The government will take a 'learn by doing' approach as it moves public sector services to digital platforms, according to a Government Digital Service (GDS) director.
Speaking at TechUK's Government as a Platform event Richard Sargeant, director of performance and delivery at GDS, said the services did not have a fixed idea of what the best approach to digitalisation is, so it is learning as it goes.
"We think these services are complex enough that we need to learn by doing. And the strategy is very much something that we will discover through the delivery of those services," he said.
Through government-as-a-platform (GaaP), the GDS aims to create a set of common components and standards that can be used across the public sector when creating new digital services.
Sargeant said the GaaP strategy hinges on the GDS's ability to create common components that departments will want to adopt because they see the advantages they bring compared with building systems in-house.
"It's making sure that people have the capabilities, they've got the information and they've got the attractive platforms and services to adopt, rather than just being told to do it because somebody at Whitehall wants in that way," he said.
However, Sargeant added that he believes for GDS to successfully realise the government's ‘digital by default' and GaaP ambition, it will need support from technology companies and voluntary organisations.
"This is not something government alone can do. It's something that will require constructive engagement with the private sector and perhaps the third sector as well," he said.
Avoiding digital failure
The recent decision by the government to abandon part of its £154m IT system for farm subsidy payments and move back to paper forms is a failure GDS will look to avoid as it pursues GaaP delivery.
Sargeant did not allude directly to any particular stumbling blocks the government has encountered with its digital by default agenda, but he did say individual government departments and GDS take a very considered approach to migrating analogue systems into digital services.
"I think that many of the choices that departments make are often for good reasons, and there are some delicate balances that government departments are striking in the strategic choices they are making," he said.
"We do have lively conversations with most agencies and departments across government but it's really important when some of those decisions will have many, many years' worth of consequences that we go into that with our eyes open."
Sargeant said the best approach to delivering digital services is to use the modular method that GaaP facilitates.
"One of the things we are very keen to do is build government services and platforms in the way that the internet is built," he said.
"Using small pieces loosely joined, and to make sure that the dependencies that will inevitable exist within that system can be identified and that you can swap out and swap in those component parts rather than build it as a monolithic system."
Part of the government's approach to offer services that span the public sector can be seen in its new data centre business, established to save £105m in IT spending.
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