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GDS is changing, and for the better

In recent weeks and months, there’s been a palpable change in attitude emanating from the UK’s Cabinet Office digital office, Government Digital Services (GDS). They have new leadership in Stephen Foreshew-Cain, who came in to lead at the beginning of the year.

This week, GDS’ COO, Alex Holmes was quoted as saying that GDS is “trying to move away from the arrogance” it had in its first five years.

I understand that this view is shared and recognised by many civil servants working in technology and digital departments. GDS themselves have signalled that they are making a concerted effort to engage their fellow colleagues working on the front lines across UK government.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing how GDS is positively shifting its engagement with technology suppliers. I attended the launch in London of the GDS’ new Common Technology Services (CTS) strategy, led Iain Patterson. Like many on his team, Iain comes from a government department. He was most recently the CTO of DVLA.

Iain laid out his and his team’s vision for how they want to work with both civil servants and suppliers at this event. The CTS team, many of whom took to the stage themselves to give their own views and to field questions from the suppliers in the room, have taken on board the changes required. 

The afternoon’s tone was significant, conciliatory even. It was less, “This is the way we’re going to do things” and more “We need to listen more, engage more and bring you into the dialogue.” 

There was the outlay of the strategic vision of course, but then there were several break-out groups as well from CTS’ strategy team, headed by Peter Grzeszczak, their delivery lead, Tim Daley, and their technical lead, Alun Williams. They were supported by commercial lead, Janette Forshaw & head of engagement, Victoria Ford, as well as GDS’ Digital Marketplace, Warren Smith. 

The day ended with a Q&A session with most of the above on one stage, taking questions from a host of suppliers – from Microsoft to us. The CTS team took questions on topics as diverse as the role of system integrators in there future, to success criteria to technological trends in the future.

To say this is welcome, is an understatement.

What GDS is trying to achieve with Common Technology Services strategy

GDS are – somewhat belatedly, some might argue – mapping the technological landscape of UK Gov. The CTS team are going to departments, seeing what those departments are using and how they’re using their tech. Then they’re pulling this information together to get a portrait across Gov. This will help share learnings across departments. By enabling knowledge sharing across departments, we’ll likely see a more collaborative GDS and perhaps even a more collaborative government.

GDS CTS has promised to do the same with suppliers. GDS is interested in learning about what we as suppliers are doing in application development, security, infrastructure and networking to name just a few areas. They’ve promised to hold dialogues and potentially host future workshops with suppliers large and small on these kinds of topics.

Iain Patterson outlined three key principles that the Common Technology Services strategy will uphold in future:

  1. That GDS favours ‘buy’ over ‘build’, meaning that if a technology exists in the market, GDS would not generally advocate that technology be rebuilt by a UK government department, 
  2. That GDS will promote interoperability. UK Gov should be able to swap out technologies easily. And,
  3. That GDS “combats supplier lock in”. Departments should not have to be tied in to long-term deals. 

At Invotra, we support these ideals completely

We’ve always been big fans of trying not to reinvent wheels. In the open source communities in which we operate, if something exists already, you borrow it, build on that which exists and contribute back to the community. 

Interoperability is essential. In recent years, there has been a significant trend in applications that can “talk” to each other. For more on this, check out this TechCrunch piece from a couple months ago.

And on the final point, at Invotra, we couldn’t agree more. We’ve stated for years, that clients can walk away from using Invotra whenever they need or want. This is the very nature of software as a service (SaaS). That, as users, we can consume as much (or as little) as we need to. This will only serve us in the long run. This mentality will make us sharper, more nimble and more competitive. 

Yesterday’s GDS launch was a breath of fresh air. We welcome this new approach from the Common Technology Services team, and we look forward to working them and the rest of the UK’s civil service in future.

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