Skip to content | Skip to comments


A successful architecture meets clear business and policy objectives. It provides an all-up design that covers functions, processes, people, organisational structures, organisational information and computer systems (hardware, software and communcations technologies), mapping their relationships to public service outcomes.

No such architecture exists in Whitehall.

The important relationship between public policy and technology is not effectively led or managed. There is no owner for this important work. It should normally be the responsibility of a Chief Information Officer – but in Whitehall, the “CIO” function is IT-led, not public services and public policy led. This result is that public sector IT is adrift from the needs of the UK’s public services.

A new, senior role is required to take ownership of this important function. This role will need to work with business and policy owners to identify the holistic architecture required to support and operate cost-effective, high quality twenty-first century public services. Once this has been done, they should help oversee the development of the supporting technical  architecture, developed by the existing technical community.

Key principles

  1. Define what public services need to achieve and the all-up architecture required to support those outcomes. From this, the technology strategy and architecture should be designed. An IT strategy can only be defined and delivered when developed in the context of overall policy and business outcomes. This should remain a live, iterative process. It is not a one-off exercise.
  2. Implement an IT architecture that is modular and which encourages re-use and off-the-shelf components: it should enable innovative small and medium IT businesses to engage with public sector projects. It should avoid vendor lock-in and dependency. It should break commodity away from bespoke systems and handle them in very different ways.
  3. Implement a policy of openness: in lay terms this means open standards. More specifically this means W3C web and Internet standards as the basis of all public sector architecture, with openly published APIs, XML schemas and open source/reference and example code
  4. Adopt an open platform: this lets others provide services within the discipline of intermediary and channel strategies and a trust framework.

Other points/clarifications

Government does not need to own or hold everything itself to achieve the outcome of integrated services. Indeed, known difficulties with personal data make this approach a liability. Alternative models are likely to offer a better return on investment, variety and service. So government needs a smart approach to architecture to let it exploit a wide array of investment across the public, private and voluntary sectors, as well as the “personal sector” (ie individuals’ own capability for self-service and participation in public services).

It should stop the expensive and inefficient approach of specifying everything as bespoke and specific to the public sector, with all the complexity, costs and nugatory expenditure that involves.

Government’s job is to ensure high quality, cost-efficient public services. This has to be reflected in its IT: with a tight focus on public services, not technically-driven web sites or portals. The development of a successful IT infrastructure should be rooted within fundamental public service questions, such as:

  1. What are we trying to achieve with our public services?
  2. What capabilities are required to support those public services?
  3. What architecture will be required to support those capabilities?
  4. What assets does the public sector already possess?
  5. Which assets does it need to remove, retain or enhance in order to achieve the required levels of capability?
  6. Which assets can government utilise without building them itself?
  7. What technical architecture can best support the overall architecture?

Specific recommendations

Things to do

  1. The new, senior technology policy role (recommended under “Governance”) should co-ordinate the development of an all-up architecture for public services, working closely with Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and their teams and reflecting the needs of frontline public services
  2. The new leadership role should oversee the technical community in the development of an IT architecture (based on the all-up architecture)
  3. Task the existing heads of IT in government departments and agencies (the current CIO/CTOs) with commencing a migration away from out-dated and expensive monolithic and proprietary mainframe systems. Identify any impediments to doing so to the new leadership role (such as complexity of existing legislation), who will then work with policymakers/legislators to simplify.
  4. Task the new leadership role for technology policy with co-ordinating a review of existing software and hardware and services to identify vendor lock-in and other technical blockers that could prevent a migration to a more open, modular and agile architecture – and then request Ministerial action to remove those blockers
  5. Develop a sustainable business / market propostion around third parties (eg if they provide a really intuitive way of someone interacting with government, that saves government money, what does the commercial reward model look like that will enable the intermediary strategy to thrive?)

Stop, challenge or review

  1. Stop assuming central government has to design and procure everything itself – the reality is it is remote from frontline needs of public service workers and citizens and businesses alike
  2. Stop the idea you can start with technical ideas and fads and fashions, and buy or build them, and then work out where they fit
  3. Stop the centralised imposition of a single identity system, update previous government policy around federated identity and trust models, and develop a new identity information and technical architecture

Continue, support or resume

  1. Review the previous approach to technical architecture and open standards (such as eGIF), identify where it was working and where it was failing, and then relaunch as a new collaborative approach co-owned and co-led between the public, private and voluntary sectors

RSS feed of comments 5 Responses to “Architecture”

  1. It is not clear in this section whether you are talking about business architecture or IT architecture or probably both. Also should there really be one architecture for the public sector or is more a question of having a consistency of approach or shared set of general principles?

  2. robbie says:

    I’m not sure I agree that a new ‘senior’ role will necessarily help here – what’s really needed is for existing roles to be more policy led and engaged with their business owners surely? You wont get agility within government delivery by adding another layer of mandarin above it…

  3. robbie says:

    agree with the key principles, but 2 seems a bit jumbled up – enabling engagement of small and medium IT business could, perhaps, be a principle in itself, but certainly to mitigate against large vendor lock-in. As for re-use, vendor lock-in and to break commodity from bespoke systems an excellent example would be external or cloud services such as at essentially, for many, many public sector business needs, there needs to be an appreciation it’s not something special or different that can demand a bespoke solution to its every requirement – instead it should seek to make best use of what the available technology can provide whenever possible – only when all other cloud, modular and COTS solutions have been exhausted should bespoke be even considered…

  4. robbie says:

    In terms of Things To Do, and with reference to my previous comment in terms of a new role – 1 to 4 could then be replaced by simply taking the current crop of CIO/CTOs, lining them up against a wall, shooting and replacing them with staff who would be subsequently considerably more policy and business focussed? More practically, the problem here is essentially the same as vendor lock-in except it’s within the senior civil service – a great many of the holders of these roles simply do not have the background or the skills to fulfil them effectively.

  5. robbie says:

    continue, support or resume. totally agree, i’ve personally been arguing for this for some time at every available opportunity within government and to the eGIF community since at least 2005. see – – this was aimed squarely at a technical audience, but skip to slides 19 & 20…

Your feedback

Comments are now closed.