Where are we with Government Digital Services?

  • We’ve got: the philosophy, rationale and economics.
  • We’ve got: the direction, process and standards. (OK, not standards – but it’s the thought that counts.)
  • We’ve got: the frameworks, guidance and manuals.

And lots of other stuff from strategy to operations. The Government Digital Service (GDS) has done a heroic job of walking through how Government as a Platform might work. Could work. Hats off to them. Really. No, I mean really. But there’s a fly in the ointment. Maybe two.

A quick review

This is where we are. We have the Digital Marketplace – “A simpler way to buy and sell digital services in the public sector” – which has now replaced the Cloudstore, and is the shop-front for the G-Cloud framework; and the Digital Services Store – “The place to find digital service design and development” – which does the same for agile digital services through the Digital Services Framework.

NB: Actually there’s a third fly in the ointment: clarity, as in lack of. Unless you’re at the heart of things this all begins to look rather blurred.

The Ointment and the Flies

This is not going to be a long blog because the points are really straightforward.

Here’s the ointment. It is the ambition of the GDS to transform what used to be called the IT function. This means, amongst other things, ensuring that services are built around the citizen and that they are digital by default. The “other things” include dismantling the monolithic service provision of yesteryear and, the other side of the coin, opening up the market to Small and Medium Enterprises.

And here are the flies.The first relates to the Digital Marketplace – the home of public sector commodity computing. Fantastic. Neat slices of retail computing via infrastructure as a service; platform as a service and software as a service.

Now what was the fourth? Oh yes, specialist cloud services. Home of REDACTED et al, all providing bespoke “cloud” consulting services. Now, did I say “monolithic” somewhere back there?

(Oh, and just to avoid accusations of hypocrisy – yes we’re on it. How else to compete?)

The second fly relates to the… erm (consults notes)… Digital Services Store. I could write my own critique but Dominic Campbell nailed it in his recent FuturGov Blog when he said:

“The rigid structure of the framework, combined with mandatory on-site working, make it commercially challenging for SMEs to deliver work through it. Additionally, it lays out a model for multi-million pound, long-running programmes of work but overlooks this model’s unsuitability for small and medium-sized projects.”

Dominic also quoted Harry Metcalf of dxw who got right to the heart of my beef:

“It’s a way to buy people, not projects. The framework is essentially a mechanism for body-shopping, which is just not workable for most suppliers.”


Digital Services: The Machinations of Government

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