GDS hints at future approach to government-as-a-platform

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has hinted at a new approach to meet Whitehall’s government-as-a-platform goals

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has hinted at a new approach to meet Whitehall’s government-as-a-platform goals.

The GDS annual report stated that, over the next six months, the team will work closely with departments and agencies to identity the priority platforms to develop in an open format and share with other departments.

Government believes the development of common, shared technology platforms services – known as "government as a platform" – will help to build redesigned digital services.

“We have already built platforms for publishing (Gov.uk), identity (Gov.uk Verify) and performance data. These are platforms all of government share, saving money and unifying the experience for users,” said the report. “Platform services will give us an infrastructure which services and teams can build on. This may also lead to the development of APIs so that some of the infrastructure – or data in it – can be used by third parties to build their own services.”

Platform approach

The government has already proved that this open architecture approach works, by moving departments, agencies and arm’s length bodies over to the Gov.uk single online domain for government information and services.

Speaking to Computer Weekly towards the end of last year, government digital chief Mike Bracken said: “Gov.uk is so important because it establishes the idea of a common platform for all of government. Once you have that platform thinking, then you apply that to booking, registering, getting a licence – all things that are common in government.”

An example of this is the Ministry of Justice developing a simple transaction for prison visit bookings. The service was not designed independently of other departments, and the back-end code can be used to create an underlying platform for booking anything for any public service – jobcentre appointments, for example, or driving tests.

“One of the pieces of utility they came up with was a booking application. Now, when you want to book something else, we have that common component and booking in government should look like that,” added Bracken.

Bracken describes the move from silos to platforms as a “generational” switch. “That is going to be the bulk of the activity technically in the next parliament. It brings with it many decision points – whether you stick or twist, whether you replace, reform, or retire systems in any given department.”

Government Digital Service

In November 2012, the GDS was formed to encourage government to become more digital, to save money and provide cleaner, slicker digital services to the public. The government has calculated that on average an online service is 20 times cheaper than a phone transaction, 30 times cheaper than by post and 50 times cheaper than face-to-face.

Just over a month away from its two-year deadline to digitally transform 25 of the most commonly used public services, the report also stated that 20 of the exemplars will be publicly available in live or public beta by the end of March 2015. While the Home Office (HO), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will continue work on the remaining five exemplars.

“By making these services simpler, clearer and faster to use, we’re improving the lives of millions of hardworking people,” said minister for the cabinet office, Francis Maude in the report. “Our services such as registering to vote, claiming Carer’s Allowance or applying for Lasting Power of Attorney status are designed to put the user experience first.”

But GDS’s remit was more than just the 25 exemplars, and it has managed to encourage departments including HMRC, DVLA and the Ministry of Justice embrace digital and develop services in-house.

The DVLA has made strides with digital services through renewing tax online, abolishing the paper tax disc and other digital services, while it has also launched a startup incubator in Swansea to take advantage of the blossoming tech ecosystem.

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