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Government IT – making progress

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Reform, Digital

How long does it take to log into your computer in the morning? How many times a day does your email crash? Are you able to access the websites you need in order to carry out your work? I shouldn’t need to raise these questions but I know that these are issues that affect your work every day.

This is not to say that everyone’s experience of IT is poor, but I know from the Civil Service Reform pulse survey that 45 per cent of civil servants identified ‘better computer equipment’ as the thing that would most improve the way they work.

That is why improving the quality of Civil Service IT and making progress towards becoming a ‘digital by default’ Civil Service are two of my key priorities this year.

Building IT around your needs

Since my blog post in January, I have taken your concerns to the most senior forums in the Civil Service including the Civil Service Board and the Technology Leaders Network.

The Civil Service Board meets monthly and is responsible for the strategic leadership of the Civil Service. At this month’s meeting I heard an update from Liam Maxwell, the Chief Technology Officer, on how we are moving to a ‘digital civil service’. Liam explained that only a quarter of civil servants have open access to the internet, and significant numbers are still using operating systems and browsers that are more than 10 years old.

The Board agreed that there is no reason why civil servants cannot have devices or software as good as those they use at home. This means:

  • building our IT around your needs
  • having appropriate security controls
  • having software and services that are delivered through a browser, making sharing and collaborating easier
  • having services that are device and operating system agnostic
  • being able to use social media when appropriate to engage with the public and our stakeholder groups

I know that getting to this point will not be easy.We are not going to be able to deliver new equipment and systems overnight. Some of these issues are tied to major, long term IT contracts for example. While each department has a different starting point we are all trying to get to the same place. Progress on this will require a lot of cooperation between Technology Leaders and staff throughout departments, as well as sponsorship from permanent secretaries.

Sir Bob at the monthly Technology Leaders Network meeting
Sir Bob at the monthly Technology Leaders Network meeting

At the Technology Leaders network we all agreed that as leaders we should be open and honest with staff and communicate better about the things we’re already doing.

Changes we’re already making

A number of departments will be undergoing significant transformation this year, including Cabinet Office, DCMS, HMT, DECC and BIS. By February these departments should have delivered technology which is significantly better for their users. You can read about work in the Cabinet Office on the team’s technology blog.

DWP are in the process of rolling out new desktops to front line staff that are dramatically improving boot up times. Wifi and internet facilities are also being introduced in job centres, making it much easier for citizens to access the information and services they need.

HMRC are laying the foundations for excellent Customer Service by providing their staff with the best tools to do the job. For example, by the end of the year they will roll out 50,000 upgraded desktops with dual monitors, opening up new and faster ways of working and reducing the need to print.

Technology Leaders will be writing about work happening in their departments on the Government Technology blog and via internal communications. In the first of these, Darren Scates, from DCLG shares the work that he and his team have been doing to meet DCLG’s technology needs.

Fixing Civil Service Technology Workshops

In response to all your feedback, the Government Digital Service hosted the first Technology Workshop in April, and you can read about it on the Government Technology blog. The second of these will be taking place on the 13th June in Manchester. It is an opportunity for you to tell us about your challenges with existing government technology and to discuss which tools would make your life easier. It's also an opportunity for Departmental Technology Leaders to listen and to share some of the changes that are happening.

Everyone is welcome. To reserve your place and see more details, please book a place through eventbrite.

Participants at the inaugural technology Workshop at the Government Digital Service
Participants at the first Technology Workshop

Hearing from you at Civil Service Live

Technology Leaders will also be present at Civil Service Live to hear from you. The GDS team will be hosting a drop in surgery  where you can speak to your technology leader directly. Look out for more information about this from Civil Service Live. I really welcome your feedback and want to hear more.

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by no name posted on

    Our browsers are so old they are non supported by micosoft and will not work on a lot of websites. The common excuse is we dont need for buiness use. However this is not entirely the case. As there is lots of times a brower that runs google searchies with out crashing would be better. For example searching on the departments web site, booking travel, going on the civil service jobs sites, looking at sites similar to this.

    Its old fashioned thinking to see the internet and browers as something seperate, as for normal activity work or pleasure the internet is uses for everything. Clould type systems, the internet is not an add on to life or indeed should be to work but intergated to how people live in 2014.

    Its old fashioned systems , with old fashioned excuses.

    • Replies to no name>

      Comment by Alistair posted on

      Indeed! Until a couple of weeks ago (when I was issued with a Windows 7 laptop), my version of IE could not fully access! So - in an era where we are to deliver "digital by default" to citizens, many Civil Servants are unable to view the services we are supposed to deliver! You really couldn't make it up!!

      • Replies to Alistair>

        Comment by Darren posted on

        Alastair - you have Windows 7? Lucky! My dept is still on XP.

