until the end of 2021, there has been “significant change at the centre of digital government” since the DEC report was published in 2020. “Government is now better equipped with the leadership and operational clarity needed to make the UK one of the most digitally mature governments in the world,” it said.

Among the advances made, the report mentions developments in response to the DEC report including the new structures and senior leadership for the Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) function, including the appointments of Joanna Davinson and Paul Willmott, who were respectively appointed as executive director and chair of the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO), launched in April 2021 to lead the DDaT function and set the conditions to accelerate digital transformation within government.

In September 2021, Davinson said tackling legacy would be key to achieving digital transformation ambitions across central government. “We still have a lot of legacy, [as well as] a lot of risk in our legacy platforms. But we’ve got a fabulous opportunity as well, in terms of moving more [applications] into the cloud, doing that in a way that enables us to continue to be interoperable and to actually know where our data is,” Davinson pointed out, adding that she is often asked about this.

The Cabinet Office update points to a “strong commitment” to replacing legacy IT and driving interoperability within government. It cites the £2.6bn investment in cyber and legacy IT in the Spending Review – whereby the CDDO worked with stakeholders including HM Treasury to support decision making in DDaT funding – to go with £600m invested in legacy IT in the previous year’s Spending Review, as evidence of that drive.

On the other hand, and citing figures from the 2020 Digital Economic Council, the document noted that legacy IT costs the government £2.3bn to maintain, but added that there is no central assessment of the total cost of replacing the ageing IT infrastructure across the government.

The CDDO is working to come up with a “consistent view” of the costs and risks of legacy technology, according to the update. This, the review said, will be achieved through the introduction of a common legacy IT framework, which is expected to address “significant financial and security risks to HMG from legacy”. Moreover, discussions with departments to track progress have been introduced at quarterly business reviews co-chaired by CDDO’s Davinson and Cat Little, director-general for public spending at HM Treasury.

Also according to the report, clear investment swim lanes are being created to address the IT legacy debt. The DDaT approach introduced in the last Spending Review and run by CDDO “paves the way for significant investment in updating systems across government”, the report said.

The responsibility given to CDDO for central co-ordination of legacy IT and the appointment of a chief technology officer to help departments to address their legacy estates was also cited among the progress outlined in the report.

In June 2021, the government launched a reform programme intended to speed up the country’s recovery following the emergence of Covid-19, with one of the key pillars relating to improved performance through better use of technology. “We will invest in the latest technology, and replace legacy IT systems that are overly complex and difficult to use,” the reform declaration said.

The declaration also noted that all departments will have access to interoperable data platforms and IT services, as well as a single digital logon for all government services – which is aamong the latest updates provided by the Cabinet Office. According to the report, the expectation is that a minimum viable product for One Login will be launched by 31 March 2022, with further functionality added in the next three years. 

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