Here’s a deck I presented in January 2003 that looked at the potential for government to adapt to increasing mobile usage by its citizens. At the time we were just beginning to trial a few capabilities within the e-Delivery team and wanted to hear from others to see what they were doing. As with many such things, it was a slow burn
This is the week that agile truly died in UK government. GDS has been stumbling along with very limited impact for many months, perhaps even as long as two or three years. That was triggered by a failure to manage the inevitable turnover of leadership, both in the executive and ministerial ranks. See my previous writing, not least the emperor’s new clothes.
It’s one thing to stumble, it’s another to fall and not be able to get up. And that’s where we’ve arrived. The interim head of GDS, Alison Pritchard, announced the new plan for digital government at the Sprint 19 event. I say sprint, but it’s increasingly clear that we’re moving at waddle speed, at best. She said, according to Mark Say at UK Authority:
“Government in 2030 will be joined up, trusted and responsive to user needs … This is the closest I have seen for quite a while to articulating the end goal for what we are trying to achieve”
Close but not actually the end goal? No different from the joined up, citizen focused government of 2000 some would say. Or of the goal set in many other iterations of e-government, transformation or digital government.
What this isn’t is clear thinking, iterative, ambitious, useful or, in any way, likely to succeed. What will we get next month? Or in 6 months? Or in a year? A tiny step closer perhaps. But seemingly we need 10 more years to get “close” to our “end goal”. As if there’s an end. Where did we lose agile and iterative? Where did the recognition that the goal shifts as you progress go?
What’s the single thing that we can predict about 2030 as I write in September 2019? It’s that none of the people currently in post in government, let alone in GDS, will be in post when that time rolls around.
The greek temple model makes an appearance, with 5 pillars. Legacy systems will, apparently, no longer be a barrier to transformation – notwithstanding that there will doubtless be new ones by 2030. Oh, and ubiquitous digital identity. Verify rises from Valhalla.
This isn’t Alison’s fault. She’s just arrived. She sees no way ahead in the short term. No sponsorship. Better to play the long game.
Oliver Dowden went on to say:
“It’s starting with key life events such as having a baby or setting up a business, or what do when a loved one has passed away. It enables government to deliver smarter public services by getting things right from the start.”
Forgive me for thinking it’s 1999 all over again. Somehow the digerati have become the deluderati.
An interesting read, via @paulshetler, today, covers the setting up of a new piece of governance in New South Wales. the “Delivery and Performance Committee” (DaPCo).
The best quote from the release, by Victor Dominello, NSW Customer Minister, is easily:
This reform – is cultural and it is whole-of-government – it is the hard stuff, the messy and complex innards of government that nobody likes to talk about. It’s not shiny but it’s one of the biggest enablers for digital transformation and service delivery – which is why we’re committed to getting it right.
The committee plans to ask the hard questions on delivery, drive adoption of a Netflix-like approach (“test and tweak services in short delivery cycles based on customer feedback”), improve the “tell us once” functionality.
Importantly, they say that the model will be replicated at the Federal level, with “Services Australia”, previously known was the Department of Human Service.
and then this
With our counterparts in the federal government, we’re making big advances in designing services around complex life events – we’ve already launched a prototype to help people through the end–to–end journey at pivotal moments in life, like what to do when somebody dies, so you don’t have to go to 10 different government departments
For a moment I thought it was 2001 all again and UKonline had moved down under.
It all sounds good. Just a couple of thoughts
- A committee? That sounds like a challenging way to manage an agile, fleet of foot, iterative delivery cycle based on customer feedback
- What’s the first project or policy it will start with and is it policy focused, technology focused, solution focused, delivery methodology focused or all of the above?
- What’s the lever by which the work gets done once the committee pronounces? How will they tell everyone what the new guidance is so that people don’t waste time preparing the wrong solution that the committee then reject?
Interesting stuff. Would be good to compare before and after, if it can be asssessed transparently. Lots of effort has gone into making a similar switch in the UK, of course, but the translation into real improvement for transactional services is hard to see except in a few really strong cases.
Yesterday, building on a Tweet from @hondanhon I posed the question
“What is a successful digital transformation project, from the last decade, that everyone would recognise?”
I started the list off with Netflix. This company has achieved four impressive feats:
- Disrupted the video rental market with its postal model, no late fees, large back catalogue etc … putting Blockbuster out of business (there are a couple of good books that tell the whole story, and an even better podcast from Wondery, in its Business Wars series)
- Transformed its own business model into a fully digital model by moving, first, to an online streaming business, letting customers watch major films and TV shows (though not those currently showing)
- Made a further leap to become a content company – like Warner, Sony and others – producing and commissioning its own shows and films, not just in English but in several languages.
- In doing (3), Netflix disrupted TV (binge watching entire series) as well as bringing “watch what you want when you want” to their customers
This has all cost a lot of money – their content budget this year is rumoured to be some $15bn – and it’s not clear if there’s a path to profitability, but all of it together makes for an astonishing transformation
But if you look for other examples of transformation and, particularly, digital transformation, it’s hard to find them.