    • Replies to no name>

      Comment by Gav posted on

      IT improvements are all well and good provided users understand that this is not a domestic product. The network has to be protected and that can cause delays in response from the servers etc. I would really like to draw attention to the other IT network that we depend on at least once a month. The shared Service that has been provided instead of HR, Accounts and Personnel Office and various other admin roles.
      This really needs investigation. There is an asumption that this is saving money and I would dispute that. The "service" is barely adequate at best. It is a time consuming and frustrating process and costs saved by ditching Basingstoke are thrown away in humanhours by our staff who now have to do everything themselves.
      More time is wasted following the Shared Service phone call. It can take a good ten to fifteen minutes to let your blood pressure get back to normal.
      I did read that this was to be rolled out to other government departments and I urge restraint. Please don't inflict this on anyone else until it is fit for purpose.
      If I was in Bob K's position I would scrap this white elephant.

  2. Comment by R White posted on

    My partner works from home for a part of the civil service that involves her exchanging data from her laptop regularly with its IT system ... by modem. I don't know anyone else who still has to use this ancient (in IT terms) technology. We have broadband and wifi but, no, that's not possible. It can occupy our landline for 30 minutes or more once a week. And no, I don't know about or see any of her work. She is very professional in maintaining confidentiality.

  3. Comment by anonymous coward posted on

    It's not just the public sector that suffers from poor IT equipment. Plenty of private sector companies prioritise the measurable savings of not upgrading kit over the harder to measure productivity benefits that can be delivered

  4. Comment by T. Gordon posted on

    It's Monday 7am and I'm one of a few staff in the office this early and yet it's still taken me almost 9 minutes to finally go through all the log-in stages so that I can work on my PC. Multiply that by every working day, add the outages and crashes we experience on a regular basis, and that leaves me with more work-days lost last year to IT provision shortfall than days taken off sick. Considering the high sums charged for our desktop kit, I don't see that as very good VFM either.

  5. Comment by Mike Smith posted on

    In the case of those of us working in Departments where XP, IE8 and Office 2003 are still in use this is a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. What excuse was there for leaving things to the last minute instead of planning well in advance of the known date from which XP and Office 2003 were effectively obsolete? Not to mention shelling out £5m of taxpayers' money for Microsoft to continue to patch security holes?

    • Replies to Mike Smith>

      Comment by Andy posted on

      IE8? Hmm, here in HMRC thousands of staff are still waiting for our browsers to be upgraded (!) from IE6 to IE8... We are apparently going to be getting Windows 7 at some point this year though, only four and a half years after it was released.

      • Replies to Andy>

        Comment by Mark Dearnley posted on


        It has been challenging as Bob states, mainly due to legacy applications and their interfaces which have been built using old browser and old Windows standards. I am pleased to report that 81% of HMRC staff now have access to Internet Explorer 8. We have now resolved nearly all the issues we had and everyone should have Internet Explorer 8 by the end of this month and Windows 7 by December.

        Mark Dearnley
        HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer

  6. Comment by Jorja Prince-Gill posted on

    In the UKVI (Home Office) I use Dragon Naturally Speaking software as i cannot use a mouse - our systems do not support the most recent version of this software so I have to use Microsoft 2003, which means I cannot do most of my job. I have no proper internet access and cannot use many of our spreadsheets and internal systems because the software is so outdated! Hardly efficient!! OGDs have much better IT systems than we have - surely we should ALL be working on the same levels??

    • Replies to Jorja Prince-Gill>

      Comment by Denise McDonagh (Home Office CTO) posted on

      Thanks for the comment – you make a good point. I’m very conscious that Home Office Technology needs to provide IT services that meet the diverse needs of staff across the business. As the contracts underpinning our core IT infrastructure draw to a close in 2016, we’ve embarked on a major transformation programme, ReSET4, that will deliver a new, disaggregated IT infrastructure, and dramatically re-shape the technology directorate, enabling us to work in a far more flexible, responsive way. Everything from our networks, to our hosting arrangements and the devices and software we provide to our users is under review, and the programme team are working closely with staff and senior stakeholders across the Home Office to ensure we understand the requirements of both our businesses and our staff.

      Consideration of our requirements for accessible computing falls within the End-User Compute workstream, for which we are currently finalising the Business Case; as part of the procurement process we will be identifying software and hardware to meet these needs. The workstream team would be really keen to speak to you to discuss your current issues, and then use this information as part of the process of building requirements. Also, if you’d like to get involved more generally in helping to review requirements for the programme, please contact the ReSET4 programme team and ask about being a Business Champion – we really do want to ensure we involve our users in shaping our future approach to technology. In the meantime, we’ll be in touch to see what we can do to resolve the issues you’re currently encountering.

      • Replies to Denise McDonagh (Home Office CTO)>

        Comment by Jorja Prince-Gill posted on

        Hi Denise,

        Thank you for the reply. It is good to hear that I may finally be able to use my DNS to its full potential with a new up to date system!

        In the meantime I would be happy to talk to the Workstream team to help where I can. In effect I haven't had a job role since May 2013, as my SMT are still looking for an alternative role that can accommodate my needs, as it seems after much investigation by Fujitsu, our case work system cannot be used without a mouse!

        I would be more than happy to get involved wherever I can to make sure nobody else has to endure what I have for the last 13 months!!

