Inside the UK’s digital transformation

Megan Devlin

Sydney-born Megan Lee Devlin leads the UK agency set up to drive the nation’s digital transformation program.

As Director General and Chief Executive of the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO), Devlin is in charge of 27,000 individuals across government and public bodies.

Her mission: to lift government services, modernise technology, boost digital skills and exploit data.

In a keynote address at the Tech In Gov conference in Canberra last week, she outlined the UK government’s vision for change and its 2025 digital and data roadmap.

It comes at a time when the UK is facing massive upheaval, including the aftermath of a global pandemic, fallout from Brexit, war in Europe and a cost of living crisis.

But this period in history also presents new opportunities, Devlin told delegates, with Covid demonstrating what governments can achieve when faced with two options: innovate or sink.

“The last couple of years in the UK, a time without stability or certainty, has been a seedbed for innovation and observation,” she said.

“(During Covid) inertia was lethal and innovation was urgent. Like many nations across the world we turned to digital to address our biggest concerns.”

Fast-tracked policy delivery

During the pandemic the government quickly established a Coronavirus furlough scheme, which  provided grants to employers to retain staff during lockdown.

A total of 11.7 million employee jobs were supported through the scheme, which was stood up in just four weeks.

The government also established the Clinically Exremely Vulnerable People Service (VPS) in just four days and had it up and running – “from policy conception to policy delivery” – within ten.

Between 23 March to 30 July 2020, the VPS facilitated more than 4.2 million deliveries of essential supplies including food and medicine and helped citizens confined to their homes access basic health care.

The last couple of years in the UK, a time without stability or certainty, has been a seedbed for innovation and observation.

Megan Devlin

Meanwhile, a daily updated dashboard providing data on the spread and public health impact of the pandemic was also created in weeks, Devlin said.

And when the nation began to open up, the government’s Covid-19 app and travel pass made it possible for people to meet, travel and move around.

According to research from the University of Oxford, the technology prevented 1 million cases of Covid, 44,000 hospitalisations and almost 10,000 deaths.

Digital roadmap

It was in this context that the CDDO set about defining the UK government’s digital and data transformation plans for 2021-25.

“The UK public had come to expect instantaneous, seamless experiences from government,” Devlin said. “So in this, as in the case of the pandemic, inertia was untenable and innovation was urgent”.

A key question in applying the learnings of Covid to future transformation was, how had the government had managed to move so fast during the pandemic?

What we do know is the pace of change is so accelerated that we need to focus on putting the right conditions and capabilities in place to leverage technology in the future and today.

Megan Devlin

The CDDO landed on three factors, and they’ve been used to inform the 2021-25 roadmap, Devlin said.

Firstly, the need for a “common, urgent and mobilising purpose from the top to the bottom of every organisation”.

Second, the need to invest in foundations, with Devlin saying the furlough scheme was only possible because of previous investment in modernising the tax and benefits platform.

Finally, Covid showed the benefits of specific and measurable commitments and outcome based targets, as demonstarted by the Covid dashboard.

“The public could see the results of policy interventions in the real time dashboard that held us to account and to a high standard of outcome delivery,” Devlin said.

So the CDDO came together with government, business and tech leaders and reached an agreement that they wanted to be fit for a digital future.

“What does that mean?  What will the digital future look like?” Devlin said.

“What we do know is the pace of change is so accelerated that we need to focus on putting the right conditions and capabilities in place to leverage technology in the future and today.”

Six missions

The roadmap consists of six broad missions:

  1. Public service transformation
  2. A single, easy way to access government services
  3. Embedding data management governance and architecture into government business
  4. Secure systems and resilience
  5. Building digital skills
  6. Addressing barriers to transformation

Underpinning those missions are 21 measurable, quanitified and achievable commitments that all government departments have signed up to deliver by 2025, Devlin told delegates. Key commitments are centred on:

Lifting standards of service

Lifting public service performance by transforming at least 50 of the government’s top 75 services to a standard of ‘great’ against a consistent measure of  performance by 2025. The standards are based on data and benchmarks including useability and efficiency, customer satisfaction, cost and time taken to deliver services, with each service getting a score of ‘great’, ‘good’ or ‘could do better’.

ID and verification

All government departments are required to adopt a strategy and roadmap for the GOV.UK One Login government app by April 2023, with all services to be using it by 2025. The system will allow users to have one account, one username, one password and one identity check for Government services. Devlin says more than 2 million people have already used the login, with ten services onboarding in the last year.

Buy once, use many approach to technology

All departments have agreed to promote a ‘buy once, use many times’ approach to technology, including making use of a common code, pattern and architecture for government. All departments will also have access to a data marketplace including a catalogue, standards and governance models. The CDDO is also working with departments to create a mobile app strategy designed to increase mobile access to government services.

Upskilling public servants

Department secretaries have committed to upscaling 90 per cent of their senior civil servants in digital data and technology, including cyber skills and how to lead a digital organisation. The government has also committed to increasing the proportion of digital staff in each department, and strengthening its pipeline by building more apprenticeships and fostering early career talent. It is also using pay frameworks that make it easier to recruit and retain digital staff, by enabling government departments to pay more competitively and reduce competition among departments.


Devlin says significant inroads have already been in the first year of the digital roadmap, including boosting the number of digital professionals by 20 per cent across departments, upscaling 600 government leaders in digital data, and marking a number of the 75 to a benchmark of “great” by private industry standards.

The CDDO is also rolling out a single framework for assessing legacy technology across all departments.

Devlin says the audit office has found that strong levers are in place to deliver the roadmap by 2025.

“The biggest lesson from Covid was the need to consider what is realistically achievable and have a razor sharp focus on the foundations and shifts that will have the greatest impact,” Devlin said.

“The UK civil service will never be the same as we were before Covid. The challenges we have faced have taught us much about the next era of transformation.”

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