Technology

CIO interview: Tom Read, chief government, Government Digital Service


It’s nearly 10 years for the reason that Government Digital Service (GDS) modified into procedure up, again in the early days of Cameron, Clegg and the Coalition. Lauded because the young, vibrant upstarts that can modified into sleepy, sclerotic Whitehall departments, some would argue that GDS has since change into honest one other section of the identical frail establishment bureaucracy that it modified into meant to disrupt.

Completely, the previous few years possess viewed the Cupboard Place of work unit criticised for drift and a dearth of formulation and motive. In July 2019, MPs on the Science and Skills Decide Committee cited adjustments in leadership, an unclear role and a lack of authority as reasons for what they observed as GDS’s fading relevance. However the previous 18 months has introduced something of a revival, as GDS came upon itself on the coronary heart of the digital government facets of the Brexit transition and the Covid-19 pandemic.

A month sooner than that extreme relate by MPs, GDS director customary Kevin Cunnington introduced he modified into stepping down. The crew has since been below two various period in-between leaders till, in February, a permanent chief modified into in the kill appointed. Tom Read, beforehand chief digital and records officer on the Ministry of Justice, took on the original title of GDS chief government.

Third iteration

As section of the popular GDS crew below Mike Bracken and Liam Maxwell from 2013 to 2015, and attributable to this truth interior considerable Whitehall departments watching GDS from the out of doors, Read appears to be an glorious candidate to bridge the two earlier eras of GDS and seemingly mix the upper of each into the next section of transforming on-line public services.

“I respect this because the third considerable iteration of GDS,” says Read, in an irregular interview with Computer Weekly. “That first iteration modified into in actuality though-provoking, since it modified into mandatory on the time. This good community of different folks came together from out of doors of Whitehall who desired to head and demand how issues are structured, and model of power via substitute,” he says.

“[The CDDO] permits the protection, formulation and controls bit of the Cupboard Place of work to work across government and in actuality definite the best procedure for me and my crew to dwelling digital provide, which is model of what GDS procedure again modified into procedure as a lot as obtain – to obtain products”

Tom Read, Government Digital Service

“I focal point on GDS over the 2nd iteration modified into great extra affiliative, an awesome extra collaborative organisation. And it spent an terrible lot of its time doing the core work on Gov.uk, which is truly a must-possess.

“For the third iteration, I focal point on the pendulum has swung a formulation and then the assorted and I’m somewhere in between. My formulation is one among bridge-constructing and working together.”

Read takes over a revamped GDS. Substances of its inclined tasks, alongside with main the 18,000 civil servants working in the digital, records and know-how profession, broader digital government formulation and spending controls, were handed to yet one other newly created Cupboard Place of work unit, the Central Digital and Data Place of work (CDDO).

“For me, that’s a terribly good thing,” says Read. “[The CDDO] permits the protection, formulation and controls bit of the Cupboard Place of work to work across government and in actuality definite the best procedure for me and my crew to dwelling digital provide, which is model of what GDS procedure again modified into procedure as a lot as obtain – to obtain products.”

Three-365 days formulation

Final month, Read procedure out his original three-365 days formulation for GDS, with a £90m annual budget and in the end 800 team – for the time being it’s moderately much less than 600 with recruitment underway.

The thought defines three “classes” of service that GDS will provide – services that veil the complexity of government constructions for the customers; services that can finest be delivered by the centre; and constructing services as soon as to be reused widely.

Alongside, Read laid out five “missions” for GDS: extra model of the Gov.uk web plight; constructing joined-up services across extra than one departments; a digital identity programme to substitute the stricken Gov.uk Test machine; developing customary tools, let’s take into accout to substitute most definitely the most three,000-plus services that mute rely on printing and filling out a PDF obtain; and joining up records across departments.

“The [overall] mission of GDS is in regards to the digital relationship between the person and the narrate, and the best procedure we are in a position to compose that a extra seamless journey, how we are in a position to obtain as soon as and enhance – in its build of constructing extra than one times – and lowering duplication,” he says.

While he’s eager now to now not note backwards, Read’s intentions across the evolution of GDS are, seemingly inevitably, influenced by previous criticisms.

