Civil service must embrace digital by default, says government

Central government departments will be expected to publish plans for making services digital by default by the end of the year.

The goal was outlined in The Civil Service Reform Plan that was published today, which, with digital ambitions at the heart of the plan, aims to set out how the UK civil service can change to work and deliver services more efficiently.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said in the plan’s foreword: “It means central government, wherever possible, must become a digital organisation. These days the best service organisations deliver online everything that can be delivered online. This cuts their costs dramatically and allows access to information and services at times and in ways convenient to the users rather than the providers.

“Government has lagged far behind, and the pace of change needed to catch up will place major demands on the civil service. We need better skills, better technology and a mindset that revolves around the user, not the producer.”

The government believes that the civil service needs to have a ‘digital by default’ approach to everything it does – by 2015. However, it recognised that it does not always have the capabilities it needs to carry out the approach successfully.

“Digital skills are lacking in an organisation committed to becoming digital by default,” the government said in its reform plan.

“With more services being commissioned from outside, the civil service needs staff with commissioning and contracting skills, and project management capabilities need a serious upgrade.”

In terms of the measures that the government plans to take to rectify the existing problems, the government has proposed that all central government departments will publish detailed implementation plans for making their publishing and transactional services digital by default by the end of 2012.

These will be supported by the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) Government Digital Strategy, due in December, which will follow an interim Cross Government Digital Strategy this autumn.

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“To improve quality, the government’s digital services need to be simpler, clearer and faster. The civil service needs to have the right digital skills embedded at every level. The government will transform how it delivers information and transactional services to its users by taking a digital by default approach by 2015,” the government said.

The government also wants to improve its corporate IT infrastructure - which it described in the reform plan as slow, restrictive and outdated - to help civil servants do their jobs better.

Over the next year, it therefore plans to streamline security systems, upgrade IT systems across departments to ensure they support flexible and efficient working methods and refresh IT equipment.

“With more streamlined security systems, there is greater scope to modernise the way in which the civil service contracts IT – a far wider range of devices, like laptops, can be procured much more cheaply, rather than requiring expensive, bespoke devices,” it said.

To enable staff to work more flexibly, the government also wants to encourage more collaboration across departments. It plans to enable this by building social media platforms across departments to enable more knowledge sharing, starting in 2012/13. Although the government will first have to address the infrastructure issues - such as IE6 still being used by some departments - which are a barrier to doing so.

Meanwhile, the government aims to use the London 2012 Olympic Games as a case study to introduce more flexible working.

To encourage more Whitehall staff to work remotely during the games, the government is piloting a “very simple IT device” to enable staff to work from home without the need to invest in expensive security-enabled laptops to empower a mobile and diverse workforce.

Maude will have direct ministerial responsibility for the civil service reform programme, and the government is in the process of appointing a director general of civil service reform responsible for implementing the reform actions.

Progress reports on the actions will be provided on the civil service website on a regular basis, and a one-year on report will also be published next year.