digital capability
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Kevin Cunnington, Director General of the Government Digital Service (GDS) explains how the organisation is transforming services and building digital capability across the public sector in the UK

GDS has achieved a lot since it was created in 2011. Among our successes, we often (and rightly) talk about the creation of GOV.UK which saves the government £63 million a year, our spend controls process which saved £1.2 billion and the creation of our common components.

But I’d like to share some of our most recent achievements, which show that seven years on, we are still leading the digital transformation of government. In particular, how the GDS Academy is providing benefit across the public sector.

Digital transformation across the public sector

To achieve digital transformation at scale, there must be collaboration across the public sector. As the leader of digital transformation in government, GDS has an important role to play in helping create the right environment that allows organisations across the sector to transform.

In May, we published our updated Service Standard which service teams use to create and run great user-focused public services. It is now written with a wider audience in mind, after initially being aimed at central government.

We’ve also encouraged collaboration by launching the Local Digital Declaration, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. This set of guiding principles helps support local authorities to deliver user-centred digital services and platforms. Since its publication in July, more than 150 organisations have signed the declaration.

For GDS to remain a leader in digital transformation, we must stay at the forefront of emerging technologies. This will make our work sustainable for future users of our tools and services. One example of us using new technology and future-proofing our work is through making GOV.UK readable to voice assistants. It is now possible to find more than 12,000 pieces of government content through your smart speaker, including when the next bank holiday is and how to get free childcare.

However, we want to make sure we’re using this new technology in the right way to solve the right problems. This is why we’ve recently published the Government Technology Innovation Strategy.

We know there’s lots of great work happening with emerging technologies across government from our Technology Innovation in Government Survey, which was published last year. We’ve used these findings and conversations with academics and industry and public sector employees experts in roundtable discussions from Shoreditch to Edinburgh, to feed into the strategy.

The GDS Academy

The GDS Academy has been one of our most successful ways of building technical capability across the public sector and it continues to grow.

Set up five years ago in a room above a jobcentre in Fulham, its original aim was purely to develop in-house capability at the Department for Work and Pensions. Since then, the academy is now open to all civil servants, local government employees, devolved administrations and other public servants to provide the skills needed to transform public services. And, we have expanded to four permanent locations across England: London, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle – as well as running pop-up academies in Newport and Birmingham.

We reached an exciting milestone in March this year when we celebrated having trained 10,000 people. And, as our numbers have grown, so has our curriculum. We offer courses for non-specialists, such as our popular Digital and agile foundation course, alongside further development and leadership training.

Emerging technologies also feature on the courses. In March, we launched an ‘Introduction to artificial intelligence in government’ course’ and last October, we began running GDS Academy masterclasses. In these seminars, world-leading academics and industry experts share their expertise on how new technologies are impacting public services.

Our success has been noticed and emulated abroad. We inspired Canada to set up their own academy and went over to Ottawa to share our knowledge. We also work closely with the Scottish Digital Academy and helped them when they were setting up.

Continuing to lead

All of this work helps us to deliver on the priorities of the Government Transformation Strategy 2017 to 2020. However, digital transformation will not stop in 2020. We will build on these successes and strong foundations and keep innovating to bring new technologies to make government work better for everyone.

Our digitally capable workforce will continue to grow. Currently, we have 17,000 digital, data and technology specialists in government. With our 10,000 GDS Academy graduates, we are well placed to deliver the strategy’s ambition of having one of the most digitally-skilled groups of public servants in the world by 2020.

To help us achieve this goal come join us for a GDS Academy masterclass, attend a course or suggest a new pop-up academy location.

Through all our hard work and our efforts in building digital capability across the public sector, I am certain we will remain one of the world leaders in digital government.

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Kevin Cunnington

Director General

Government Digital Service (GDS)


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