Strictly speaking, this is a little more than 10 years after the 10 year mark. In late 2005, Public Sector Forums asked me to do a review of the first 10 years of e-government; in May 2006, I published that same review on this blog. It’s now time, I think, to look at what has happened in the 10 years (or more) since that piece, reviewing, particularly, digital government as opposed to e-government.
Here’s a quick recap of the original “10 years of e-government” piece, pulling out the key points from each of the posts that made up the full piece:
At the Labour Party conference in 1997, the Prime Minister had announced his plans for ‘simple government’ with a short paragraph in his first conference speech since taking charge of the country:
“We will publish a White Paper in the new year for what we call Simple Government, to cut the bureaucracy of Government and improve its service. We are setting a target that within five years, one quarter of dealings with Government can be done by a member of the public electronically through their television, telephone or computer.”
Some time later he went further:
“I am determined that Government should play its part, so I am bringing forward our target for getting all Government services online, from 2008 to 2005”
It’s easy to pick holes with a strategy (or perhaps the absence of one) that’s resulted in more than 4,000 individual websites, dozens of inconsistent and incompatible services and a level of take-up that, for the most popular services, is perhaps 25% at best.
After all, in a world where most people have 10-12 sites they visit regularly, it’s unlikely even one of those would be a government site – most interactions with government are, at best, annual and so there’s little incentive to store a list of government sites you might visit. As the count of government websites rose inexorably – from 1,600 in mid-2002 to 2,500 a year later and nearly 4,000 by mid-2005 – citizen interest in all but a few moved in the opposite direction.
Over 80% of the cost of any given website was spent on technology – content management tools, web server software, servers themselves – as technology buyers and their business unit partners became easy pickings for salesmen with 2 car families to support. Too often, design meant flashy graphics, complicated pages, too much information on a page and confusing navigation.
Accessibility meant, simply, the site wasn’t.
In short, services were supply-led by the government, not demand-led by the consumer. But where was the demand? Was the demand even there? Should it be up to the citizen to scream for the services they want and, if they did, would they – as Henry Ford claimed before producing the Model T – just want ‘faster horses’, or more of the same they’d always had performed a little quicker?
We have government for government, not government for the citizen. With so many services available, you’d perhaps think that usage should be higher. Early on, the argument was often made (I believe I made it too) that it wasn’t worth going online just to do one service – the overhead was too high – and that we needed to have a full range of services on offer – ones that could be used weekly and monthly as well as annually. That way, people would get used to dealing online with government and we’d have a shot at passing the ‘neighbour test’ (i.e. no service will get truly high usage until people are willing to tell their neighbour that they used, say, ‘that new tax credits service online’ and got their money in 4 days flat, encouraging their friends to do likewise).
A new plan
• Rationalise massively the number of government websites. In a 2002 April Fool email sent widely around government, I announced the e-Envoy’s department had seized control of government’s domain name registry and routed all website URLs to UKonline.gov.uk and was in the process of moving all content to that same site. Many people reading the mail a few days later applauded the initiative. Something similar is needed. The only reason to have a website is if someone else isn’t already doing it. Even if someone isn’t, there’s rarely a need for a new site and a new brand for every new idea.
• Engage forcefully with the private sector. The banks, building societies, pension and insurance companies need to tie their services into those offered by government. Want a pension forecast? Why go to government – what you really want to know is how much will you need to live on when you’re 65 (67?) and how you’ll put that much money away in time. Government can’t and won’t tell you that. Similarly, authentication services need to be provided that can be used across both public and private sectors – speeding the registration process in either direction. With Tesco more trusted than government, why shouldn’t it work this way? The Government Gateway, with over 7 million registered users, has much to offer the private sector – and they, in turn, could accelerate the usage of hardware tokens for authentication (to rid us of the problems of phishing) and so on.
• Open up every service. The folks at my society, public whip and theyworkforyou.com have shown what can be done by a small, dedicated (in the sense of passionate) team. No-one should ever need to visit the absurdly difficult to use Hansard site when it’s much easier through the services these folks have created. Incentives for small third parties to offer services should be created.
• Build services based on what people need to do. We know every year there are some 38 million tax discs issued for cars and that nearly everyone shows up at a post office with a tax disc, insurance form and MOT. For years, people in government have been talking about insurance companies issuing discs – but it still hasn’t happened. Bring together disparate services that have the same basic data requirements – tax credits and child benefit, housing benefit and council tax benefit etc.