  7. Comment by Jim Thorne posted on

    Very good I'm sure, but it doesn't seem to be reaching me in my corner of the wood! Issues here are:
    Slow start up time
    Maddening shut down of the screen after a short period of 'inactivity'
    Very slow electronic filing system which effectively disables some MS 'Office' applications if they are run with the security back up option.
    Enforced log-outs every two hours which intrude upon extended work.

    What this means is that, where possible, staff are abandoning use of the 'office' network, as we are finding that performance is much improved if we work outside it. Consequently we don't get the best out of the electronic filing system (work is being 'hidden' off the system as it's so slow to use), and e-mail operation is inhibited since mails sent to the network addresses aren't received by staff who are opting not to work on the system.

    Ironically, all of our work is published, which rather suggests that we don't need the levels of security that are being applied.

    Jim Thorne

  8. Comment by Voice of the beehive posted on

    The immediate response I have is one of scepticism (sorry!). Lovely intention, but bitter experience has taught me that this won't happen.

    My job involves a lot of work that the civil service calls 'digital'. Because of this I regularly do work on my (3G!) phone, using mobile data, because it's still more effective than the slow - dial-up slow - broadband we have in the office (we have WiFi, but of course staff aren't allowed to use it). I also end up doing a lot of work at home on my laptop for the same reason (and the bill's in the post! Joking, of course.).

    Technology at least as good as what most people had at home four years ago would be a start. As it is, IE8 remains our browser, and I have to boot up my workstation four times at the start of each day. We've asked for better IT to do our job more quickly and more cost-effectively but - and I'm not making this up - our director told us we couldn't have better IT in case the Daily Mail found out about it.

    Processes and attitudes will have to change before infrastructure does - and they won't.

  9. Comment by Not Impressed posted on

    Would be interested to know if anyone from Atos will be at Civil Service Live. They have implemented the IT system in the Department of Health some time back in July last year and the system still doesn't work. If a document is filed it is often impossible to find it again. The log in time, when you can log in, takes a good 5 - 7 minutes. The system does not synch with outlook and the whole system leaves DH staff with a very very poor IT system that makes their jobs 50% harder to do. The system has to compete with other internet systems in DH and causes delays and works very slowely, if at all. Added to this is the idea that telephones will soon be added to this - one team already attempting to work this way have advised that if they cannot be contacted by phone, as the system doesn't appear to have settled in yet, then send them an email. Good luck with that.

    • Replies to Not Impressed>

      Comment by Robert Edmondson-Jones posted on

      Sorry to hear of these concerns - DH ICT has moved a very long way since we replaced the legacy Lotus Notes environment with our Cloud based; multi-browser; multi-device; wireless enabled Outlook desktop with full access to social media. Please call; email; instant message or contact us via Yammer and we will look at and address your issues.

      • Replies to Robert Edmondson-Jones>

        Comment by Wishful thinking posted on

        Robert it seems you have been misled by your manager. Multi browser: we have 2 browsers here at DH, one is IE8 which is insecure and one is a version of Firefox which is so old that Google Docs (that the Cabinet Office encourages us to use) does not support it.

        You sound like you are into IT - maybe you should ask your manager why they aren't doing it better

  10. Comment by Darren posted on

    "The Board agreed that there is no reason why civil servants cannot have devices or software as good as those they use at home.

    Apart from HMT not giving the money and the MPA and GDS poring over everything, slowing stuff down. Add to that a DSU that is paranoid about IT security and change, and no wonder my iPhone is better than my work PC will ever be. If "the Board" is serious about improving IT, remove the blockers, or at least reduce them.

  11. Comment by Donal Edwards posted on

    DWP are rolling out new desktops under a contract they negotiated in 2009 and have failed to implement since - ejecting the choosen supplier for the project and replacing them with the previous incumbent.

    Since the project pre-dates this administration, let alone GDS, Civil Service Reform or the Technology Leaders Forum I fail to see how it should be used as an example of progress.

    • Replies to Donal Edwards>

      Comment by Jon Ayre (DWP CTO) posted on


      You’re right to say that this contract was let some time ago, and it has been a challenging project. However, we believe the new desktops are right for our current and future needs, and that they will bring real improvement to DWP users.

      Jon Ayre, DWP CTO

  12. Comment by Transform posted on

    Our office was 'Transformed' recently. It has given us no benefit except an updated Office Package. Since then we have had very slow access to anything via desk top icons and links in emails etc are very, very slow to open. My message to Sir Bob would be that anything IT that gets rolled out to users in the Civil Service always seems to have faults - there seems to be minimal or very poor testing before it goes live. Consequently I have no confidence in new IT being rolled out, especially 'off the shelf' packages which require work arounds from the start because they don't meet user requirements, sometimes major, time consuming work arounds. More time should be spent at the beginning properly looking at user requirements by (or with) people who actually understand what the user technically requires.

    • Replies to Transform>

      Comment by Jon Ayre (DWP CTO) posted on


      As well as providing more up to date versions of Microsoft Office software, Workplace Transformation will deliver improved response times when accessing IT applications, allow people to access the IT applications they use from different locations and provide improved security through data centralisation. The rollout is being completed in phases with the updated Microsoft Office package coming first.

