This week, the Government Digital Service released the updated Technology Code of Practice (“Code”), which sets out the standard on the best way for government organisations to design, build and buy technology. Reflecting the fact that technology has developed significantly since the Code was first introduced in 2013, it continues to focus on good commercial behaviour as well as user needs.
In recognising that technology has developed and improved since 2013 when the Code was first brought in, a call for feedback was issued by the Government in June 2016 asking for responses from members of the public to a new draft Code. This update was welcome, as it addressed concerns that the Code was losing relevance as technology moved forward without it. The Code’s guidelines are important, as they must be followed from the outset (both in terms of individual components and overall services) by Government departments to ensure they receive spend approval.
The Code itself consists of fourteen mandatory points, including defining user needs, ensuring transparency and accountability, accessibility, security and cloud policies, and “sensible contract” principles. These points alone demonstrate the Code’s self-described update to modern times. As with its predecessor, the mandatory points focus on keeping costs to a minimum.
- Importance is placed on giving consideration to free or open source software when choosing technology and taking account of the total cost of ownership of the service, including exit and transition costs.
- Regarding “sensible contracts”, a cap of £100 million is placed on the value and all contracts must be explicit as to the ownership of any intellectual property involved. It is also suggested that contracts should include a break clause at a maximum of two years and use smaller contracts from the widest range of suppliers where possible. Automatically extension of contracts is also not allowed, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
- Again, ensuring that costs are minimised where possible, and perhaps acknowledging well-known duplication of similar systems across various government departments, “share and reuse” is emphasised. The principle urges departments to ensure services, information, data and software components are made available to others to avoid duplication and prevent redundant investments.
- Additionally, an acknowledgment of the prominence of cloud-based services is seen through the “adopt cloud first” stance – public cloud services should be evaluated prior to any alternatives, and departments must ensure that the chosen cloud service represents best value for money if chosen as an alternative to the public cloud.
- An emphasis also is placed on the requirement for technology to be able to be used by those who will interact with them, and it is suggested that involving users with impairments during user testing as the services are developed can help achieve this objective.
In light of the updated Code, it is important for government departments to take the guidelines into account when considering implementing new technologies or services to ensure they receive approval to spend. Whilst the code is mandatory for Government departments to follow, it can still be seen as a useful checklist when any entity considers new technology.