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Report of the Digital Government Review


The challenges of architecture: watching, learning, improving

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We need to learn from the failures and challenges that other governments and individual public sector organisations have wrestled with if we are to tackle this problem.

In the following table we thus lay out some of these challenges – and potential ways to address them. This is only a limited selection of the thinking that would be required to effectively implement architecture across the public sector. We include it here not so much to suggest an imminent solution as to indicate the scale of the challenge [141] and the directions progress might take.

Challenge

What Has Happened in the Past

Potential Ways to Tackle

How to define an architecture and associated set of open standards? Rigid and expansive documents produced by committee that are then imposed through strict governance. A set of components (technical, process, information) that use a common language and are loosely linked and iteratively developed by an active and meritocratic community that includes delivery expertise.

Open standards that adhere to an agreed set of principles [142]

How not to stifle innovation? Delivery teams are inhibited by strict governance and detailed architectural guidance. Encourage governance that allows innovation and trials of new techniques. Evolving best practice can be fed back into the standards.
How to allow each public sector organisation to set its priorities? Standards that are set in the centre and mandated on other organisations leading those organisations to fail to meet people’s needs.

Or the failure to set any standards due to fear of over-centralisation leading to each organisation developing its own architecture and hence the failure to deliver on the promised savings.

Finding the right balance of tight and loose standards to allow public sector organisations to take advantage of other organisations’ developments whilst moving at their own pace. A federated architectural model.

The balance should allow both the centralized approach of a site like data.gov.uk but also a localized approach such as the Leeds Data Mill [143].

Governance must include representation from across the diverse public sector.

How to preserve privacy and security? Centralised systems and databases that bring data to a single point creating privacy risks.

Rigid security standards that stifle innovation

Federated solutions with standards-based interfaces conforming to a set of agreed principles as defined by our “Data and Society” review

Greater use across the sector of security standards in GDS Service Design Manual. Consideration of the security needs of services that use Government APIs

How to move to an architecture? Big-bang approaches have been tried and have mostly failed. Big-bang approaches inhibit non-IT driven change whilst they are in progress.

 

Allow gradual implementation by the right balance of tight and loose standards.

Focus efforts on areas where service transformation is in progress, for example integrated health and social care or changes bought on by devolution, and build the architecture through delivery projects that support and enable the new services.

How to steer where investment should be made or avoided? Effort has gone into making reusable components that are never actually reused. Bringing in external expertise to provide lessons learned from other sectors.
How to reward and motivate organisations and individuals to reuse? Creating reusable components takes more effort than developing components that are only used once. Organisations are reluctant to spend their stretched budgets on items that will not benefit their own organisations so choose to focus on their needs. Governance that encourages reuse unless there are compelling reasons (innovation, particular requirements, timescales) for creating a new component.
How to remain focussed on people’s needs? Concentration on technology rather than on providing public services. Remain focussed on the needs of everyone and the desire to build services centred on people, rather than centred on government.

[141] The further reading at the start of the chapter is a good starting point for those looking for more detail on these challenges
[142] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/open-standards-principles/open-standards-principles
[143] http://www.leedsdatamill.org/dataset

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