      Over 54,000 DWP staff are now using the transformed technology and, while there have been some initial problems, the majority of people are experiencing positive benefits. The number and types of IT problems being reported are being closely monitored, investigated and fixed as soon as possible.

      The Workplace Transformation Project is keen to listen to the detail of individual user experiences and would welcome direct contact from you so we can understand and resolve these issues. You're also welcome to contact me directly.

      On behalf of the Workplace Transformation Project

  13. Comment by Terry posted on

    As always tinkering whilst Rome burns. Unless there is willingness to invest in desktop hardware that is less than 10 years old then this is just rearranging the deck chairs. We presently use someone elses cast off PCs and use a single broadband connection slower than BT Infinity between several 1000 staff. Pathetic.

  14. Comment by Robert Mottershead posted on

    Great plans and good to hear the the Cabinet Office is taking some steps to resolve IT issues. Whether we can get the same tech as at home well thats another 10 years away I'm afraid.

    In HMRC for example the news does initially sound good but two screens devlops 2x waste situation the problem is they are not touch screen, most devices and even operating systems windows 8 are now created to work best with touch. So from a H&S standpoint they have a benefit because I would like to believe they do cut down on upper limb disorders by reducing the use of keybaords and mice.

    In HMRC the "purchase" of the second screen and update to Windows 7 is not as good as we have at home. Anybody buying a computer since last Autumn is running Windows 8. So whilst the 2nd screen will reduce printing (although Im not convienced - as no Pacesetter Problem solve has been run to confirm this success) but, to my mind most items printed in my department are letters to taxpayers and/or photocopies of documents needed for retention so A second screen as no impact on this need.

    The 2nd half of the piece also reads as though departments are doing thier own thing for IT. IT leaders are not to my mind working together as contracts are still being signed individually by departments. The result of this is higher consultation fees spent getting the same advice accross the departments instead cost saving can only be achieved with one single overacrhing contract.

    All IT equipment in the civil service departments need to be interoperable so they fit hand in glove with the common civil service pass. It would be a great invention indeed to be able to see different collegues from other departments working along side each other showing pacestter principles to share a wider working best practacies.

    A good start but and I think this is the start of a new journey however we are probably at the point of just finding where we put the car keys.

    • Replies to Robert Mottershead>

      Comment by Mark Dearnley posted on


      A second monitor does mean less keyboard and mouse use for many users, and so may be of benefit for staff with upper limb disorders. In fact, we've been using them with some of our Dragon users for many years. They make a great difference to those users.

      However, they won't work for all staff and may be difficult for anyone with back or shoulder issues, or certain types and levels of visual impairment. And of course the second one can be turned off, e.g. if there are tasks or days when they are not useful, the user can simply use just one monitor.

      In addition, we do have a few users with disabilities in HMRC who use touchscreens. There are pros and cons for these but they do have potential benefits for some people. We will make them available where appropriate.

      Mark Dearnley
      HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer

  15. Comment by Mark Ifill posted on

    Happy to take part in your suveys, but on the latest survey I was concerned to see question 2 " Which organisation do you work for? " Department for Work and Pensions did not appear in the drop down list, we are now " an other " Is somebody trying to tell us something!

  16. Comment by Steve posted on

    IT 'as good as you have at home' is a great aspiration. Have we considered moving to a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy (i.e. where staff have a personal budget for IT and can choose hardware and software to suit within minimum constraints)? I realise this won't work for more highly classified work, but it would guarantee that our business IT kept pace, and would allow people to customse their IT to fit their preferred ways of working. It might mean that the Government would need to take more risk with official (and possibly official-sensitive) information.

    There was a good blog post some months ago about the free digital services that could be used for work. Things like Google hangouts for conference calls and Google Docs for collaborative working. I use many of these tools at home, and they're good. But unless we're able to put official information onto web-based services, we can't use them for work.

    This extends to open source software. As an example, having been a scientist before I became a civil servant, I am a reasonably proficient user of R (a free, open source stats package, industry standard, used by Facebook and Google for data science). But R isn't available on government computers (to my knowlege), and we spend lots of money on licences for commercial equivalents like SPSS and SAS. A BYOD policy (with supporting info security policy) would let me bring the skills I developed as a scientist more fully into my policy work. It could also save us lots of money in software licences.

    • Replies to Steve>

      Comment by Bob Kerslake posted on

      Thank you for your comments. It is great to hear your feedback, even when it confirms that we have a long way to go.

      Much of your feedback is department specific, so I've asked departmental Technology Leaders to respond to some of your questions. I did, however, want to pick up on a couple myself.

      Phil and Steve, you make some useful suggestions about making the most of free digital services and using open source.

      As I said in January I want to see civil servants using the best free work tools the internet has to offer; for some recommendations you might like to refer to the guide we have published. I recently discussed this at the Civil Service Board and there are encouraging signs of progress. I am pleased to say that the Digital Services team at the Ministry of Justice have recently published user focused guidance to help staff use these tools safely and effectively, and have run a successful pilot of Trello with several teams in the department.

