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Scotland lays out ‘federated’ IT governance plan



New public sector framework aims for flexibility within emphasis on common processes, standards and re-use of services

Scotland’s public sector is set to adopt a ‘federated’ approach to governance of its IT, with an emphasis on common standards and re-use but giving organisations the flexibility to respond to their own business priorities.

The approach is outlined in an updated version of the High Level Operating Framework for Scotland’s Digital Future, a guidance document for the design of digital public services, published this week.

It moves on from the first version, published in 2013, taking account of experience from work programmes such as the Scottish Public Sector Portal ( and the Scottish Wide Area Network. While the previous document focused on a guiding principles and a common architecture, the new framework emphasises the need for a balance between a national approach and allowing organisations to deal with specific demands.

Priorities and maturity

It acknowledges that business priorities can vary, and that public authorities are at different levels of maturity in their use of IT. They may also need to describe the IT services they need in different ways.

“A federated approach should be adopted to allow flexibility where appropriate at individual organisations/sector level within a broad framework of control which, over time, will increase the opportunities for collaboration and sharing and simplify the implementation of any new policy or strategy across the Scottish public sector,” it says.

The approach will be backed up by two governance bodies: a Technical and Design Board to keep the framework up to date as the digital environment changes; and a National Design Authority to work at a more tactical level, considering which elements of IT services used by an organisation could be re-used by others or adopted as a national standard.

The authority will be made up of representatives from design authorities across all sectors; and while the document portrays this as a central element of the federated governance approach, it does not provide any timescale for its creation.

Use or explain

Another element of the federated approach is the ‘use or explain’ principle, by which an organisation is expected to make use of the results of a national project, except where they can identify a compelling business need for a different approach.

There is still a strong emphasis on common features to be applied nationally, including security and identity management processes, standardisation and re-use of business services such as HR and payroll, and standardisation in data management.

Other elements include the development of a common vocabulary to support decision-making, a collection of architecture principles, a catalogue or re-usable components and an ideal services  model – a set of indicators describing the ideal situation for each of the major service categories.

The new framework’s inclusion of the federate approach marks an evolution from the approach laid out in the McClelland review of Scotland’s public sector IT infrastructure, published in 2011. This called for a combination of five-year strategies for each part of the public sector and an overarching national strategy; and while it recognised that fragmented operating practices were creating extra costs, it did not go as deeply into questions of common standards and the re-use of services.


Image: Scottish Parliament, by Klaus K, Creative Commons 3.0 through Wikimedia



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