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GDS unveils payments platform prototype in government-as-a-platform strategy

New system would provide a standardised way to take payments from citizens for online public services

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has unveiled details of the next major initiative in its government-as-a-platform (GaaP) strategy.

GDS is working on a payments platform, which aims to become a standardised way for public services to receive electronic payments, such as credit and debit cards or Paypal. At the moment, every service that requires a payment – such as paying tax, buying a passport or applying for a permit – has to use its own payment system.

GDS has developed a prototype for a common platform that could be used by any government service to give a standardised way for citizens to make payments. In this way, any new functionality or alternative payment methods would only need to be updated once in the payments platform, instead of every service needing to be changed individually.

“At the moment, each government service is directly integrated with certain payment and security functionality, making it tough to launch products,” wrote Till Wirth, payments platform product manager at GDS, in a blog post.

“For a cross-government change to happen, hundreds of services would have to adapt their existing front- and back- end integrations. That’s a great deal of work. 

“By contrast, a single change made in the payments platform would instantly be available as new functionality to every service using it. Very little work, resulting in instant, cross-government change,” he wrote. 

The prototype has been tested with citizens using services at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Insolvency Service. The next “beta” phase of development will see the platform used in “two or three” live services to take card payments online.

“We’ll then focus on fine-tuning the API [application programming interface] and the self-service components, making it as easy as possible for government services to adopt the platform. We’ll also add new payment types so users can choose the most convenient way to pay,” said Wirth.

The GaaP strategy envisages developing a series of standard digital platforms for common functions used across government, avoiding unnecessary duplication and cost. GDS is receiving a share of a £55m Treasury fund to help Whitehall departments define business cases for new digital projects, such as the latest GaaP platforms.

GDS has been working with the Treasury and consultancy McKinsey to develop a business case for its wider government-as-a-platform strategy. Any savings identified are likely to feed into the latest spending review announced on 21 July 2015 by chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne as part of the next round of budget cuts.

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