      It's also our policy to give a level playing field to open source solutions. This is embedded in the Technology Code of Practice, and we've also published an Open Source Procurement Toolkit to help departments.

      I know many of you are sceptical about progress, and as I said in my blog, I can’t promise to change our IT overnight but I want to assure you that improving Government IT is high on my list of priorities and you should start to see an improvement shortly.

      Please continue to keep feeding back on IT with your comments.

  17. Comment by Jim posted on

    Isn't it ironic that in the photograph above (Participants at the first Technology Workshop) we see nothing that says digital or IT - no tablets, laptops, smartphones etc. On desks, there are 'Post-Its', sheets of paper, notebooks and writing utensils. The presenter is using a flipchart (sigh...!)

    If a picture paints a thousand words, then this must be the best illustration of EXACTLY where the Civil Service are with a 'Digital by Default' aim in 2014. Nowhere near it, in my opinion and as clearly shown on this very article.

  18. Comment by Andrew P posted on

    The Workp[lace Transformation is currently underway in this office and several staff have been trialling the new IT system for a few weeks. Today's running commentary on their ongoing frustrations does not bode well for the future.

  19. Comment by Tom Goodwin posted on

    I'd certainly be one of the 45% who would value better IT. In BIS we are now rolling out some pretty good kit. Nearly as good as the average person has in their home. It certainly helps me to work from home effectively 2 days a week. We are having some teething issues. Unstable servers/intermittent email access which is annoying our customers and staff in equal measure and unexpected software issues (eg unable to open pdfs which are business critical). We also have turned off our old knowledge management system (Matrix) , without being able to turn on our new one (Alfresco). Neither is our new communication tool Microsoft Lync operational yet. Once we have caught up with the future then I think these changes will really help us to work fast and flexibly. Until then, we are doing our best with work arounds and old school solutions.

  20. Comment by Mark Stephens posted on

    We need to think carefully about our relationship with Microsoft.
    Most of us do not use Microsoft on our phones, phones use a version of linux, we need to ask why this is not so on our desktops?

    I have been a Microsoft developer for over twenty years in government, but professionally I use Linux through choice in my business, because it is better.

    My linux computers start up very fast, run fast, and do not need to be replaced regularly. The free linux software I use, is of better quality than that I use in government, (Libre-Office has XForms for example, Evolution is better than Lotus Notes). The software is well supported, and secure because it was designed to be. I don't need new or powerful computers to run Linux software, an old working PC pulled out of skip will do (yes really).

    I have just given such a linux computer to a friends 7 year old son, who has no problem using it. That computer is too slow to run even Windows XP, but it is fine for linux, and shortly I will
    teach him to program with it.

    I.T. in government can be cheap, fast, secure, and of the highest quality, we just need to take a closer look at our phones or the web to remind ourselves how much things have changed.

  21. Comment by Phil posted on

    Why can't we make more use of open source software? OK, you will still pay for support but anything released under the GPL will let you have one licence which covers as many computers as you want. Then we would not longer have the problems with being told we can't use a particular program because we don't have enough licences. And quite why that happens with software which we are told has been developed specifically for us is beyond me.

    I am a Linux user at home. LibreOffice appears to be as good as MS Office—the word processor and spreadsheet are right up there with Word and Excel and there's not so many bells and whistles in the presentation software, which is a benefit as far as I am concerned—and I understand can now run VBA scripts. It also exports to PDF which MS Office 2003, which we are still using, does not. That would be far better for sending letters under the e-mail protocol than using the MS Office Document Image Writer, which produces documents that look like bad faxes. And, of course, it is released under the GPL so we could all have it without worrying about the number of licences we would need.

  22. Comment by DCLGer posted on

    We were upgraded to IE 9 recently - already not supported by websites that we should be using to make the most of the free tools available on the web eg Trello for project management.

    And what does it say when GOV.UK is telling us as Civil Servants, using the software provided for us by Government, that "For a safer, faster, better experience online you should upgrade your browser." IT at least as good as I've got at home? Can I use Chrome then please?!

    • Replies to DCLGer>

      Comment by Chris posted on

      It would be great to have software in the Civil Service that many users outside of the Civil Service have. Not expensive software but freely available software, such as Chrome, that allow us to access the information we need to do our job wothout technical issues that we should overcome. I know that there needs to be a balance between security and up-to-dateness, but when there are large corporations which also have to deal with security issues, that can have more up to date software we need to ask why we in the Civil Service need to be different?

  23. Comment by Mike posted on

    How about DMACR? FIND? there are so many instances of DWP completely missing the point and nobody being accountable

    • Replies to Mike>

      Comment by Transform posted on

      DMACR training was absolutely dire and as with so many things, was rolled out with major blips in it.

      • Replies to Transform>

        Comment by Jon Ayre (DWP CTO) posted on

        Mike, Transform,

        Various issues were raised at the time of the DMACR implementation in October 2013. A great deal of work has been done to respond to and address these issues through the combined efforts of staff within the Appeals Reform Programme, DWP business and Corporate IT.

