Roadmap for Digital and Data, progress one year on

13th December 2023

Transforming public services: Insights on progress one year into the UK government’s Roadmap for Digital and Data

By Steve Thorn, Executive Director, Central Government, Civica

Civica’s Steve Thorn lists five key takeaways from new research and also a handful of considerations to accelerate progress.

Just over a year after the UK government’s launch of its Transforming for a digital future: 2022 to 2025 roadmap for digital and data, what are civil servants’ views on how much progress has been made? Where should public sector efforts be focused next? And what are the blockers that risk holding back further advancement?

These were some of the questions addressed in new research from Civica, in partnership with Total Politics. Surveying almost 600 civil servants, our study, published in late September, provides a snapshot of perceived progress made across the six missions in the roadmap. It also highlights priorities looking ahead over the next two years to understand where efforts should be directed to capitalise on the momentum built so far.

The roadmap, launched in June 2022, sets out an ambitious vision for digital transformation across government by 2025. It identifies six missions, supported by 21 more detailed action points. The missions span transformed public services, a single sign-on, better use of data, modernised technology, digital skills and creating an environment to enable reform.

Civica is committed to supporting the government on its journey as a global provider of software that helps deliver critical services for citizens worldwide. Here are the main takeaways from our research.

Familiarity with the Roadmap for Digital and Data

The first key finding is that awareness of the roadmap remains relatively low, with only around one in seven (14%) civil servants reporting high familiarity. This suggests that more work may still be needed to communicate and engage people across government with the roadmap.

There are, though, promising signs that digital priorities within departments increasingly align with the missions in the roadmap. Two-fifths of respondents (42%) said their departments’ priorities are closely matched. This alignment was even higher among senior/mid-level civil servants, at almost half (48%).

Perceived progress against each mission

Looking at each of the six missions in turn, Mission One on transforming public services came through as seeing the highest ratings for progress over the past year. Around three in ten (29%) civil servants believe there has been ‘significant’ or ‘a lot’ of progress within their department around this mission. Efforts to improve the Top 75 services and other initiatives seem to be bearing fruit.

The foundations have also been laid for the GOV.UK One Login system under Mission Two, although perceptions of progress notably lag behind actual project achievements. While the GOV.UK One Login project has met its milestones, only 5% of respondents believed their department had made significant progress here. Communicating its substantial headway so far will likely help drive participation from more services.

For Mission Three on better data use, most effort has focused so far on essential building blocks around improving quality, availability and responsible sharing. Over a quarter (28%) of civil servants saw ‘moderate’ progress on this mission in their department. More tactical milestones have been met here versus the more considerable step-change required.

Missions Four, Five and Six – on technology, skills and systems, respectively – are also progressing. However, our respondents saw the most significant improvement so far as being at the ‘moderate’ level. Accounting for those unaware of progress, around seven in ten civil servants recognised advancements on each mission. There is still a way to go to achieve the whole ambition.

Barriers to moving faster

Survey respondents named ‘budget limitations’ as the number-one barrier their department and organisation faced when implementing digital transformation and data initiatives. This was followed by ‘siloed working practices’ and ‘developing and retaining skilled staff’.

Legacy IT systems were also frequently called out by respondents as hampering progress. Some 71% named ‘replacing legacy IT systems’ as the number-one solution that could transform their department’s technology platforms. And ‘resolving data quality issues’ was listed as the second highest digital and data priority, indicating problems caused by legacy infrastructure. Lack of data skills and cross-government collaboration were also cited as top-five barriers.

Priorities for the next two years

Looking ahead at priorities over the next two years, ‘improving user experience of public services' remains firmly at the top of the list, named by 58% of civil servants. This user focus is encouraging and must stay centre stage.

Alongside this, ‘resolving data quality issues’, ‘improving data visibility and sharing’, and ‘using and sharing data ethically’ remain firmly in the top five priorities. This shows that civil servants recognise these fundamental data capabilities must remain central over the next two years.

Interestingly, ‘integrating services with GOV.UK One Login’ is set to rise up the agenda – jumping from 10th place as a current priority to 4th place for the next two years. This again reinforces that civil servants see it as an essential enabler. Finally, ‘harnessing emerging technologies’ like artificial intelligence is predicted to become more of a priority over the next two years.

Solid foundations laid

Solid foundations have been laid through its six missions one year since the launch of the roadmap, and priorities within departments are aligning more closely.

But success over the next two years depends on driving up the pace of delivery. This needs concerted leadership focus on skills development, data sharing and legacy modernisation.

The central role of user needs must also remain paramount – with civil servants keeping citizens at the heart of digital reforms.

With this continued focus, the government can make great strides over the next two years in delivering on the ambitious vision set out in its reform roadmap. The will is there; now, the work must continue at an increased velocity.

By doubling down on the basics, investing in its people and technologies, and – above all – keeping the end users, citizens, in mind, the UK government can achieve dramatic improvements in public services through data-driven digital transformation.

Five key considerations

Five high-level considerations strongly come through from the findings for anyone leading digital and data initiatives over the next two years.

1. Prioritise upskilling civil servants and Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) professionals. Lack of digital skills and knowledge are significant blockers, so education must be a top priority. Despite the commitments to training in Mission Five, only 19% of respondents had seen substantial progress in ‘upskilling DDaT professionals’ over the past year. Notably, a day after our whitepaper was published, the CDDO announced that 2,500 ambitious tech talents will be recruited into digital roles in government by June 2025 through new apprenticeship and early talent programmes.

2. Build engagement to accelerate the uptake of GOV.UK One Login. It’s a critical enabler, but perceptions of progress notably lag behind its actual development. Better communicating this success can help drive participation in more services. Just 5% saw significant improvement in their department, versus GOV.UK One Login meeting its initial milestones.

3. Foster collaboration and data sharing. Siloes remain a top barrier, with 46% citing issues with ‘siloed working practices’. A culture shift to connect and share data across department boundaries is essential. While progress is being made, only a tiny 5% of civil servants ‘strongly agreed’ that their department had a collaborative culture on data.

4. Replace legacy IT with modern systems. Legacy infrastructure blocks progress. Granted, this takes time, yet the pace must increase. Some 71% see replacing legacy IT as key, but only 35% agreed their department has a remediation plan

5. Invest in emerging tech like AI and cloud. Tools like these are rising up the agenda and can drive transformation. ‘Harnessing emerging tech’ is set to become more of a priority in the next two years.

Learn more about how we are helping to deliver the public sector services of the future.

White paper uncovers perceived progress against government's strategy

We surveyed nearly 600 civil servants across government to assess how acquainted respondents were with the government's strategy. 
Download this white paper to learn about how much progress has been made against the roadmap's six missions and gain insight into views on data use and application.

Download now