Enforced technical standards

The public sector is still hugely dependent on business information systems which are closed, offering no effective integration capability - either to push data in or pull data out. There are a few suppliers who offer API's, however only at excessive cost.

These systems are limiting the ability of the public sector to modernise and are a fundamental barrier to the success of digital transformation initiatives.

This issue needs to be tackled on a collective basis, and I suggest a number of strategic objectives with this in mind:

  • define a set of technical standards which set out minimum and recommended requirements for any business system which serves the public sector
  • back these technical standards at national policy level
  • enforce standards by setting out a timescale for legacy systems to comply, and via procurement practices and routes.

Why the contribution is important

These standards, if enforced adequately:

  • could radically improve the quality and capability of public sector technical infrastructure
  • enable more effective and wider reaching digital transformation
  • reduce the cost of digital transformation initiatives

by EwanWalker on November 11, 2016 at 09:23AM

Current Rating

Average score : 3.0
Based on : 2 votes


  • Posted by Sundiver November 14, 2016 at 10:29

    I agree but I can't see the Scottish Govt and local authorities agreeing on a set of common standards any time soon. Furthermore there is the danger that some of the 'approved' formats end up obsolete or unsupported by the private sector.
  • Posted by sroebuck November 14, 2016 at 22:31

    I think the idea of setting a baseline of technical design standards that would, for example, open systems for adaptation and integration by third parties would be a very good thing but I wouldn't underestimate the task of defining them. However, the GDS Service Design Manual (https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/developers) seems to be a good starting point and demonstrates a pragmatic approach to the problem.

    I fear that the title "enforced technical standards" could be interpreted as meaning enforcing a fixed set of approved technologies. This has been both an explicit and implicit approach in the past and is therefore worth guarding against.
  • Posted by ScotGovDigitalChris November 17, 2016 at 10:45

    Hi EwanWalker. You make a number of great points. We agree that an open approach to the delivery of digital systems can bring a range of benefits including:

    • simpler interoperability and integration between systems;
    • more effective collaboration between Scottish public sector organisations;
    • better value for money;
    • the avoidance of ‘lock in’ to specific software vendors and system integrators;
    • the opportunity for citizens, businesses and other public sector organisations to re-use assets created by The Scottish Government;
    • transparency both in terms of the systems that we build and the data that we create, store and process;
    • more sustainable delivery as a result of incremental delivery and simpler procurements accessible to Scottish SMEs.
    In turn, these benefits allow us to deliver digital public services that are easier to use, more convenient to access and simpler to maintain and improve over time.
    The Scottish Government has had a policy on open source and open standards [1] since 2007. A key element of this policy is the principle that Scottish public sector organisations should make open standards a prerequisite for all interoperability software development. Working with public sector partners, we recently completed a significant update to this policy that strengthens the position on open standards such that “if there is no material difference in cost for the technology or in its support and maintenance, open standards solutions will be favoured”. We also recognised that Scottish public sector organisations need support to fully realise the benefits that open source and open standards can offer. To address this, we have produced an open source and open standards implementation plan that will be published alongside the policy and will explain the actions Scottish Government plans to take to support the Scottish public sector.
    On standards, we have a pan-public sector Technical and Design Board (T&D) [2] that has responsibility for the endorsement of technical standards at a national level. An example of this is the recent endorsement of a suite of standards related to video conferencing [3], which allow enhanced collaboration across a range of public sector organisations. The T&D Board have also published the High Level Operating Framework (HLOF) [4], which provides guidance to the Scottish public sector on the design, development and delivery of future digital public services. This includes a principle specifically focused on open standards:
    Wherever possible, organisations should seek to procure new or upgraded ICT services based on Open Standards, which are defined as standards that are made available and developed through a collaborative, consensus-based approach. Open Standards are non-proprietary (i.e. not restrictive) and facilitate interoperability and data exchange among different products and services.
    Some parts of the Scottish public sector also maintain programme or sectoral standards catalogues. For example, the Scottish Government’s Digital Public Services and Business Transformation Division publishes a catalogue of provisional technical standards on Github [5].
    Finally, with regards to enforcement, the Scottish Government has recently published the Digital First Service Standard [6] against which new services will be assessed before they go live. In central government we also have assurance processes [7] which check against best practice described in documents such as the HLOF.

    1. http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/1067/0049471.pdf
    2. http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Economy/digital/digitalservices/dpsbtgovernance
    3. http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Economy/digital/digitalservices/HLOF/VC
    4. http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Economy/digital/digitalservices/HLOF
    5. https://github.com/[…]/provisional.md
    6. http://resources.mygov.scot/standards/digital-first/
    7. http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Economy/digital/CIO/Assurance

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