Service deliveryDigital Customer ServiceBrexit both an opportunity and a threat, says GDS chief

Brexit both an opportunity and a threat, says GDS chief

Brexit is both a “challenge and a great opportunity,” according to Government Digital Service (GDS) director general Kevin Cunnington.

Brexit is both a “challenge and a great opportunity,” according to Government Digital Service (GDS) director general Kevin Cunnington.

Addressing delegates at the Public Sector Show, Cunnington outlined how the department has appointed a dedicated director in GDS – former chief operating officer Alison Pritchard – to help government departments through the ‘EU exit’.

“We’ve been doing a lot of things to help departments,” he commented. “We’ve been doing central recruitment of difficult jobs, or challenging to find people like tech architects and java developers, and it actually really helps that GDS is a great brand. Probably a better brand than most government departments, people want to work for GDS and under the banner of government digital. We’ve been somewhat successful in finding these people where departments struggle.”

People on the ground

Cunnington went on to say that GDS is also busy “putting people on the ground” – and has offered to provide support to any government department struggling with Brexit.

“There’s an offer from me as the head of GDS: if you’re a government department struggling on the EU exit, give us a shout and we’ll give you some of our guys for a while to help you understand what ‘good’ looks like and help you transform,” he said.

Concluding his comments about Brexit, Cunnington added: “The most important thing we’re doing on EU exit, I think, is making sure gov.uk reflects what’s going on. Citizens shouldn’t need to go on Twitter or read to find out what’s going on. Gov.uk should be the definitive source of information about Brexit.”

Collaboration

Against the backdrop of Brexit, Cunnington went on to say that one of the major challenges for GDS is maintaining its pace, pointing to some of the growth of adoption of its services. Notify now has 278 users while the increasing ubiquity of GovWifi means it is now used in government buildings, schools, hospitals and overseas embassies. Even Verify, which suffers from the perception that it is moving slowly, has seen user numbers treble in the last six months.

One way it is doing this is by democratising digital so that departments can do it for themselves, with some help from GDS. “Good things can happen when you collaborate,” he said, adding that the GDS Academy has trained around 1,000 civil servants who have all been through a 15-day foundation course.

Innovation mapping

Cunnington added that GDS has been busy mapping innovation across government over the last nine months to catalogue what people are doing.

“Now we’ve got that, we’re maintaining it using machine learning, so we have machine learning tools going to look at various people’s intranets and the internet, and figuring out where government is using interesting technologies like biometrics, machine learning, augmented reality, the internet of things and distributed ledgers,” he said. The map will soon be published on Gov.uk.

It’s hoped this will help GDS to stay ahead of the game and allow staff to look to the future. If GDS can’t solve the “hardest problems”, it can’t expect departments to do so, he said.

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