“While you work in the centre, you would possibly perhaps perhaps perhaps obtain reasonably myopic. I desire folk to be spending time with these fantastic digital teams which are sitting in [other departments]. Having that as a virtual neighborhood will be in actuality great. It’s extra enjoy working as one immense, convening crew in its build of as this specialist, tall-secret squad,” he says.

“There modified into the adage that ‘the formulation is provide’. I’ve continuously had a worship-hate relationship with that, because what it in actuality procedure is the formulation is to lift something rapid that’s good and then folk are idiots if they don’t undertake it.

“We favor to be identified for turning in at poke and turning in quality, getting issues in the arms of customers in actuality early. And we desire to end stuff – despite the indisputable truth that we obtain indicate articles from Computer Weekly as a consequence – we desire to end stuff if it’s now not working. We favor to dispute, ‘That is now not the correct formulation, so we’ll end’.”

Data privacy

It’s the closing of Read’s five “missions” that will perhaps perhaps present to be basically the most controversial. The postulate of intensive records sharing between various formulation of government justifiably raises the hackles of privacy campaigners. As Computer Weekly revealed in February, Read’s remaining boss, Cupboard Place of work minister Michael Gove, has immediate departments they must share individual identity records and government web plight exercise, despite earlier promises now to now not display screen citizens as they traverse the Gov.uk estate.

Read acknowledges the privacy components will favor to be addressed.

“We desire to obtain a procedure of personalized services that compose it great more straightforward for you to obtain issues done via government, in the identical procedure you would possibly demand of any various service”
Tom Read, GDS

“They’re in actuality comely concerns from folk. However we desire to obtain a procedure of personalized services that compose it great more straightforward for you to obtain issues done via government, in the identical procedure you would possibly demand of any various service. While you went to one bit of Amazon, and then you positively logged on to your Amazon Top myth, and it modified into enjoy we’d by no procedure heard of you, it’d be in actuality frustrating and also you wouldn’t ranking it. So that’s what we desire [for Gov.uk],” he says.

“The considerable thing is, because we’re a monopoly service provider, this model of details integration is going to be optionally obtainable. One amongst basically the considerable facets we’re constructing in correct in the foundation is that whenever you don’t desire those records objects to be related, you are going to be ready to disconnect and honest obtain it the best procedure you for the time being obtain. While you don’t desire to utilize digital channels at all, we are in a position to continuously possess suggestions that folks can obtain that. So in case your basic peril is privacy, and seemingly a mistrust in government, we are in a position to compose sure that all the pieces mute works easily.”

Having acknowledged that, Read also acknowledges there will be a need for extra legislation to enable the model of pan-government records sharing that’s being planned. That’s going to be a needed debate for the lengthy tear.

Digital identity

At the core of the connection GDS needs to price between on-line narrate and citizen is a brand original digital identity machine. After spending over £200m, Test has in the kill been scrapped – despite the indisputable truth that it’s mute being saved going for one other couple of years till its successor is ready. Read considers Test “a partial success”, which is extra than most.

“Contributors are the usage of [Verify] however it undoubtedly’s now not glorious, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing one other programme,” he says.

The substitute is identified as “One login for presidency”, and sits alongside Gov.uk Accounts, a machine already being trialled to permit a personalized web journey for customers. In inequity to Test, non-public sector involvement in identity verification will be limited, and – at this early stage as a minimum – GDS is conserving departments closely obsessed with the project to be sure better accumulate-in than with Test.

Reinventing the vehicle

However mute, undoubtedly there’s an ingredient of expensively reinventing the wheel? The broader proposals for joined-up services focused spherical life events such as starting a industry or having a infant – in decision to oriented across the a mountainous selection of departments that provide formulation of the formulation – are rarely original tips both.

Read disagrees, and contends that it’s extra enjoy “reinventing the vehicle”.

“It’s a terribly good inconvenience. It’s stressful working in digital government since you’re very public. However we’ve bought different ambition,” he says.

“We are working with departments across government properly on this, as if we’re embedding teams and folk to work on these complications together, in its build of constructing this silo in the centre and then seeking to compose folk obtain it by bashing them on the head with utilize controls. We’re now not doing that anymore.

