The Register

GDS-commissioned report recommends bigger role for… who else but GDS?

British government agencies have been warned they risk wasting time and effort trying out new tech projects without central coordination – and can expect a shiny new strategy next year.

A report (PDF) commissioned by the Government Digital Service to assess the public sector’s use of innovative technologies found various organisations dipping a toe in the water.

However, being the government, report author Martin Smith, an independent contractor, identified problems with siloed thinking, bureaucracy, budget constraints and risk aversion.

Trying a new back-office system, for instance, is quite different to deploying tech like AI or distributed ledgers (DL).

Untested technologies, with no standards, pose risks to departments, while the benefits aren’t always clear – to the contrary, there is sometimes a perception that new tech will be a panacea, the report noted.

There are some labs and hubs that allow departments to try out new tech in controlled ways, but this has led to instances where similar solutions have been prototyped or developed independently, Smith found.

“Several departments are investigating these two technologies [AI and DL] but are often doing so independently and in a piecemeal fashion.”

These departments risk “reinventing the wheel and repeating past mistakes”.

To address this, there should be more visibility and coordination from the centre of government – a role the report, fairly unsurprisingly, suggested goes to, er, GDS.

The central government body – whose raison d’être was to use tech to deliver better, more effective public services and cut Whitehall spending on tech giants – has been struggling to maintain the status and control it had in its heyday.

As well as flagship projects faltering, GDS was this year stripped of its data oversight responsibilities, which were handed to the more policy-driven Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The report suggested an enhanced role for GDS in driving public sector innovation, an area it has already started to pursue through its innovation team.