• Increase the use of intermediaries. For the 45% of people who aren’t using the Internet and aren’t likely to any time soon, web-enabled services are so much hocus pocus. There needs to be a drive to take services to where people use them. Andrew Pinder, the former e-Envoy, used to talk about kiosks in pubs. He may have been speaking half in jest, but he probably wasn’t wrong. If that’s where people in a small village in Shropshire are to be found (and with Post Offices diminishing, it’s probably the only place to get access to the locals), that’s where the services need to be available. Government needs to be in the wholesale market if it’s to be efficient – there are far smarter, more fleet of foot retail providers that can deliver the individual transactions.
• Clean up the data. One of the reasons why government is probably afraid to join up services is that they know the data held on any given citizen is wildly out of date or just plain wrong. Joining up services would expose this. When I first took the business plan for the Government Gateway to a minister outside the Cabinet Office, this problem was quickly identified and seen as a huge impediment to progress
… The Government Gateway is dead … long live the distributed hub, the attribute providers and the identity providers …
Monday’s “Ensuring Trusted Services with the new Identity Assurance Programme” or #ETSIAP as it became on Twitter was a useful catch up on where things have got to. Disappointingly, for me at least, it didn’t really say precisely where they were going – though there was a clear direction of travel – or, more importantly, when exactly.
HMRC’s Joan Wood said that the business case for a “new hub” to be procured and to replace the GG in HMRC would go forward in April 2012 (Joan, who I worked with at the Inland Revenue and who was a key customer of the Gateway in its early days, is only 3 weeks into a new job, yet still had plenty of insight into the challenges ahead); and DWP’s Steve Dover was firmly of the view that Universal Credits would be delivering in April 2013, complete with authentication provided by the IAP (or possibly by their own procurement that would operate in line with IAP). The Gateway’s support contract has just, I gather, been extended through 2014 – something that may provide a useful contingency plan given that the original concept and design around the Gateway was to provide exactly this distributed capability.
The direction of travel, then, is that Government will now buy its identity verification (and perhaps its mapping of that identity to the various government services) from (potentially) many providers. Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, announced that £10m had been earmarked to staff the IAP (and Mike Bracken went on to say later that this would cover 5 workstreams through to 2012/13 which I took to mean March 2013).
This is a change from current practice, though not actually new thinking. Professor Brian Collins, who chaired the event, said that he had worked on such thinking in 1992. I. in turn, ran the Government Gateway team from 2000 to 2004 when this thinking was at the centre of what we were trying to do. We even got at least a little bit towards that with the digital certificates issued by 3rd parties, though that was an idea ahead of its time and its ability to be implemented.
The current practice is largely that government has a monopoly on both your identity and how you match your identity to a government service. Whilst it’s a monopoly, it isn’t actually done through a single route – the Government Gateway certainly handles a lot of transactions but it doesn’t, for instance, handle tax disc renewals, much of what DWP offers online or the bulk of local authority transactions. The change, then, is that private sector entities will be able to offer an identity service (and perhaps a hub that will match identity to service) and offer that to government.
Right now there isn’t a commercial model defined that would allow anyone to assess the value of that market. That is, there isn’t a known pipeline of transactions that will require authentication (or a commitment that only this route will be used in the future) or an assessment of the price that government would be willing to pay for such identity mapping (which would, somewhere along the line, have to address the risk of a false identity being guaranteed).
Mike Bracken went on to talk about a network of trust – using a series of low value transactions to build up a trusted identity. He used the example of the fishing licence – something that doubtless still raises the hackles of those who were around for the first iteration of online services. This is another transaction that has its own identity engine – especially if you set up an account so that you can easily renew your licence each season.
When we first floated the network of trust concept, we called it the “Green Shield Stamps” theory of identity – you carry out progressively more significant transactions by working up a pyramid of trust; over time your online persona is highly trusted. We had two theories on this – one was that there was a pyramid of trust between relying parties, and two that there was a pyramid of transactions that themselves generated trust (so to use Mike’s example, if you have bought a fishing licence and sent your self assessment return in, then maybe you can claim some benefits, and if that works, you claim tax credits) There was much resistance then, in 2003, but no reason why that resistance should still be there (there wasn’t really good reason for it to be there in the first place).
With the Cabinet Office getting behind the IAP – and, by the sounds of it, resourcing it for the first time in its current incarnation – there is great potential, provided things move fast. One of the first deliverables, then, should be the timetable for the completion of the standards, the required design and, very importantly, the proposed commercial model.
The important thing about the timetable is that if HMRC and DWP are going ahead with implementation as soon as 2013, IAP needs to have provided all of the framework and information long before that date – perhaps a year ahead of it – so that providers have time to put together the necessary capability/platform. The alternative is that DWP or HMRC do what they need to do and the result is either a solution where the first one or two solutions are subsidised by the two largest departments or, worse, a solution that works for those departments but not for anyone else.
