This week we are announcing the creation of a technical architecture function for government to sit within the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. Here, Kevin Humphries, the acting Chief Technical Architect for HM Government, explains what that means and tells us more.
A technical architect does for computer-based systems what a civil architect does for buildings. They draw up blueprints, make sure the structure meets user needs, oversee delivery, and are concerned with the qualities of the operational service.
The new architecture function for government will establish the high level design of government technology, based on modern, user focused services. We need to build services in a way that means they can be continually upgraded, changed and reintegrated to keep up with user needs.
That means moving away from big custom-made infrastructure and from outsourcing to large IT providers. We will build the architecture service by service, working from the start with multidisciplinary technical and digital teams within departments.
This is a new approach to architecture across government and will ensure that departments have the modern technical architecture they need to deliver great digital services.
Our way of working will be iterative, with a focus on proof through doing and constant testing. If we want to define a way of storing distributed data safely, for example, we will build an initial version of a proposed data network and then prove how it works quickly and cheaply. This gives us an approach we know works which we can then share across services. We can continually improve new versions each time we reuse it, from project to project, service to service.
Community of architects
We need to encourage this new approach to architecture right across government service delivery. One of the ways we will do this is by building and maintaining an active community of architecture practice. This will include architects, of course, but also quality assurance practitioners. Everyone in the team should be able to contribute to the architecture of their service.
There are 24 ministerial departments, each with a huge number of services to support. As we go from 25 exemplars to supporting 700+ government transactions, we will need approaches to architecture that bring out common patterns, components and services.
While reinventing the wheel is sometimes a good thing - in software the wheel can always be invented better - we don't want every project reinventing the same wheels. Certain features like packaging, testing, deploying and operating software into cloud environments are things we want to be able to standardise into a small number of approaches.
So our architects will need to take a firm grip on the higher level structure and technology choices for projects and services. We need to form a clear view of what each service is for, how they interoperate and what work should be done. Knowledge and best practice need to be shared.
We believe that user focused and cloud hosted services will be better, more cost effective and more flexible than the older horizontally-integrated ones. But we also need to have a coherent plan and architecture for what we are building, to ensure that:
the right services are built
there is reuse and savings wherever possible
services are of the right quality and are built at the right price
citizens own their data, are aware of what data is used and it is shared at each stage
We will hold ourselves accountable through a clear decision-making process. We will publish the architecture decisions and progress on projects and services along the way.
Our plan is to establish the needs that an architecture service must support in more detail during a discovery phase. We will then operate an alpha service in a few departments and a number of larger projects. This will take most of the remainder of this year.
After that we will extend the architecture service to most of government.
If you have questions or comments, please drop Kevin a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
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