Digital VS IT: A Pendulum Swing?

Wed 11 Jan 2017

The introduction of GDS in April 2011 heralded a transformation in the provision of government services. It represented “revolution not evolution” through its Digital by Default strategy designed to “drive service delivery to digital across government and provide support, advice and technical expertise for departments as they develop new
digital delivery models”

It marks the realisation of goals the government has be striving for since 2011.


Previously, the bold moves intended to be made by EGOV and TGOV strategies were small steps in the right direction. “Digital by Default” has gone further and captured people’s minds, striking a chord to become the catalyst for commitment to see services become truly digitised and not just paper forms being put online.

The declared move towards digital services for efficiency improvements now has an impetus to become just the way we do things on a daily basis in public sector organisations. In parallel, this digital transformation has overturned the procurement process. The movement away from SIs towards SMEs to deliver IT projects has changed the nature of commercial interactions, brought into question the comfortable long-standing relationships with previous suppliers and encouraged departments to develop internal digital capability internally.

The validity and efficacy of legacy systems has been re-assessed. Departments have had to focus on and take more responsibility for their data, their online security and identity assurance. The role of the IT department in public sector organisations has transformed, as has its focus: the pendulum has swung sharply away from IT and towards digital.


Ultimately, Digital by Default means the secure exchange of data. It has to make sure the hardware and systems are in place to make that a reality, to make it secure and make it accessible and available to all users – whether customers or staff.

The front end needs to be integrated with back-end services and workflows within departments and outside government organisations. One cannot be sacrificed for the other.


Development of in-house capabilities: We are seeing a rise in organisations taking on their own development work. This, in turn, is attracting new skills into the public sector and an increase in internal teams working closely with external suppliers in order to integrate new digital services.

Reuse of systems and services: There is now an aspiration to reuse and replicate many services within and across a number of departments, leading to greater efficiencies in time, effort and budgets, Increasingly complex services integration: Ultimately, the success of user-centric digital services relies on integration with other systems. And now there are multiple systems requiring that integration not just within the departments but also across government organisations and the voluntary and private sectors as well. This leads to a broadening of the supplier landscape to include a range of small and medium sized software companies and systems developers offering innovative digital solutions.

The real shift has been in terms of bringing the user experience to the fore of all IT considerations, as opposed to the historic “nuts and bolts” Project-based approach which was concerned more with functionality than adoption and ease of use. Digital by Default, in essence, is encouraging a movement away from inward-looking IT to user-based efficacy.

This is still being learnt. One thing IT engineers and web developers have in common is that by their nature they will tend to focus on what’s “under the hood”, the Technology. That hasn’t gone away, but Technology should be seen as simply the tool that facilitates efficient working, cost savings and interaction with the public.


GDS has ensured that Digital is here to stay and its adoption within government continues. Significantly, GDS has encouraged progress towards the treatment of projects as ones which are intrinsically linked to the business.

Key learnings:

The emphasis on user needs is likely to now extend to staff users just as we’re seeing for customer users.

The emphasis on Digital over IT has increased emphasis on the user interface, the front-end. But business transformation cannot be achieved by taking the single step of introducing a digital front-end for customers: the back-end technical elements are still there, and as complex as ever.

At the same time, to achieve business transformation, you need to review internal business processes – and optimise them by using new technology too. This leverages the opportunities for true business transformation that are opened up by the new digital front-end.

So there’s scope for IT and Digital to collaborate here to good effect. A more joined-up approach is required, so look out for solutions and services which not only consider front-end, but also back-end functionality.