25th July 2016 London, UK

My first month at the DTU – Digital Transformation in a historic setting

Transforming Together - Edinburgh

DTU one month in.

On my first day as Product Manager in the Digital Transformation Unit (DTU) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) it rained, hard.   Having carefully selected a suit to wear, eager to give a good, professional first impression, I arrived looking like the proverbial drowned rat.  Soaked through, I may have well have swum there.  Rivulets of water streamed down my hair and clothes.  Luckily I’d arrived early enough to attempt to dry myself in a nearby coffee shop and (somewhat retrospectively) purchase an umbrella, however I still wasn’t looking my smartest when I arrived and it wasn’t quite the first impression I’d anticipated making.  However, I needn’t have worried.  Beyond sympathy for my plight, there was no mention of my haphazard appearance.  The DTU team could not have been more welcoming.  I had a coffee in my hand within moments, and my first day passed in a whirlwind of learning.  The structure of the DTU, the foibles of the FCO, how to find the canteen – I certainly didn’t pick it all up in day one, but I’m getting there! So here are some of the things I’ve learnt in my first month.

The people.

Without a single exception, every person I have met since being here has been welcoming, enthusiastic and demonstratively passionate about the FCO and what it delivers.  People are keen to welcome new starters and share with them their experiences.  I’ve learnt so much in a month about the role of the FCO, the workings of Government, creation of policy, the services we provide to British Nationals abroad and press and social media within this context.   There is an open and collaborative culture that I am excited to be a part of, and I look forward to the day that I can extend this to other new starters.  


The service delivery part of DTU is tasked primarily with digitising FCO’s services to the public, for example making an appointment at an embassy, getting documents legalised or applying for an emergency travel document online.  This is done in a modern, agile way.   The team work extraordinarily well together, with sprints and daily stand ups to update each other on the status of projects and the end results are truly user centred services that are slick and intuitive.

Standing up
Standing up

The modern approach to working is juxtaposed against a historic backdrop.  The FCO offices are spectacular and steeped in history, awash with statesmanlike rooms, grand courtyards and gilded walls – I am just getting used to the echoing claps of my heels as I walk down the long tiled corridors.

The Grand Staircase

Whilst it is imposing, working in a historic building brings its own challenges. This makes the work of the DTU in transforming services to make them current and state of the art all the more impressive.    Attending a seminar about virtual reality in a 19th Century room with mahogany and velvet furnishings was a particular highlight of this amalgamation of the old and the new.

User research

One of the aspects that has most impressed me about service delivery within FCO and wider Government is the focus on user research.   Within all stages of the project, research is conducted to ensure the users are who they are assumed to be, to establish their needs and create user stories and to test all the iterations of the service.  As an example of this, the prototype for legalisation was tested by over 200 potential users and subsequently updated and iterated to develop an intuitive, user friendly service.  It’s putting the customer first to an extent I’ve not seen before and this customer centric design is truly inspiring and produces spectacular results.

Transforming Together

Exactly a month after joining, as if to celebrate the occasion, I travelled to Edinburgh to attend the ‘Transforming Together’ event.  It was a thought provoking and enjoyable day.  The speakers’ passion for their subject of achieving digital transformation across government, through relentless, purposeful collaboration, made for a compelling message.

Transforming Together - Edinburgh
Transforming Together – Edinburgh

The workshops were exceptionally engaging.  For someone new to the civil service, a workshop about digital transformation across Government, including what is done well, what barriers there are and where we will be in 2030 is quite the induction! A breakout session about the art and science of digital take up was also exceptionally informative, and certainly something I’ll take back to my day job.

The day was an excellent conclusion to my first month.   The people I met and their passion for the Digital journey echoes everything I’ve perceived at the FCO.  I feel excited and privileged to be part of this journey of digital transformation, within the FCO and across wider Government.