GDS chief on why digital agency should be ‘cajoling’ departments towards new tech

Written by Sam Trendall on 1 May 2019 in News

Kevin Cunnington believes the central agency should be leading on the ideas that will be of interest to departments in two years’ time

Credit: Cabinet Office

The head of the Government Digital Service has claimed he wants the organisation to devote more of its energies to “prototyping things today that departments will want to explore in two years’ time”.

Appearing on GDS’s own podcast, director general Kevin Cunnington (pictured above) cited a handful of priorities for the digital agency in the coming years. A major focus, he said, will be on helping to realise emerging concepts and lay the groundwork for government departments to implement new technology. 

As an example, he pointed to the GDS’s ongoing work in the area of voice recognition and activation.

Cunnington said: “[We want to] be more proactive about, ‘this is what good in the space of biometrics’, or ‘this is what good in the space of voice activation’, and begin to work more proactively with departments to lay out that roadmap that we asked them to follow.”

Related content

He added: “[We should be] working with some departments on exemplars, setting the standards and then really encouraging – cajoling, even – departments to say: ‘well, now we’ve figured out how to do voice activation of services, why wouldn’t you make all your major services voice ‘activationable’ by 2027?’.”

Another priority picked out by the GDS chief was “reflecting the society we serve”. The organisation’s work in this area will include efforts to improve gender, race, and cognitive diversity, as well as broadening its supply chain and its geographic spread.

He said: “[We] need to encourage SMEs across the UK to work with us. We also need, as GDS, to have a more regional footprint.”

Since Cunnington joined as director general three years ago, GDS has more than doubled in size from 400 employees to about 860, he said, and this has changed the feel of the organisation.

“It was still kind of like a big start-up back in ‘16 [2016],” he said. “Where it is now in ’19… it feels more like an enterprise.”

Cunnington said that he routinely gives “two bits of advice” to similar organisations in other countries that are just starting out.

“Build capability, get the academies sorted at scale; [and]… don’t start building applications until you’ve got your identity strategy sorted out,” he said.

He admitted that, with th eGOV.UK Verify programme, GDS had not adhered to this second piece of guidance. 

Cunnington said: “If you don’t get your identity strategy first and foremost… then you find yourself in the kind of position we are – which is playing catch-up on identity.”

Elsewhere in his podcast appearance, Cunnington revealed that, earlier in his career, he “had a spell as an entrepreneur” which began successfully but ultimately saw him lose £13m on a venture that did not work out as planned.

He also said that, while it has been some time since he did any coding, he would like to return to the discipline one day.

“My passion was always Prolog and Lisp and since [those languages] are no longer really around, I just… wouldn’t have the skill set to programme in Java or Ruby nowadays, so I’ve not done any for years really,” he said. “I think I’d like to go back to it when I retire.”


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

Share this page




Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

Can the GDS innovation strategy deliver a lasting legacy for government?
14 August 2019

Government's new Innovation Strategy set out ambitious proposals to update processes, eliminate ageing kit, and embrace emerging technologies. PublicTechnology caught up with...

'Designating services as digital is increasingly a hindrance' – DfE's Emma Stace on working across organisational boundaries
18 September 2019

As the Department for Education refashions itself as a delivery department, its chief digital officer Emma Stace tells PublicTechnology she is determined to make digital ‘just...

Related Sponsored Articles

The age of virtualisation
17 September 2019

After more than 20 years of stability, networks are going through a period of dramatic transformation. BT looks beyond the hype at the real benefits of virtualisation.

Digital Transformation: Connecting and protecting with perfect predictability
10 September 2019

How can you stay ahead in the fast-paced world of digital technology? BT describes how it's a matter of focus... 

How to stay ahead of a changing threat landscape
3 September 2019

The security threat landscape is confusing and changing rapidly – there’s so much out there, how do you understand where the true risks are? BT offers insight from their own experience

The cyber security skills challenge: Hiring for tomorrow
27 August 2019

Organisations must alter their approach to cyber security recruitment in order to combat the global shortage of security professionals, writes BT