The UK Government’s digital transformation project faces acute challenges, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO, which reports independently on government initiatives, found that most of the Government’s 11 digital strategies over the past decade focused too much on front-end systems while failing to tackle underlying complex systems.

“Our work over the past decade has shown that, across government, attempts at digital transformation have had little lasting success,” the report said. “Government cannot achieve real transformation without reshaping the business of government and understanding the challenges presented by legacy systems and data.”


It said that if Government wanted to succeed in its digital transformation goals it needed to modernise the existing legacy systems and the business processes on which they are built.

While the technology experts in Government were expected to drive change, the decisions on such initiatives were made by people such as permanent secretaries and directors. They set the scope and funding for projects, but the technology community often struggled to be heard and understood by those making decisions.

In January 2021, the Cabinet Office created the Central Digital & Data Office (CDDO) to lead the digital, data and technology function across government. CDDO aims to address these problems and has created a roadmap to help it achieve those goals.


The CDDO created a Digital and Data Board in July 2021 as a formal sub-board of the Civil Service Board. This aims to help co-ordinate initiatives across Government. While CDDO had achieved its initial goals, the NAO found, it now faced two significant further risks to progress. First, departments do not have the skills needed to implement the roadmap. Second, without sustained support from permanent secretaries in each department support for transformation will die out. 

“Stronger digital expertise and capacity-building, sustained support from the centre of government and the continued goodwill of department senior business leaders are needed to maintain momentum,” the report said. “Without these, the roadmap will peter out as its predecessors have done and government is unlikely to address the systemic issues and achieve the efficiencies the roadmap has identified.”