        DMACR has previously been the subject of comments and responses on the DWP intranet forum “Have Your Say” (in November 2013), and in addition a comprehensive set of user guides have also been developed and published to the DWP intranet.

        If you have specific issues remaining please do get in touch with me or the CTO office.

        Jon Ayre, DWP CTO

  24. Comment by Keith posted on

    Our IT at Ordnance Survey is very good. Generally our personal machines are very fast partly because of SSDs and internal network speeds however WFH network response time is somewhat slow particularly for SaaS applications. Otherwise very satisfied.

  25. Comment by Dave posted on

    We have had a roll out of desktops recently which has been helpful in reducing login times and speeding up some tasks, however it has been held back by an insufficient network which saves data at speeds in the range of 10-100kb/s rather than Mb/s on broadband or 10-50Mb/s to a hard disk. This often results in being able to go away and get a cup of tea whilst a document saves, or the dreaded "white screen". We also have regular storage space issues which means we lose data we have spent time on as we cannot save. Whilst some of the solution is to perform housekeeping there needs to be recognition that the storage space is woefully insufficient for the business.

    When responding to the "Your Say" survey I did comment on the difficulty to work effectively from home as we are using laptops which certainly weren't made in this decade, and by the looks of them might not have been built in the previous decade either. That coupled with needing heavy data encryption and having a poor connection to our network makes it very hard to be efficient when working from home, and therefore we have a huge knock-on problem with parking and desks where I work. I would like to see a way to utilise the laptop I have at home so that I don't need to book out a work laptop (i.e. if I couldn't make it into the office due to poor weather, etc) and so that it has enough speed to make it usable. There are software solutions out there that would allow you to login from a browser with your username and password and share information with the work network. This would mean lightening IT security which would go hand in hand with the new GSC classification of Official which allows working on Official documents at home, but kept on a government network.

  26. Comment by W D Hawkins posted on

    Informantion Technology is only a part of the issue. We may aspire to having the best IT in the world, but unless there are suitable information and knowledge management policies in place, with appropriate training and robust governance, your shiny new PC is just a box of wires. Conversely, weaknesses in out IT provision can be mitigated by good information and knowledge managent strategies, policies and practices.

  27. Comment by Jimbo posted on

    Dear Sir Bob,

    Good intentions no doubt, but probably hot air as usual. My computer at work uses internet explorer 6 and Microsoft Office 2003. I had better IT than this at home ten years ago. We have a system called "caseflow" which manifestly doesn't work, always crashes and which no-one understands because we have had no training. The one useful application we have - EF - is being phased out for ideological reasons because it isn't one of the "thirteen machines. When this goes, I don't know how I will be able to do my job.

    As with everything else, you do well at "talking the talk", but improvement is clearly needed.

    Thank you.

    • Replies to Jimbo>

      Comment by Tartan d'Artagnan posted on

      "Technology at least as good as people have at home". I look forward to that. Does that mean you will switch off Caseflow? It's certainly something that I would never dream of having in my home. It doesn't do anything useful, it's never worked properly and trying to fix it is a waste of time and money. Why anyone would ever buy it beats me!!!

      • Replies to Tartan d'Artagnan>

        Comment by Mark Dearnley posted on

        We have recognised the problem we had with Caseflow, and the Customer Relationship Management Module (CRMM) system. That is why we set up a project to improve and put right the issues. The project is nearing conclusion and an improved CRMM solution will be provided within the next two months, followed by Caseflow in Autumn this year. We are also working to make provisions for continuous improvement of the system once it has gone live.

        The new systems have been designed by working alongside some of your front-line colleagues and they have guided the look, feel and functionality of the new products. A series of roadshows during April and May across the UK, at which early versions were demonstrated, has received very positive feedback from all that attended. So that you can become familiar with the new systems, you will be provided with access to a 'Sandpit environment' ahead of live release to allow you to get used to the system without fear of doing anything 'wrong'. All users will also be trained on the new system.

        Mark Dearnley
        HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer

        • Replies to Mark Dearnley>

          Comment by Jimbo posted on

          Dear Mark,

          Thank you for your response. If nothing else, it shows that comments on this blog are taken note of.

          Your response is encouraging and I do hope that the improvements to caseflow, and the promised training, are as good as you say.

          I know that caseflow was introduced before your watch, but the initial introduction could easily be documented in a textbook called "How Not to do Government IT". I won't go into details here as it is an old story - but suffice it to say that this one, totally inept system has been responsible for unparalleled levels of stress for me and my colleagues.

          Let's hope that the civil service as a whole learns from this disaster.

