December 18, 2011

Appearing coincidentally near the launch of the UK Government Data Service is the release of a report from the National Audit Office on the topic of ‘Digital Britain One: Shared infrastructure and services for government online’. The report is essentially a review of the three key government websites – Directgov, and Government Gateway. It’s also at a time when local government is anxiously waiting to see what proposals for a citizen authentication application are going to be made, given that identity cards were thrown out after a substantial expenditure.

The report accepts that user experience of Government Gateway damaged Directgov, which is no surprise. I can’t see anybody voluntarily using the Gateway, it’s so complex – it was also incredibly flakey before a large amount of cash paid for replacement hardware. The report also identifies the absence of feedback data from the Gateway, although sufficient comes through Directgov to bring out the issues. The report also identifies the number of government websites closed since 2006 but no-one is still quite sure how many actually existed or how many new ones have sneakily made their way into existence avoiding the command.

The report also confirms that statement made at the GDS launch that customer satisfaction with Directgov was increasing but unfortunately we are still not clear how this is impacting channel shift. As has been repeatedly stated on this blog, and by my academic work – along with feedback ACROSS ALL CHANNELS, usage figures ACROSS ALL CHANNELS are a necessity to identify shift. I commended the GDS team for finally responding to and using feedback from site users to improve it, but we are unaware, apart from an increase in satisfaction, of who is shifting away from conventional channels. Whist user satisfaction is increasing with Directgov it is noted in the report that there is a decrease in stakeholder satisfaction, along with that for – this might be resolved by and the new tools being implemented, but I would suggest it is worth investigating.

Importantly the report concludes by stating that:

  • website rationalisation has been driven by policy rather than business case (nothing unusual here, it being politics)
  • evaluation mechanisms that are accurate and involve costs and benefits should be inherent in the GDS
  • it should be ensured that the GDS has authority across all digital channels
  • there should be a federated approach to identity assurance

Given the learning of the last decade in local government this is no surprise to us in that community. However I would go much further. There needs to be a government-wide channel strategy to ensure channel shift. Given the recent admission that there are different requirements for security across departments (shouldn’t that be services?). Given that Departments have heavily invested in and outsourced services across more expensive channels that will never fit with or a government-wide solution, this is all a bit of a game. In fact, this report might have had greater effect if it considered access to all or a range of government services and then identified the diversity. Have you tried contacting the HMRC electronically or had to deal with their identity assurance?

As with local government, central government should be focussing on the heavily used services, where the users can most easily be transferred online to the benefit of ALL.


What? More PASC

April 1, 2011

The concluding hearing from the UK PASC on 29th March 2011 heard evidence from the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, and Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer, Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office. The hearing lasted over 90 minutes and Ian Watmore pulled no punches about his previous employers, the Labour administration. His parting words from that job have already been reported here, along with other evidence given by Socitm and those behind the recent Institute for Government report ‘System Error’.

Unlike the Socitm evidence, the video is complete. In fact it starts with a minute or two of everyone entering the room and even the call of ‘order, order’! It is also occurring on the day of the official publication of the long-awaited Government ICT Strategy, so is appropriate and a certain amount of the evidence reflects that publication.  Initially Francis Maude expands a few vocabularies by describing the 25-page report as having a ‘lapidary’ style of writing, meaning that it is so short and sweet it could be carved in stone! Mr Maude also emphasises early on that whilst ICT is an enabler, the necessary cultural change requires a change in behaviours, and that is what is needed in government. The evidence also promotes the need for delivery to be considered when policy is formulated, since the claimed ICT failures were less a problem with the technology than failures project management and in the delivery of overly complex policies.

One concerning statement is that according to the Minister there is a project on identity assurance underway. Since considerable money has been and is being spent on the Government Gateway, which is rather unpopular but lives within the DWP, I suggest that since a number of large government departments employ it, along with a few local authorities, some thought is given to that, prior to pulling the Gateway’s plug.