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Home Office sets six principles for DDaT

14/07/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Home Office has outlined six principles as the basis of its new Digital, Data and Technology Strategy for the next three years.

Home Office building

The document highlights the intention to: converge technologies where possible; create shared technology products; be product-centric over programme-centric; become data driven to improve decisions; deliver effectively at scale; and embrace innovation

It adds that the principles are designed to complement the Government Design Principles, Digital Service Standard and Technology Code of Practice.

The strategy emphasises the need to become more disciplined in the development and use of technology, reducing complexity, addressing technical debt, automating processes where possible and reducing duplication. It states an aim for the Home Office to become digital by design in everything it does, and to support the delivery of data as a strategic asset.

The principle of aiming for convergence derives from the risk of spending money more than once when focusing on separate technologies for single problem areas. The document cites the example of multiple instances of search, container and cloud hosting solutions, as well as a proliferation of similar software applications in the areas of risk management, visualisation, collaboration and knowledge management.

It says the DDaT team will explore convergence opportunities across the Home Office, with a target for systems and products to be broadly consistent, where appropriate, in terms of architecture, engineering and operations. This requires similar technologies and processes to be closely integrated or unified to remove unnecessary duplication and inconsistencies.

Rationalisation

“We aim to rationalise our technology estate, and ensure we have the right support and infrastructure in place to support us as we run, operate and maintain it,” it says, adding that it will ensure systems can be used for purposes besides the ones for which they were originally intended.

The effort will involve the identification of key enterprise architecture domains and blueprints to provide clarity around where it makes sense to converge technology from a technical point of view, along with the creation of registers for the department’s technologies and products.

The principle to create shared technology products is aimed at reducing the amount spend on duplicated capabilities and siloed ways of working, speeding up delivery for product teams and increasing the interoperability of systems.

It will involve allocating budgets for shared components, designing products for multiples uses, and using existing external platforms where appropriate. The approach will mean balancing the need for new bespoke technology that adds value against the need for commodity services that can be shared, and defining when systems should be exposed via APIs to ensure easier re-use.

This will be accompanied by investments in documentation and knowledge management, sharing guidance and standards, and work to deliver three shared technology products and exemplars for further projects.

Product-centric

The product-centric principle involves an emphasis on what people are trying to do rather than defining something in terms of technology, along with a user-centred approach to design. To achieve this, autonomous, multi-skilled product teams are being set up taking a devops approach to evolving products as needs and technologies change.

Other elements of the principle include a user-centred ‘test and learn’ approach, the definition of product-central roles and ways of working, and an effort to ensure the teams stay together for as long as possible.

The principle to become data driven reflects the view that transformation starts with data rather than technology. A federated data architecture will provide a core element of this, with data stores for each business area, the consistent use of standards, and templates and guidance for data sharing agreements.

It will also involve improving the understanding of data within teams, improved data matching and the use of metadata, increased use of APIs, the development of new reference data architecture models and closer collaboration with other government organisations.

The ambition to deliver effectively at scale involves a strong emphasis on leadership and the strength of teams, supported by research and testing throughout development and a commitment to accessibility. In addition, workstreams are being introduced for purposes including the creation of a single tooling approach for DDaT roles, the establishment of a Shared Applications Service, and the embedding of a DDaT Profession Career Framework.

A central DDaT innovation team will play a core role in pursuit of the principle of embracing innovation. It is based in the chief technology office and runs an innovation lab in Sheffield that experiments with emerging technology and proofs of concept.

There is also a central innovation pipeline to help identify, test and take forward ideas, and which will be made available to all development teams.

Three lines of defence

Underpinning all this will be a quality, standards and assurance framework based on HM Treasury’s Three Lines of Defence model, set at an operational level, with independent teams in DDaT conducting assessments, and with external organisations such as the Government Digital Service and the Government Internal Audit Agency.

Writing in the strategy’s forward, the Home Office’s chief digital, data and technology officer Simon Bourne says: “This strategy gives clarity to the wider department on the importance of including DDaT in its thinking around policy delivery, while bringing understanding to DDaT staff on how to use their specialist skills to support the wider organisation.

“Visibility of our strategic direction to the public and other government departments will help us engage meaningfully on our plans, share best practice and establish trust as we deliver against our aims.

“But publishing this strategy is just the start and delivering its vision will require a joint effort across the department and across government. I look forward to working with our people to embrace these digital commitments.”

Image from iStock, William Barton

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