          Thank you

  28. Comment by Roger posted on

    This is a mammoth task - and I would be very careful to manage expectations! Our home computing experience has certainly grown over the last ten years, and I'm sure many of us our quite proud of our various home networks, PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
    However, despite such advances, I don't think many people appreciate the scale of the IT challenges in an organisation the size of the Civil Service.
    We handle the electronic records of every taxpayer, claimant and business. These are accessed by a bewildering array of different IT systems, some fairly new, some fairly old. Some of these systems are required to interact with each other - some do this well, some less so.
    Many of these national systems were developed over the decades, often in partnership with different suppliers and contractors. They are often critical; controlling millions of transactions daily; transferring huge sums of money between accounts, and issuing automatic output to the whole population.
    In my experience, the systems developed 'in house' tend to be far superior to the 'of the shelf' stuff - but the in-house systems require dedicated support: quality costs!
    Just as the latest operating system is required to run the newest software, an upgrade often leaves some of the older software unsupported.
    As anyone who has tried to install and run a favourite old bit of software on a new PC will recognise, these compatability issues are rarely solved easily. In HMRC we hear that many of our systems required significant patching to operate with Windows 7 - and some are still struggling.
    So whilst I acknowledge and share many of the frustrations we all encounter, I do think we ought to give a lot more credit to our IT teams for making most of our systems work most of the time.
    Having said all of this, I should perhaps now admit that I am still using Windows XP on my main home computer - I have tried every version since (including having the awful Windows 8 on my laptop) and it just goes to show that progress is a subjective thing!

  29. Comment by C# Run posted on

    I'd like to ask where the money is coming from to pay for these upgrades?

    Most people are consigned to old browsers and software due to legacy systems. To update these costs money, whether for in-house (limited but growing) or outsourced. Factors some have described as inertia need to be addressed to avoid data loss and subsequent clamp downs. <a href="; rel="nofollow">We need to remember 2007.</a>

    Bandwidth and connectivity are a perennial bugbear. It would be helpful to understand what 'as good as at home' actually means in quantitative terms. 10Mb? 50Mb? Now scale up for an office of 100+ staff. If you want broadband in remote parts of the country or anything more than 3G (which isn't as guaranteed as you'd hope), you'll need to cut your cloth to available services. Location still matters for many functions even in a world of digital by default.

    Plus we need to consider reputational impact. It may not be deemed appropriate or in the public interest to send OFFICIAL data over a Cloud service at the local McDonalds or Wetherspoons.

    Regarding BYOD, there needs to be integration between your home system and your network. There are challenges in managing an average of two or three personal devices per member of staff on a local WiFi network. Ensuring security and priority of service requires some thought and of course, the money to provision.

    Open-source software has come on in leaps & bounds and is being adopted for some non-critical functions. More projects to evaluate this wouldn't hurt and support costs/issues for corporate use is still applicable even for certain open-source packages.

    As ever the devil is in the detail. Services can be provided but the costs make most balk. There is clearly the will to improve things. Let's get beyond soundbites and down to practicalities!

  30. Comment by Martyn Bell posted on

    It might be nice if there was a level playing field across Departments. Most take advantage of the Microsoft Home Use scheme where staff can have (for a nominal fee) the latest versions of Office at home. Enabling familiarity with the product at home will lead to more productive use at work surely? Not if you work for HMRC. HMRC staff cannot have this because "we can't be seen to be favouring one taxpayer". So why are our official mobile phones with Vodaphone? Why is our car hire through Enterprise? Why is our travel planning thorugh Redfern? By giving one company our business we're "favouring one taxpayer" are we not. It's yet another poorly thought through decision by a Board that claims to care passionately about engagement while decimating our terms and conditions. It's all stick and no carrot. This comment will make not one jot of difference but at least I got it off my chest...

  31. Comment by expresso posted on

    Being an avid reader of HMRC & Gov sites etc, I regularly check Bob's blogs - has anyone actually seen a response to any of the comments made on any topic at any time?

    • Replies to expresso>

      Comment by Jimbo posted on

      Yes - he appears to have posted a reply above - although it could of course be someone using a pseudonym. Nevertheless, it seems to show that he does care about IT - even if he couldn't give two hoots about PMR.

  32. Comment by Relatively satisfied customer at DFID posted on

    To provide a bit of balance to the comments here (but not wanting to sound smug - still lots of room for improvement, especially around business critical systems like financial and records management), I'm relatively satisfied with the kit and access we have at work. The payback for moving to hot desking was that all were issued with lightweight modern laptops (which are fragile, and may fail, but overall are great to use) and wifi throughout the building - which means you really can work anywhere. Access from home is generally fine (not perfect, I have had a few written off days), and the lync communicator is a revelation - really easy to have multipoint communications, both voice and visual.
    And that browser question - we can use chrome (as an alternative, while still having IE9 as the default for office systems). Access to most websites and social media channels is OK too.

    So my message to all those who describe the situations I've just been reading about - keep demanding better, dont dismiss the suggestions in the blog as impossible - it is definitely possible to have a good IT experience in the civil service

    • Replies to Relatively satisfied customer at DFID>

      Comment by Bob Kerslake posted on

      Thanks for commenting, I am glad that you have had a positive experience.

    • Replies to Relatively satisfied customer at DFID>

      Comment by John Adams posted on

      @Relatively Satisfied Customer, thanks for the comment on your positive experience of DFID IT. As you say there is definitely room for improvement and we've begun working on replacing some of our key systems including the projects module, room booking and document management.

      Many of the changes we introduce are a direct result of feedback from DFID staff, and we encourage you to continue to make suggestions through your IT business partner or on Yammer.

