iPad app for the Prime Minister

Part of our recent work with the UK Government GDS department saw us helping out Alice Newton with the Prime Minister’s briefing app. There have been a few news articles and posts about this and without giving away any confidential detail, here are some thoughts on this fascinating and high-profile project and how the issues are similar throughout the world of decision making.


The design of software for leaders and executives is very different from that for analysts and middle managers.

1- Business Intelligence tools for executives are filtering devices. The single key design factor is ‘show what is important right now”.

These people have full diaries and very little time. Whilst the PM app contains a lot of content and a traditional structure to access the depth, it contains a simple alert system – a method of highlighting updates and new things to see.

2. These tools need to augment the Human Intelligence that already exists.

The PM is surrounded by advisors and smart people. Any tools need to help their messages get through – or at least store these insights for later use. In our research for the app, we took some time to understand how the PM’s particular advice cycle (as different to a Fortune 100 CEO) may work so that the architecture of this app echoes his human networks.

3. BI apps need to show answers to specific questions.

The content sections in the PM app are based around his strategic priorities. Without giving anything away, they are a little more personalized than cross-departmental updates. There is obviously a lot of information in each of these key areas, so the alert function had to lead to a brief status report and then offer more depth. This was similar to the schema of the GDS Dashboard, with the design optimised for starting simply and getting more depth on demand.

4. Analytics culture is still young and faces hostility.

Nobody is suggesting that the PM only makes decisions based on one piece of software, yet a skeptical press had a bit of fun questioning the usefulness of such tools. In business, sports, health and every corner of our world, analytics software that can help us make decisions is becoming more prevalent. This gradual shift is opposed by those who see it as a zero-sum activity. They fear software will drive them out of a job or it replaces wise and experienced people. This is not the case – these tools can only work alongside smart analysts and people who use them.

5. Custom building is necessary for security issues but is now cheap and feasible to do quickly.

The last ten years have seen an explosion in software tools that can build quicker. Ten years ago, you would need to hire a giant like IBM or Serco to come in and work on your project. These days , a small, motivated team can have a version 1.0 product working within months due to new software languages and the libraries of product features that now exist.

If you have an executive board who are swamped in data, get in touch.