National Audit Office NAO

1 Supported exemplars
Show how new approaches help

Initially, GDS supported exemplars of digital transformation. In 2012, it identified 25 services across government for end-to-end service redesign. It aimed to show how new approaches could make it easier for people to access services online and help remove unnecessary costs. By March 2015, 15 of the exemplars were providing live online services and a further five were available to the public in trial form. Other services have since become available (In the full NAO report: paragraphs 3.2 to 3.4).

2 Framework of standards and guidance not sustained
Uncertainty about guidance

GDS has not sustained its framework of standards and guidance. We found instances of overlapping guidance, for example blogs as well as service manuals being used to communicate guidance on contract management or the use of application programming interfaces. In some cases, guidance had been removed and web links broken. Standards were set as broad principles, leaving scope for interpretation and disagreement. GDS has not provided detailed guidance on how to implement standards in practice (paragraphs 4.7 to 4.9, 4.12 and Figure 12).

3 Uncertainty about guidance
Difficult to understand assurance requirements

GDS has established strong controls over spending and service design.GDS reported that controls have reduced spending on IT by £1.3 billion over five years toApril 2016. Digital expenditure of over £100,000 is subject to these controls. Our analysisshows that requests for approval for amounts of up to £1 million accounted for 47%of the time GDS staff spent on spending controls but only 1% of savings in 2015-16(paragraphs 4.2 to 4.5, Figures 10 and 11).

The combination of strict controls and uncertainty about guidance hasmade it difficult for departments to understand assurance requirements.Spending controls can play an important role in enforcing consistency and ensuring thatdepartments adopt standards. However, it is difficult to understand the status of differentforms of guidance, and departments told us it can be hard to anticipate how GDSwill interpret their performance against standards. GDS is now introducing approvalsand assurance mechanisms that consider departments’ overall portfolios and reduceburdens from controls (paragraphs 4.2, 4.6 and 4.9).

4 Insufficient user friendliness
Lost focus on the longer term strategic case

Take-up of Verify [the Identity Assurance Programme] has been undermined by its performance and GDS has lost focus on the longer term strategic case for the programme. The current business case is based on reducing duplication or simplifying the way new services are developed. But Verify has been difficult for some people to use, departments have taken longer and found it more difficult to adopt than expected, and GDS has had to soften its approach to mandatory use. Nine of the 12 services using GOV.UK Verify can now be accessed using both Verify and a department’s chosen way of allowing users to log-in to services. This parallel access undermines the current business case and risks creating confusion for service users. Verify presents a strategic opportunity to improve the way that personal data is used across government enabling better use of data, based on a single secure view of identity. But this strategic case has not been sufficiently developed, tested and communicated (paragraphs 4.19 to 4.28, Figures 13 and 14).


The last five years have shown how difficult it can be to get transformation right and how important it is to build the necessary capabilities and business planning processes across government. Our work will track how government puts in place the fundamental building blocks for transformation and ensures that work is prioritised effectively in the face of these challenges.

In this report, we consider the impact of digital transformation in government and the role of Government Digital Service (GDS). GDS’s experience is an important illustration of how the centre of government can take different approaches to working with the rest of government, striking a balance between supportive and formal approaches.


This report examines the role of GDS in supporting transformation and the use of technology across government. We reviewed whether:

• GDS has developed a clear strategy for government, set out its own role, monitored progress and established responsibilities for reassessing objectives;

• GDS has supported other departments in managing transformation across government, including by promoting new technologies and uses of data; and

• GDS has developed a more common approach to digital development across government through setting standards, establishing reusable common systems and controlling spending.

The items above were selected and named by the e-Government Subgroup of the EUROSAI IT Working Group on the basis of publicly available report of the author Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI). In the same way, the Subgroup prepared the analytical assumptions and headings. All readers are encouraged to consult the original texts by the author SAIs (linked).