“If we obtain something together and folk don’t desire to undertake it, then we must iterate that, or even there’s a silly decision being made. However perhaps, if we obtain authentically together then I’m in a position to’t respect one wouldn’t be triumphant. The indisputable truth that it hasn’t came about doesn’t compose it a homely scheme – it honest procedure that it’s stressful. However we’re going to present it a terribly good poke.”

Ministerial toughen

Read also facets to ministerial toughen as a key advise, thanks to Cupboard Place of work parliamentary secretary Julia Lopez and backing from Gove. Long-term GDS watchers will have interaction the intense role played by Francis Maude because the ministerial enforcer who took on reluctant civil service mandarins again in the early days.

“For the GDS of 2021 onwards, we don’t desire to be smug, we desire to be humble. We desire to be collaborative. We desire to care for up a long way off from the ‘now not invented here’ mentality. So if there are good issues accessible that work and we are in a position to integrate, we are in a position to integrate them”
Tom Read, GDS

That toughen will be wished – GDS in the previous has now not continuously been welcomed with originate arms by sure departments, in particular the bigger ones that in point of truth feel they possess the talents in-dwelling and know their very possess industry better than GDS ever would possibly perhaps perhaps. Beautiful great every chief with any depraved-Whitehall accountability for digital or know-how in the previous 20 years has cited the need for departments to work together, and yet here we are mute, with digital leaders citing the need for departments to work together.

Here too, Read, having been on both aspect, comes across as an exemplar of reasonableness.

“For the GDS of 2021 onwards, we don’t desire to be smug, we desire to be humble. We desire to be collaborative. We desire to care for up a long way off from the ‘now not invented here’ mentality. So if there are good issues accessible that work and we are in a position to integrate, we are in a position to integrate them. There’s utterly no motive now to now not. That’s the model of culture and the formulation we’re seeking to have interaction. Presumably that’s various from the previous, I don’t know, however that’s what we’re going to be doing,” he says.

Skills pool

Fragment of that cultural substitute entails opening up GDS hubs in Manchester and Bristol to beat the premise that the crew is simply too London-centric – a switch that also helps to prolong the obtainable talent pool for recruitment.

“I desire to compose sure we obtain a terribly various and inclusive crew, and now not least because we are representing the full nation and we desire folk that focal point on those communities – we desire those various perspectives. Most incessantly it takes longer to recruit whenever you have interaction that critically, in an industry enjoy tech which is skewed moderately heavily in direction of men,” says Read.

It’s been a difficult 365 days in the end of the pandemic for loads of organisations, and GDS is now not any various. Focusing on a brand original three-365 days thought would possibly perhaps perhaps be a problem for someone, however after the struggles of lockdown, even extra so.

“Contributors are in actuality drained. Their resilience levels possess gone. They’ve dealt with lockdown, they’ve dealt with Brexit, they’ve dealt with coronavirus, and there’s a ton of assets you would favor to obtain in the background to obtain all that going. And I’m coming in and announcing, we’ve bought this thrilling, ambitious mission – let’s poke. I must present a hat tip to the full folk which possess done an proper shift over the closing 365 days,” says Read.

Future expectations

However the flexibility for digital transformation is relentless, and its significance has finest been highlighted by every person’s recent experiences. For 15 months it’s been difficult to note forward, however for GDS the pivot to a brand original formulation will procedure the benchmark and re-put expectations for the lengthy tear. As Read has wired, it’s all about provide now.

“In three years, I’d enjoy to possess a single login and a single procedure of verifying identity to government. I’d enjoy it if I’ll perhaps perhaps poke into my Gov.uk myth…and respect the full records that government holds on me”
Tom Read, GDS

“In three years, I’d enjoy to possess a single login and a single procedure of verifying your identity to government. I’d enjoy that to be in situation with a terribly good assisted digital route. I’d enjoy it if I’ll perhaps perhaps poke into my Gov.uk myth, whether it’s a web plight or an app – I don’t know, by that time – and I’d enjoy to note the full records that government holds on me. I’d enjoy so as to dispute what records I allow to be shared between those various services. And I’d enjoy that to be [available for] the services that impact basically the most folk and basically the most inclined folk,” says Read.

“It’s about raising the ceiling of what digital government is. I’m in a position to’t obtain this without various departments serving to and working in partnership, however that’s the build I’d enjoy to obtain to.”

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