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Economic outputs and key systems - where our new Technical Lead role fits in

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: ONS digital people, People and skills, Recruitment

Outputs, key systems and the tech lead role

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) are developing a new system which will underpin the statistical outputs on the UK economy that are used in government and beyond.  As part of this crucial project, we're putting together a team of engineers and we need a Tech Lead to head it up.

We talk to Alastair Christie, Head of Partnership Development within our Digital Services & Technology (DST) directorate to learn more about this important role.

How long have you been with ONS, and what is your role?

I joined the ONS in January 2022. My current role as Head of Partnership Development was formed shortly afterwards, to manage a number of engagements with partner organisations to develop software solutions for the ONS. This was a very natural fit for me with my background in supplier software programme and project management.

Where will this new role fit into DST, and the wider ONS?

The successful candidate will provide technical leadership for our new Statistical Business Register (SBR) system, working with the two dedicated Software Engineers (at Senior Executive Officer level) we're also recruiting.

Initially engaging with a team of around twenty colleagues at our partner CGI there will be a number of touch points within DST, most notably the SBR Product Manager, but also across our Cloud, Security and Architecture teams in particular.

What sort of projects would this Tech Lead expect to work on?

We've been working on SBR for about two years and plan to launch at the end of March 2024.  From then, they will hold a pivotal role providing technical expertise to DST and business colleagues, facilitating system support and management, continuous improvement with new features and functionality, and providing subject matter expertise to aid our business transition activities.

How is the current delivery going?

This is a tightly-managed Agile delivery that is on track to deliver within our timebox at the end of March 2024. Along the way we have expanded the delivery resource somewhat to match the project’s emerging needs and keep it on track. We do expect to deliver on time at the end of March as planned. Inevitably, we are building up a number of “nice to have” backlog items which we know the project won’t have opportunity to deliver; there are ongoing discussions within ONS management as to the best way to approach these and which offer the most value, so some ongoing areas of development later into 2024 are very possible. This is a complex prioritisation exercise, and the ONS expect to make a decision by Autumn 2023.

What kind of pressures will the Technical Lead face in the role?

They will need to be comfortable engaging with both people and technology, working alongside a DST Delivery Manager providing technical insight. They'll create solutions, explore feasibility of ideas, estimate technical work, improve system user experience, ensure resilience, deliver technical change, all whilst liaising with other technical colleagues providing domain expertise.

What kind of support can they expect from direct colleagues and the wider organisation?

The area will be managed by a Delivery Manager who will focus on stakeholder communications, planning work using our Agile methodology, resourcing needs, meeting service levels, requirement gathering, and coordinating change management. Working closely to design, estimate, deliver and test solutions and changes, as well as ensuring the system continues to meet high expectations of quality and resilience.

What is the management culture like in DST, and the wider ONS?

The ONS management team make a point of being inclusive and accessible to all. Diversity is strongly championed here. All colleagues have regular opportunities each month to raise questions and ideas through open online sessions. Management are strongly encouraged to support the ongoing career progression of all interested colleagues.

ONS is a technologically complex organisation – what can you tell us about the domain this Technical Lead will be working within?

This is unquestionably a complex domain. There is an ever-evolving data set at the heart of the SBR that captures information about UK businesses. This is then used and explored for a large number of statistical purposes, so the system has a wide base of stakeholders and purposes, and it interfaces with a number of other ONS systems to meet these. Offering enhanced functionality, the SBR is intended to replace a legacy system called the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR); this older system will continue in dual running for a little while, for which it will continue to be managed by another team entirely. However it’s likely involvement will also be required in helping ensure the new SBR is meeting user needs, using technical expertise in judging confidence levels in different areas over time, for fully transitioning from the older system.

How have you found the culture at ONS since joining? How are ONS as an employer?

The ONS has a very welcoming and mutually supportive culture of very capable individuals. With so many decisions across government and business reliant on our statistical outputs, there are high expectations of quality and timeliness in what we deliver. This is reflected in the technical capability of our colleagues and our high expectations in terms of quality, security and risk management.

Since joining I have been particularly impressed by the range of active community groups supported here; personally I get involved supporting the ONS Careers Club. I am also actively involved in the voluntary Mentoring scheme and currently support two mentees.

There are lots of training opportunities internally for those who want them; I’ve been on three courses relating to leadership skills just this year. The organisation also encourages colleagues to participate in external volunteering and offers 3 paid volunteering work days per annum; this I have found very helpful as a School Governor and Charity Trustee outside work.

What are the three most important things you’re looking for in applicants?

This is a position of technical leadership, so first and foremost you need to be technically capable; this means having reasonable proficiency already with some of our core tech stack and the motivation to learn the other technologies. You must be confident in providing your technical expertise both verbally and in emails, so you will need to be a strong collaborative communicator. Finally, you must demonstrate you meet the civil service standards for professional behaviour at this level, where expectations around ownership, inclusivity and outcome-based delivery are high.

Why should the person reading this apply for this new Technical Lead role?

You’re looking at one of the core systems whose data underpins a significant portion of our statistical outputs. This is therefore a very responsible role that will not only challenge you with its technical complexity, but interest you with its breadth. You will find yourself engaging across both our technical and business domains, and have the opportunity to become a domain expert whose insight and opinion will be highly valued by colleagues.

The vacancy is live now on the Civil Service Jobs website - click here to see full details, candidate pack and to apply. Applications close at 11:55 pm on Tuesday 25th July.

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