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Civil Service COO outlines ‘building blocks’ for digital services


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The chief operating officer of the Civil Service has identified ‘building blocks’ for digital government services and indicated a long term move to hybrid working.

Alex Chisholm, who is also permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office, outlined the thinking in a speech at the Future of Work Summit 2022 at London Tech Week yesterday.

He said one of the priorities is to put the customer first and related this to elements of the Government’s new digital and data strategy, published last week.

This includes reducing the number of online accounts and sign-ins for services, partly through the development of the One Login digital identity service, which Chisholm said will be launched this month.

He also pointed to the performance rating of a top 75 government services and a commitment within the strategy to achieve a ‘great’ service in at least 50 of these.

Move to new systems

“The second building block in our new digital government is accelerating the move to modern systems,” he said referring to a continuing reliance on old legacy systems for many services.

“We have called time on these old systems and have committed over £2 billion in our most recent Spending Round to overhaul them comprehensively,” he said.

“We are doing this in a pleasingly logical fashion by rating them systematically and tackling the most exposed and inadequate with the greatest urgency.

“By building new systems on the cloud with modern standard software components and embedded interoperability we plan to avoid accumulating new technical debt.

“Smaller scale and faster procurements, using contracts that allow us to re-use solutions across government, will improve value and reduce risk.”

He added that there is also a need to ensure staff are properly trained and equipped to use new systems and data to full advantage, and claimed there has been progress in some areas. These include the processing of universal credit claims a the Department for Work and Pensions and the development of new technology for modelling data on peatlands at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Hybrid working

Chisholm also indicated that, in contrast to the stance taken by some ministers in favour of a full time return to offices, there is likely to be a long term future for hybrid working in the Civil Service.

“By having fewer desks than workers, the Civil Service has saved over £650 million in the last five years in reduced office costs,” he said.

“However, I am not an advocate of ‘work anywhere’. Even when I worked for an internet company with partners and customers all over the world I found our teams needed to come together in person to reinforce the bonds that support creativity and high performance.

“In government nearly all of our work requires multidisciplinary team working, often between departments and with private sector partners. You can do that online but too much so and we risk eroding the sense of shared purpose, the camaraderie and learning-by-observation.

“Like every modern organisation we are fine tuning to try to find the optimal mix of hybrid working that gets the job done efficiently while still preserving the work culture that attracts people to join and stay, and give of their best.”

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