Skills shortage highlighted as Whitehall struggles to generate own tech-skilled staff.
The Government needs more data scientists and tech experts to achieve its ‘digital by default’ target, its chief technology officer Liam Maxwell admitted today.
Whitehall is seeking to improve its base of tech skills by fast tracking graduate recruitment but it is not developing enough expertise among civil servants, Maxwell said, speaking at the Central Government Business & Technology summit this morning.
He said: "There’s a definite need for more data scientists within government," he said. "Our policy on talent is rent, buy or grow, with an emphasis on grow, which is why we have a digital and technology fast stream recruitment scheme."
He also said the Government has recruited 100 ‘senior managers’ like Paul Shetler, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) CDO, but added: "We have an ongoing issue generating more capability within government, and that is something we are trying to do more of."
Digital civil servants are required to help the Government Digital Service (GDS) deliver more digital transformation across government, as Whitehall comes to the end of a project to deliver 25 ‘digital exemplar’ projects, including a booking system for prison visits and visa applications – 22 are now live.
Maxwell pointed to the benefits of these new services, built on the Gov.uk platform, sharing common technology that would allow booking systems for other government purposes to be created.
He added that Whitehall is now trying to increase the use and capabilities of its common platform as it tackles technology silos.
"We will build new services on cheap, effective common platforms and they will let us share things," he said, standing in front of a presentation slide reading ‘No more Big IT’. "We will start stripping out the layers of complexity and layers of silos to start delivering a service-based government.
"But we have to retire what is out there now in many circumstances. We have to keep the lights on and keep things running but we have to move away from what we’ve had before. The process for that is we build the new things before we turn the other things off. Thats only possibility when making things open."
His comments come after Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister, Chi Onwurah, told CBR a Labour Government’s priority would be to improve civil servants’ IT skills.
She recognised the Coalition’s collection of senior digital experts but claimed their expertise has not trickled down to other staff.
Meanwhile, the GDS itself warned in July that its £58m budget would not cover the recruitment of new tech-savvy staff to help shift hundreds of public body websites to Gov.uk by March 2015.
And the MoJ’s chief digital officer, Paul Shetler, speaking after Maxwell, said it was crucial to have a capable internal IT team.
"You have to have your own in-house capability. You have to have the ability to deliver, your own designers researchers, your own product managers. If MoJ had not had that we would not have been able to deliver, it just would not have worked. That has been abolutely essential to our success."
He said his team was now trying to help other departments.
However, Maxwell pointed to progress in an ongoing project to move the Cabinet Office onto a new more collaborative system for staff to work together on documents and see each other’s diaries.
Rather than one big transition, 46 staff moved two days ago and 30 moved over today, with more shifting onto the new system in the next four months.
Picture credit: Paul Clarke, Flickr