Last week the NAO published a review of the Government Gateway, direct.gov and businesslink in terms of costs and, particularly, benefits. They, sadly, didn’t get very far with the latter and, indeed, there were some gaps with the former. In OGC Gateway Review terms, this would be a Gate 5 – typically carried out about a year after project completion and focused on assessing whether the project had met its targets.
Well, better late than never – the Gateway will be 12 in a month, businesslink and direct.gov will be 11 and 9 respectively (though direct.gov’s precursor, ukonline, was launched a little before the Gateway at the end of 2000).
I’m not surprised that pinning down benefits (and even costs) was so challenging. I suspect if Jeff Bezos had been asked to give 5 year numbers for revenue and profits when Amazon IPOd in 1995, he wouldn’t have had a clue. A few years later, we didn’t have a clue either – though we tried to get there at every stage of our evolution both because we initially had to bid for money from HMT, we needed to produce both cost and benefit numbers and because we really wanted to show that reuse of assets was an obvious and necessary step.
In the business plan for the e-Delivery team I laid out some of the expected benefits (of ukonline and the gateway), at least in words:
– Substantial savings in departmental running costs as more transactional services are delivered
– Reduction of fraud
– Savings from reduced print, production and postage costs
– Cost of delivery by leveraging central infrastructure likely to be 25-35% of silo-based implementation
– Aggregation of marketing budgets should result in faster pay-off on investment
– Joined up processes will reduce overhead throughout government
– Access to central and local government, and DA transactions using a single password making the citizen experience simpler
– Increased take-up of government information and services through ease of use
– Central architecture allows departments to focus on innovative and joined-up transactions
– Increased responsiveness to meeting citizen and business needs – including personalising the relationship
And went on to say how we could save additional money
– Standard contract vehicles (One contract template for all projects)
– Single hosting environment
– Provide small number of framework contracts for all government
– Host multiple departmental websites within the UK online infrastructure
– Single managed call center service (Integrate and rationalise the existing help desks to create a single point of contact)
– Leverage IPR (Retain ownership and seek return on investment)
– Rationalise platforms, suppliers (Support fewer platforms, deal with a smaller range of suppliers to create economies of scale)
– Common processes: change, problem (Reduce cost of error and cost of change with a single process)
– Scale economies (Make the central infrastructure so attractive that there is no reason for it not to be used, saving money (through spend avoidance) throughout Government)
– Migrate to common Gateway services, like Payments, Outputs etc.
The challenges were many and varied, for instance, we had:
– No idea how many departments or other government entities would sign up to the Gateway
– No control over how much those departments spent to connect to the Gateway (though we controlled the costs that they would be exposed to as far as possible by stimulating a market for DIS boxes, creating simple SOAP interfaces for reuse/white labelling and so on)
– Little idea of what the take up of any of the services would be (At the time we were ridiculously bullish and only now are some of our wilder expectations being reached)
– To sell to each and every potential departmental customer the idea behind the Gateway, the way it worked and why it was important (often starting from the very essentials of authentication); in some cases we had to bid competitively for the work (some we won, some we lost); there was no “digital by default”, “reuse what’s there” etc agenda
– Trouble finding out what was already being spent (e.g. on websites) with a need, in the end, to resort to round robin parliamentary questions that were rarely answered fully (and often not at all)
I also included this slide (apologies for the hideous background, what was I thinking?) that costed implementing a secure transaction with the Gateway versus doing it yourself (we worked out these numbers quite carefully I remember, but the detail is lost to time). So, in 2001 GBP:
We also tracked our usage data day to day, month to month and year to year (indeed, all of our data was available widely across government, to customers and non-customers, and then, later, to anyone on the web long before anyone else in government did the same)
And we tried to cater for a lot of different models, costing each of them from our own perspective as well as that of the department:
In late 2003, I produced this slide – not the easiest one to digest that I’ve ever produced – to try and explain more clearly the benefits:
After all of that, the number of public sector bodies using the Gateway is “only” 77 and there are just 227 services live. My 2001 self would have been very disappointed in those figures – my 2011 self thinks that probably isn’t so bad given how much work it took to get each and every one of those done.
The NAO’s report, then, is timely. Rather than a rear-mirror view of what wasn’t done, it’s a great prod for how things need to move from now on so that when Digital Britain Two is published, costs, benefits, risks and consequences are all understood.
The NAO recommend:
– Set take up targets for Gateway (and what follows it via the Identity Assurance Programme)
– Collect information on user satisfaction (and, better still, carry out comprehensive user research in the run up to designing the new solutions – the alpha/beta.gov team are plainly doing that and the IAP is looking for a market-led solution; those with a good (user-led) solution will get to stay in the market)
But let’s not underestimate the challenge ahead. We are still a long way short from the 2005 / 100% online goal set in the year 2000.