The thinking behind the Cabinet Office approach is that private sector companies – perhaps the banks, the credit agencies, maybe BSkyB, Tesco or the Post Office will provide these identity services not just for government transactions but for any and all transactions – whether that be Facebook login, checking your Tesco ClubCard points or seeing if your pay check has hit your account. Francis Maude, to wry laughter, noted at the event that he had two dongles for accessing his two bank accounts within the same bank (HSBC if you’re interested). I wasn’t sure if he was suggesting a future where we might have a single dongle for everything (he was certainly not suggesting that was the only route – the slides from Dave Rennie were clear that it would be an individual choice regarding how much joining up was allowed, with the ultimate sanction being to use multiple identity agents for multiple services).
Whilst plenty of hard work has doubtless been done, the real hard work is in the next few months. There were many people in the room who were around when I was running the Gateway – the denizens of the Liberty Alliance, BT URU and so on were all there – and, whilst their thinking will be important, new thinking will also be needed to get this off the ground, get it widely used and get it delivered at a price point that makes sense for all of the players. Again, the commercial model by which this will work is a critical early deliverable.
I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out and to playing a role, again, in the development of the route to secure identity within UK government and perhaps more widely.
At a meeting today we were kicking around thoughts about services that should be online and easy to use and that probably weren’t or, at least, aren’t consistently available. We quickly alighted on the disabled persons blue badge. Instinct said that if anything was going to have a consistent national process, this would be one (after all, many e-government ships have foundered on the rocks that are housing benefit processes). I was grateful that direct.gov let me type a post code and then routed me to the right place to see how to apply. So:
My local council, Hammersmith and Fulham says you qualify if you:
receive mobility allowance or the higher rate mobility component of disabled living allowance
receive a war pensioner’s mobility supplement
are registered blind
have a permanent and substantial disability which means that you are unable to walk or have very considerable difficulty in walking
have a severe disability in both upper limbs and are unable to turn by hand the steering wheel of a vehicle even if that wheel is fitted with a turning knob
children under 2 who use bulky medical equipment
There is, though, no online process and no ability to download a form so I can’t see how they test these criteria.
Somerset has slightly different criteria – very similar but more detailed and these distinguish between automatic and following assessment:
You can get one automatically if you:
are registered as blind under the National Assistance Act 1948
you receive mobility allowance, or the higher rate of the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance
you receive the War Pensioner’s mobility supplement
you are a severely disabled service person or a veteran who is compensated under the new Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS)
You can get a badge subject to further assessment if:
you have a permanent disability that means you can’t walk or find walking very difficul
tyou have a severe disability in both your upper limbs and you regularly drive a motor vehicle but cannot turn the steering wheel by hand, even if the wheel is fitted with a turning knob
you are a child under the age of 3 who needs to be accompanied by medical equipment which cannot easily be transported, or who is affected by unstable medical conditions and may require emergency treatment.
Their process can be completed fully online – I didn’t have details of a local address so couldn’t try it out but it looked like it would work, if that means anything.
I then went to Buckinghamshire’s site (I’m running out of post codes that I know) and was impressed. They have an eligibility test online. I failed the test the first time because I didn’t confirm that I actually lived in Buckinghamshire. There follows an online form that looks very much like that in Somerset.
Finally I arrived at the Lambeth site and, at last, found the 20 page form I would need to fill in were I actually eligible. A 20 page form. For a Blue Badge. It’s not even the large print version.
The interesting bit is how the checks on eligibility are carried out. Lambeth requires proof of all sorts of things – address (the usual utility bill etc), pension etc – as well as photographs, a cheque for £2 (soon to go up to £10 I gather – another hit to inflation).
It strikes me that with some up front authentication, it wouldn’t be hard to test all of the other criteria from a single central capability (let’s start with England, I get the sense that the rest of the UK will be more challenging). Yet here we are, 6 years after “2005, 100% online” with a service that could be used by up to 2 million people – perhaps the very ones who would most benefit from a simple way of getting hold of something that would be genuinely valuable to them … and it’s not there.
We are establishing, with local authorities, a common service delivery project which could deliver operational efficiency savings of up to £20m per year, help to reduce and prevent abuse and improve customer services. The project will also make available an on-line application facility which should result in faster, more automatic renewals for people whose circumstances do not change between renewal periods.
I haven’t heard that anyone is actually doing this. £20m of saves sounds worth having, assuming those saves can be delivered for less than £40m! Anyone know if this is underway?
I was hunting for some slides from a presentation I gave a while ago. I didn’t find the ones I wanted but I thought these slides on authentication (and a little content info) at the end were interesting (as a throwback). It struck me that many of the issues identified here – lack of crosstrust, persistent use of userid/password, insufficient integration with private sector authentication methods – are still with us and that government(s) could do with another go round at resolving them once and for all.