29 Jun 2021

Elastic: Lower technical debt, usher in change

It’s no secret that technical debt is rife across the UK public sector and a major impediment to change. It’s driven by time and budget constraints that force IT teams to use workarounds, shortcuts and stopgaps to address systems issues in place of a more radical refresh that would take longer or cost more.

Some level of technical debt is acceptable if it’s carefully managed. It’s a fact of life for most organisations. But it’s also sneaky; if not monitored carefully, the result of always picking the fastest, cheapest fix, in place of radical rework, is systems that soon become a major drain on resources and a serious hurdle to digital transformation.

It’s a situation that, to a greater or lesser extent, most government departments find themselves in today. In other words, there are many systems out there struggling to support improved public services that are very expensive to maintain. In light of last year’s spending review, and with many departments facing financial challenges in 2021, it’s a problem that must be tackled.

How can they do that? The answer to the issue of technical debt lies in identifying technological solutions as the basis for digital transformation work that fulfills two important criteria.

First, the cost barrier to entry should be as low as possible. In the case of free and open technologies, that cost barrier is effectively zero.

Second, technology should support multiple different use cases. A single data platform that can be applied to many different programmes and requires a standard set of skills acts as the glue that brings data together from disparate systems, provides a fast way out of technical debt and increases collaboration between teams.

Many UK government departments are already finding that Elastic’s technology fits the bill in both respects. Take, for example, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). The agency has undergone several phases of change over the past decade. And, while it had organically grown into the cloud, it still had some technical debt challenges and system interoperability problems hindering the agency from moving at pace.

The DVLA team now uses the Elastic Stack to centralise logs and metrics from cloud infrastructure to analyse and quantify the performance and usage of apps located there and deliver a better experience, not just for internal users but also for UK motorists in general.

What’s more, the DVLA has committed to best practice development and sharing. The agency has trained and enabled its IT teams to create a center of excellence for cloud. They also actively share their learnings and experience of different technologies with other government agencies to help drive innovation across government more broadly.

There is much to play for here. Government departments that tackle technical debt quickly find that skills and resources previously bogged down in providing workarounds, shortcuts and stopgaps are freed up to flex their innovation muscles and drive real change. That change can’t come quick enough.


This article was published by Peter Dutton, Head of Public Sector UK & Ireland, Elastic. Peter Dutton is Head of Public Sector, UK&I at Elastic and leads a team supporting departments across the government. Peter has over 14 years of experience working with UK Government and is a passionate supporter of raising skills at all levels and how technology can affect positive change and digital transformation in Government that helps us all. Learn more about this author here.

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