Shared or common? Using the same software in Wales
Public services need to find strength in numbers when it comes to digital products, CDPS’s Landscape Review found
27 July 2022
The Digital Landscape Review (DLR) has been central to CDPS’s mission of developing public services in Wales around the needs of the people who use them. The purpose of the review has been to gauge the maturity of digital public services in Wales as they are now.
The DLR team have reported their findings to CDPS leadership about the most pressing opportunities to develop Welsh public services.
In light of these findings, CDPS leadership asked the DLR team to go on and consider 3 questions:
- Which services are using the same software, and what are the risks and benefits of common use?
- Which local authority services would benefit the most from working in partnership with CDPS to meet the Digital Service Standards for Wales?
- How can we make DLR findings as easy as possible for other CDPS teams to find and to apply to other projects?
This blog post looks at question 1. Our next (and final) post will show how the DLR team responded to questions 2 and 3.
Shared or common software?
The DLR team found 2 scenarios where services were using the same software:
- Shared: organisations buy or develop a piece of software together, using it locally or on the same platform
- Common software: organisations independently bought the same off-the-shelf software
The DLR team researched which of 17 kinds of software different public sector organisations were using. We looked at general types of software such as customer relationship management systems and at specialised software – for example, systems local authorities use to manage housing. We discovered 308 systems that 33 Welsh public sector organisations providing public services were using.
Use of common or shared software differed according to the type of public body.
Health and care organisations, such as health boards, used lots of shared software but little common, off-the-shelf software. National organisations such as Digital Health and Care Wales use the ‘once for Wales’ approach, where possible, designing a single system for all health organisations to use.
In local government, there’s little shared software compared with common software. Many councils use the same off-the-shelf systems, without sharing them, for managing services such as planning and council tax.
Sponsored bodies provide very different services. For example, Amgueddfa Cymru runs the national museums, while Estyn inspects schools and other education providers. Because of these differences, the DLR team found little evidence of shared or common software among sponsored bodies.
We also often found evidence of outdated software in use. This included outdated operating systems (three-quarters of the systems we looked at were no longer getting mainstream support), which are more open to hacking and difficult to integrate with modern systems.
Risks of common software
Common software can be risky if one supplier’s system is much more commonly used than others. If that system fails, many public services could be affected. Services can also become ‘locked in’ to a vendor, making it expensive or impractical to use alternatives.
To mitigate these risks, public bodies should consider if many, well integrated systems could meet their software need, as opposed to a single monolithic solution (for, example, integrating housing repairs, asset management and housing finance system into one, rather than procuring a single “does everything” housing system).
Benefits and risks of shared software
Sharing, by contrast, lets organisations:
- integrate their services more easily (leading to easier sharing of medical data, for example, and so to better care)
- negotiate better deals with software suppliers
- ask suppliers for features or support as a group, making success more likely
On the other hand, shared software:
- may be less suited to local settings, if it’s been designed to meet broad needs
- can force all organisations using it to move at the same technological pace as the least mature organisations among them
The DLR recommends that leaders among public sector organisations sharing technology discuss how to benefit from it. We found such discussions are currently lacking, for example about the same software being used across many local authorities. Public sector organisations could cooperate to get software updates and work with vendors to make sure systems are designed around users’ needs.
7 practical challenges for digital services
Removing blockers in beta: next steps for Digital Landscape Review
Digital Landscape Review – an insight into recent discussions
Digital Landscape Review – end of discovery findings
The Digital Landscape Review has finished. Please email us with questions or comments about what we’ve found.
Looking back: CDPS’s first year
A year of user-centred services: watch Lee Waters’ video intro to CDPS’s first annual review