The Department for International Development (DFID), the UK’s government aid agency, has launched a new digital strategy, which covers its technology, service and data ambitions up until 2020.
The document puts a strong focus on common platforms, working with technology leaders across government and the Government Digital Service, and formally announces its Cloud First policy.
DFID underlines the importance of technology within the context of global challenges that include “poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity and conflict”. The UK has committed to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on international development.
The digital strategy aims to support DFID’s goals of:
- strengthening global peace, security and governance
- strengthening resilience and response to crises
- promoting global prosperity
- tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable
- delivering value for money
- delivering efficiency in DFID
Furthermore, DFID faces unique technology challenges, as the circumstances within which it operates can change quickly, for example, because of extreme weather events, political unrest or outbreaks of disease. The document states:
It is therefore our key goal to enable our staff to share information and to collaborate across organisational boundaries to help them adapt to changing priorities and achieve shared objectives.
The digital strategy focuses on three key areas: services, infrastructure and data. There is also a focus on tools and advice, but the three former areas get more attention.
DFID’s services fall into five distinct groups, which include: aid management, finance and procurement, information management and collaboration, devices and comms, and people and operations.
The strategy outlines how how these group should be focusing on their user delivery. It states that teams delivering these services should be:
- User-oriented so that the focus is on meeting user needs, where necessary coordinating changes to multiple corporate systems to support changes to service processes
- Empowered to make decisions on designing, developing and managing the service to meet the needs of users, whilst working within a strategic plan and agreed framework of priorities, to avoid delays awaiting unnecessary approval steps
- Multi-disciplinary, so that each service has a team of staff with the full range of skills (including user researchers, developers, product managers, and other roles) to fully support it
- Agile, following a methodology that focuses on delivery of new corporate systems (or changes to existing ones) that will benefit users as early as possible, and subsequently making iterative improvements based on user feedback
- Complete, taking a ‘whole service’ approach so that services can be delivered through the appropriate balance of effective and value for money underlying technology (from servers at the backend to laptops or smartphones at the front end), simple to administer processes for service providers, and ease of use by end users through the most appropriate device.
DFID currently has an infrastructure programme called INSPIRE running, which seeks to refresh its core infrastructure elements in the UK and overseas. The digital strategy states that DFID has a cloud first policy, buying services via the Digital Marketplace, but is adopting a hybrid approach to infrastructure, as this “will ensure we remain flexible and responsive in meeting user need and reduce the risk of being locked-in to continued use of obsolescent products or services”.
It also states:
DFID will collaborate with Government Digital Service and across government to design platforms, systems and services for flexibility, scalability (the potential to cope with growing demand) and reuse that are cost-effective and meet user need.
We will also contribute to the development of common platforms, for example, to enable government departments to work together effectively overseas as One HMG or within government property hubs.
Interestingly, DFID also claims that it will enable interoperability through open APIs and that it will make use of existing government platform services, such as GOV.UK, Notify and data registers.
DFID’s digital strategy states that high quality knowledge and data are critical to the effective operation of the department, its decision making and its accountability to taxpayers. The digital strategy and data roadmap states that DFID will:
- Enable data to be captured and recorded in a clear and user-friendly way using well-designed tools. It will use open data standards to support information sharing with our delivery partners.
- Expand interactive reporting capabilities and flexibility of systems to make data easy to obtain and understand so that users can focus on analysis and insight, leading to better decision making.
- Develop a wider range of tools to support effective knowledge sharing, and to meet varying user needs for reliable management information on finance, projects, procurement, people and operations.
- Improve awareness of information legislation such as the Public Records Act, Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act so that users know how to meet the requirements for managing their data safely
Importantly, DFID also outlines the high level risks that this strategy faces, which include:
- Resourcing and capability - DFID notes that it continues “to face challenges in recruiting and retaining the right skills needed within DFID in a highly demanding market””. However, it adds that it will continue to explore ways to attract talent into DFID and provide career development opportunities for staff.
- Cyber security - The strategy states that DFID will “continue to protect and keep our information safe in a hostile environment, building secure systems to protect against the increasing levels of cyber threats while ensuring our staff are trained and aware of good cyber security measures and practice”.
- Cross-government cohesion - DFID wants to balance responsive delivery for the department alongside sharing services with partners, avoiding divergence from the cross government strategy or direction.
- Evolving cost model - As DFID moves towards a greater use of cloud services, rather than purchasing and managing on-site servers, its cost model will need to change. This entails a shift towards meeting running costs for those services and away from capital investment. DFID has said that it will work with finance colleagues to ensure best use of government financial resources to deliver effective services.