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Government’s digital strategy is progressing, but inconsistently

Caroline Baldwin

A review into the government’s digital strategy has reported that "digital by default" is on track, but 200 websites still need to move over to the central government website. 

The report concludes progress has been made on four key areas of its digital strategy, including creating digital leadership in government by building the Government Digital Service (GDS), launching an consolidated government website GOV.UK, transforming 25 high volume services from across government into digital services, and changing the way government procures its IT services.

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But at a media briefing with Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and executive director of GDS Mike Bracken, Maude said progress had not been consistent across all departments.

He said one of the areas where the government had made “real and serious progress” was the vision to become digital by default.

Following a survey conducted by the then digital champion Martha Lane Fox in 2010, the government decided it needed to step up its digital offering by launching the Government Digital Service. The GDS was launched in 2011 and at the end of 2012 it launched a digital strategy detailing its plans to save billions of pounds per year by digitising public services transactions and becoming digital by default.

Transformation

Today, the government updated its website to show the progress of its 25 key Exemplar services, which the GDS is currently helping to become digital. The progress, which can now be seen at www.gov.uk/transformation showed one service was live (student loans with 1.3m students supported online), 15 services in beta testing, six in alpha and three in the earliest phase called ‘discovery.’

One of these Exemplars is Universal Credit which has been criticised for writing off millions of pounds of wasted IT.  It currently sits in beta mode on the new website, which states it is supporting 10 million adults.

Yesterday, Universal Credit director general Howard Shiplee said that Universal Credit was no longer being develop on the basis of being "digital by default."

In response to this, Maude said: “Everyone accepted that the digital solution is the long term solution, but no one has ever said in that there is no human contact. It’s always been the case that there will be specific cases which will be need to be dealt where human contact is needed. But that should not be in every case."

GOV.UK

Launched at the end of 2012, the GOV.UK website consolidated websites from across government onto one single platform. In doing so, it scrapped 1,700 websites that were wasteful and confusing to the public.

Maude said the GOV.UK website has set the standard for other governments, and because its code is open source, organizations, including the New Zealand government, have been able to use the code for their own use.

"When the Obama Care website was released to universal criticism, there was a lot of commentary saying ‘why don’t they do what the British government is doing?’" said Maude. "We were recognized as being a world leader in a very short space of time."

The platform is updated quickly and often, around about every 75 minutes during the day, said Bracken during a Socitm annual conference this morning.

But the government still has 200 agencies to move to the centralised website over the coming months, and it was announced today that the completion date of the transition project would be July 2014, four months later than predicted at launch.

Additions to the strategy

Two additions were made to the digital strategy by the Cabinet Office today. One area the digital strategy will work on over the next year is the issue of digital inclusion. The issue, which was highlighted by Commons Speaker John Bercow in a speech last week, concentrates on members of the public who are not digitally savvy and may consequently be left out of the digital by default approach. To solve this, Maude said the government was continuing to work with the Go On programme of, which is chaired by Baroness Lane-Fox.

The Cabinet Office also announced it would push forward to find additional ways to open source its information so third-parties can create digital services.

Lastly, the digitisation of criminal record checks – which is one of the Exemplar services – is to be replaced by another service, at the moment applying for passports is being investigated as a replacement.


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