    • Replies to Relatively satisfied customer at DFID>

      Comment by Jorja Prince-Gill posted on

      I am glad you have such a fantastic IT system where you work. It is a shame that ALL Govt departments don't have the same levels of IT and software! That way we would all be more efficient on so many levels!!

  33. Comment by John posted on

    Revealing me to be the DWP dinosaur that I am, does anyone remember L.O.M.P. - (Local Office Microcomputer Project) - which assessed income support new claims....... as long as customers were single, with no dependants, and didn't have the remotest circumstance out of the ordinary....... ?!
    It became a competition to see how many screens of information you could input ahead of the computer, before it eventually caught up!
    Yes we have come a long way, but to be honest Sir Bob, my 7 year olds I.Pod probably has more operating memory, and is more useful than our I.T.
    I can but hope the information in your blog is true not just yet more pipe dreams..
    (Going off on a tangent back to the days of L.O.M.P. - At least the computer operator knew exactly how the benefit concerned had been calculated. I wonder how many operators nowadays would even notice if the computer made an error-perhaps not everything has changed for the better?)

  34. Comment by Buster Friendly posted on

    Better IT systems? Don't make me laugh. We are restricted to DII, which has so far cost >£10bn, frequently fails, runs on an OS which is not supported by Microsoft, is throttled down to 10mb/s despite running on fibreoptic cable, and is set up to provide Atlas with profitable hours of fixes and patches, which often run at the most disruptive times of the day, on mostly outdated hardware- again supplied by Atlas after MoD handed everything over for a handful of magic beans.
    I have no confidence in anything wafting down from the ivory towers, less still that any notice is ever taken of staff concerns.

  35. Comment by Paul c posted on

    Sir Bob - Can we have a simple assurance - that when new kit is installed - that the outside contractors can not leave the work site , until the new kit is 100% working.
    Time and time again we have experienced new kit being installed over a weekend - only to switch on the system on a Monday morning to find that the system is not working and the contractors are long gone .
    We would not accept this level of service at home - so why is it accetable at work ?

  36. Comment by T. Gordon posted on

    Many thanks for your reply. That and some other comments added here made me return to the blog to (hopefully) comment again.

    It's not just about the right hardware and software, we need to have the right protocols in place too. You want us to have the right tools to do our work, we want the right tools to do just that. Between your intentions and our needs there exists a whole range of 'blockers' as someone else put it. So true.

    I advise other Government Departments and Agenices on their own import/export activity, yet technically I'm not allowed too as I need to do this via a 'Government Gateway'. And no such thing exists in most cases, nor can I find anyone who wants to 'own' that and sort it out.

    And then there's the almost paranoid hysteria on what we're allowed to do with our IT if we're ever out of the office on business. I have had firsthand experience of this at an EU meeting, where all the other MS delegates were all able to participate in that meeting using laptops and tablets, while we, the UK delegation, had to rely on reams of printed A4 paper. Utterly embarrassing, made us look amateur and inefficient and actually hindered our participation. Hardly the proper image of a Civil Service striving to be 'world-class'.

    So I admire the idea and the intention behind it, but it's just not how it ends up for us, in practice. Elsewhere in the EU, technology augments staff to enable them to do their job roles better. Here in UK, technology never augments staff - it replaces them instead. My expectation is that in reality far too few of us will ever see this delivered.

  37. Comment by Miles posted on

    I note the crusading tone and how you have listened to concerns about IT. It is fine to be responsive (and even within this blog!) about matters which directly relate to the efficiency with which we get the work done. On a significant issue affecting the well-being of staff, and on which you have had a significant amount of feedback, you remain strangely silent and inactive. Although of course how we are treated has a profound effect on our efficiency, more so than whether we are using Windows XP, 7 or 8.

    By the way, the PMR survey that came out recently in HMRC was prefaced by assertions that PMR was the right thing and was here to stay. People asked why they should bother completing the survey. The impression I received from an admittedly small sample was that it was not regarded as a genuine exercise, particularly as it comes out just as we are being locked into performance agreements for 2014-2015 which consist of multiple commitments by the jobholder and none by the manager.

  38. Comment by Graham Howie posted on

    Not sure if this is the right place for this but does anyone know where in Manchester the wokshop is on Friday as is getting close and heard nothing?

  39. Comment by Shaun posted on

    A lot of the 'excuses' for lack of progress to date seems to link back to legacy contracts.

    Does it concern Sir Bob and the board that many of the people who negotiated and awarded those contracts are still in positions in departments and agencies where they can make similar poor decisions? It's great that GDS is there as a barrier to stop this happening, but does that go far enough?

    If the Civil Service was really taking this serious, would it not be better to advertise every CIO/CTO job in the Civil Service (including externally) to make sure that world-class talent is brought in.

    Where I work, the CIO has decided that Google Analytics cannot be used to collect data on how people use our intranet because of 'security'. While people like this are in positions to make ill-informed decisions like that, progress will continue to be slow. And people that are truly passionate about digital will leave the Civil Service.