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Guest post: The technology challenge (and opportunity) in the Department for Work and Pensions.

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Jon Ayre

In DWP IT we are working hard to make technology changes at all levels in the organisation. Our aim is to make the technology at work as good as the technology you have at home. Here’s what we’ve been doing:

Happening Now

Our programme teams are working in an agile way and need flexible and high performance tools to succeed. We started by sourcing and setting up purpose-built devices to meet users’ specialised needs (such as those of digital developers and graphic designers). For example, in our digital hub in Leeds you will find Macbooks hooked into cloud hosted development environments. The agile teams are using these during Discovery and Alpha.

For software selection we have focussed on users’ needs by rapid trialling of candidate software “in the field”. This allows us to select the solutions that work best for our users. An example of this is the selection of Jira as a key part of our agile working environment.

Our security community has helped to create clearer guidance on the use of external email. This has improved our communications with customers and our ability to meet their needs.

Work is also underway to improve our existing desktop estate. This is a difficult area as the problems with the existing technology are widespread and deeply embedded. The Workplace Transformation Programme is working hard to bring about change. As a result, hardware-related problems have reduced by 56% over the last 6 months.

Coming Soon

The CTO Security team are revisiting security policy with the aim of improving internet access. This will allow more flexible use of familiar cloud based tools, and improve the department’s capability to innovate. The team are shortlisting GDS recommended tools. For example internal collaboration, document sharing, video calling, electronic surveys and appointment bookings.

We hope to access these tools soon. First we need to examine any constraints and work out how we can overcome them.  Then we can start trials and experiments while reducing risk to our infrastructure.

Following a successful user trial, we are rolling out tablet devices as alternatives to laptops for our mobile workforce. I have worked on one of these tablets since September 2013 and no longer have a department laptop. The benefits of switching are faster start-up times, greater mobility and the portability that comes with a hand-held device. I can carry it in a small bag rather than lugging around a carry case, and it still has the full functionality of a heavier laptop alternative. I also use my own devices on our wifi and we are introducing similar facilities on a trial basis to other sites.

Future Thinking

Work is underway to follow up the new tablets with companion smartphones, and integrate them into the desktop environment. If user trials go well we hope to see these become part of the standard offering soon.

We are investigating secure email technology that simplifies communications by using familiar email mechanisms. This will allow users to communicate freely without technical security concerns, and without having to switch to unfamiliar technologies.

In summary, we have a busy and exciting time ahead of us and I am sure there will be challenges and pitfalls along the way. But it all comes down to one thing: “What is the user need?”

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