Ever wondered how the intersection of technology and government can create more efficient systems, enhance public safety, and even revolutionise law enforcement? Here's a deep dive into the world of tech at the Home Office with Graham, a Chief Architect, who's been at the heart of the action. From ground-breaking biometrics to contactless travel and managing complex IT operations, we're unpacking it all.
Can you tell me how you got into tech and how you became a Chief Architect at the Home Office?
I started off working in the private sector, after studying Manufacturing and Systems Engineering. This gave me a strong foundation in systems thinking, control systems, and enterprise resource planning, which I later applied at several private sector companies I worked in. At one company, I got my first taste of IT operations in central government, but by 2012, I was ready for something different. I had a good 15 years of experience and could have easily stuck with enterprise resource planning, but it no longer intrigued me.
Around then, the Cabinet Office was shaking things up in how they managed and developed IT projects. They were having civil servant architects take the reins, setting the strategy, controlling the architecture, and owning the design. It was a big move away from the usual outsourced contracts, and it caught my interest.
I've spent over ten years at the Home Office now, and it's made me realise just how crucial it is to have civil servant architects. We're dealing with complex business and tech issues that take years to fully understand. If you're always switching out suppliers or resources, you just end up going in circles. When it comes to IT decisions, you've got to keep the government's and the public's best interests at heart.
Joining the government to work in IT as a mid-level architect was a bit like jumping into the deep end, but I've got no regrets.
Can you walk us through your career progression within the Home Office over the past 11 years?
Let's go down memory lane of my 11-year journey at the Home Office. It's a huge place, handling matters like immigration, border management, passports, and law enforcement. I started in 2012, working on border systems – talk about a baptism by fire! By 2013, I had become a subject matter expert on border systems, and by 2014, I stepped up to the role of Principal Technical Architect, managing a small team in Borders.
Later in 2014, I shifted to biometrics, creating a tech team to manage systems across the department. That kickstarted a massive £450m biometrics programme. Since then, the biometrics area has been constantly growing, and so has my role. I've built a tech team of 30 people covering everything from apps to security and service. Today, I'm managing the technical architecture for the delivery of that programme.
Next up for me? Product Management, moving from project-based to ongoing development of our biometric services. If I had to sum up the past 11 years, I'd say it's been a non-stop, growth-filled, and thrilling ride – I've loved every minute of it!
I'm interested in hearing more about the projects you've worked on, especially those involving modern technology. Could you share some examples?
One that comes to mind is from my early days at the Home Office. We were trying to push the envelope with automated freight targeting by finding a faster way to spot goods that might need to be inspected. The old system was slow, and we wanted to come up with a way to speed things up, but we were working with a tight budget and not a lot of time.
We could've gone the traditional route, but that would've taken years, and we didn't have that kind of time. So, we took a page from the Cabinet Office's book and went the Cloud-first route. We put together one of the first Agile projects in our office. We had a team in the targeting office, working hand in hand with the Border Force officers. The project was done, from idea to going live, in about 15 months. It was a big success, mostly because the Border Force officers were with us through the whole process.
Another exciting project I've been part of is Contactless Travel. Imagine crossing the border with just facial recognition, no need for a passport! It's a system that needs to handle tons of transactions quickly and securely, especially since it deals with sensitive data like biometrics. What's exciting is that no other country is looking at Contactless Travel the same way the UK is.
Could you tell us more about the impact of the biometric data-sharing capability with EU member states on law enforcement? How did this implementation contribute to enhancing public safety?
The sharing of biometric data among EU member states has significantly impacted law enforcement. Biometrics, including DNA and fingerprints from criminals and crime scenes, have revolutionised the sector. With the rise in cross-border crime, we've established a system to securely share this data, resulting in positive new leads for solving cold cases in the UK and Europe. This initiative was part of the Prüm agreement for sharing law enforcement data, including biometrics, between EU Member States.
But of course, with great power comes great responsibility. Handling this kind of sensitive, high-threat data and ensuring its confidentiality was a big challenge. The data formats varied from country to country, which added another layer of complexity. We teamed up with the National Cyber Security Centre and made sure we were on top of all the latest security measures.
Can you share the kind of support the Home Office provides for staff with disabilities and what it's like to work in a diverse team, and how this diversity has shaped your work?
We take an individual approach to this. The Home Office has a staff support network called ABLE, which was formerly known as the Home Office Disability Support Network. It's separate from management and unions, but they work together. Line managers are equipped with the tools to understand and meet the needs of their staff members, and our IT offices are accessible. Everyone is also encouraged to be mindful of each other’s needs, for example, choosing the right setting for a meeting if someone has hearing difficulties.
The Home Office also values diversity, and it shows in everything they do. They consider the impact of their policies on equality, for example, when we're working on biometric systems, we need to consider a wide variety of people and demographics. Every perspective is important here, whether it’s about age, ethnicity, or even people travelling with children.
Diversity also extends to how we approach technology. Some people might be excited about new tech, some might be cautious, and some might have different levels of risk they’re willing to take. It’s all about finding the right balance, which is a responsibility of the architects. We're very conscious of this at the Home Office, especially since our systems need to work reliably and securely. So, you can see, that diversity influences everything we do.
How does the multi-disciplinary agile team working culture in the Home Office's Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) department enhance the overall work environment and team dynamics?
At the Home Office's Digital Data and Technology department, we function like a matrix organisation. We have an architect profession that is always focusing on career development and upholding standards, but we also have project and program teams that are all about getting the job done. Our architects don't just sit in an office, they're part of the project teams, working side by side with user researchers, business analysts, delivery managers, and more. It's a super collaborative, multi-disciplinary environment.
Everyone is a specialist in their area, with an incredible depth of expertise, and they're great at explaining their work and concerns. This way, we all learn from each other, understand trade-offs, and spot potential issues. It's how we build the best solutions.
Apply for a Technical Architect position at the Home Office
You can read more about the Home Office's Technical Architecture profession and apply for an opportunity with us on the Home Office Careers website.