That, for me, is because it feels like we’ve linked two words that are largely nothing to do with each other.
Digital is about putting your previously offline services online and improving them to fit better into the online world. Transformation is about fundamentally re-engineering your business model (in a positive way).
In 2001, HMRC put Self Assessment online. It wasn’t called digital then, but e-government. It was clearly a move to digital services. From that year on, you could fill in your Self Assessment form online, at 2 minutes to midnight on deadline day, 31st January, and be confident that your tax return was accepted.
Later, PAYE forms could be sent, from pretty much any accounting software, via the Government Gateway, achieving the same result. Over a few years, paper returns were largely wiped out.
But was this transformational? The forms were the same – they weren’t on paper, but they were still forms, asking the same questions in the same way. You didn’t need to print PAYE forms from your Sage package (or buy their hugely marked up paper), but the data you needed was the same. Perhaps the biggest benefit was that various applications – whether HMRC’s own or those from third parties – validated the data you were entering and ensured that it would be accepted (it didn’t mean it was right of course – there were, and are, still plenty of ways to get the data acceptably wrong).
More recently, an example might be that of DVLA with their online tax disc transaction.
That’s clearly a digital service – no longer did you have to go to the Post Office with your MOT and Insurance documents to pick up a new paper disc. If I recall correctly it was a two stage change, with the more recent work getting rid of the tax disc.
But is it transformational? Those who don’t buy a tax disc are now slightly more difficult to catch because a passing Police Officer can’t look in the window and check the date. And, of course, you still need a “tax disc” albeit now it arrives via email.
Perhaps transformation would have meant that the tax disc was purchased along with your insurance, or was given to you when you passed your MOT, collapsing some transactions, moving the point of collection to industry and changing the relationship with the customer so that it was no longer with government,
Very recently the Home Office launched an app that would allow an Android phone user to scan their passport when applying for, say, settled status. In a couple of weeks that same capability should be available for the other 50% of the population – the iPhone users – as the new release of iOS will allow the Home Office access to the NFC chip.
This is definitely game changing – some 85% of transactions (and there have been roughly a million so far) have apparently come through the online channel – and when iOS launches, this should jump massively (and help cover the 2m who haven’t yet used it but who may need to). Is this transformation? It could be, but then, of course, it’s a new burden that we are imposing on people and we are giving them a faster way to remove that burden, we are not removing the burden altogether,
… and what have we accomplished?
I wrote about Martha Lane Fox’s report on the future of e-government (shortly thereafter to become digital government, though Martha referred to it all as “government online services”) in November 2010. The recommendations were not particularly new but they were tightly focused and provided the impetus to set up GDS and give it a power that had previously not been available to either a Cabinet Office technology-led function or, I think, any other cross-government technology-led team.
Handily, the EU have published their “Digital Economy and Society Index 2019“, and there’s a specific report on the UK. Perhaps the last one of these that we will see. The upside of that is that we may be top of the table in the next one that we self-publish, if only because it will be a table of one.
What, then, have we accomplished? I’m afraid it doesn’t make for good reading.
We rank 11th overall in the EU. The authors kindly say that this is “showing a somewhat above average performance.” I take that to mean that given there are 27 member states, we are just above the mid-point. If you were to measure performance by GDP, or by capital invested, or by expectation of position, I’m quite sure that this is a well below average performance.
It gets worse. We are 18th for online service completion and a woeful 27th for pre-filled forms. Put to one side the idea that “forms” are still the vernacular more than 20 years after we started down the online path.
Our best ranking, by far, is “digital public services for businesses” – I may be biased but I would put that down to the original work by HMRC as far back as 2001 followed up by good work by Companies House (which chose to do things their own way but nevertheless did a very good job – far above average one might say). It is perhaps interesting to note that GDS has never paid much attention to business transactions – Verify ignores businesses (in the too hard box), the work with RPA around payments to farmers was abandoned after a disastrous launch etc. And yet there we are in 2nd place.
Estonia I hear you cry.
Would be a good guess. They’re 2nd. Finland is first.
Estonia is let down by open data (where they are 25th); Finland is let down by digital public services for businesses (16th) and open data (19th).
There are some lessons to learn here. Trouble is we just never seem to learn them.
Verify, the self-declared “new way for you to prove who you are online, so you can use government services safely”, seemingly crossed 4m users in April, and has since (as of 2/8/19) climbed to nearly 4.7m.
The clearest evidence of delusion is when if there’s nothing to say, you still feel the need to say something. This piece, on the GDS blog, this week, filled that gap in the evidence.
When a tax return is filed online through the Self Assessment service, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) need to confirm a user’s identity. One way users can prove they are who they say they are online is via the government’s identity assurance platform, GOV.UK Verify. The other route is through Government Gateway.
This year, HMRC saw their highest online Self Assessment peak. This refers to the rush in tax returns that occurs as the deadline of midnight 31 January approaches, usually from the start of the month onwards.
We prepared for this anticipated demand by working closely with HMRC, learning from previous years and keeping up regular contact. All this work allowed us to help HMRC with their busiest Self Assessment peak and highest number of tax returns made online.
(In other news, the Titantic hit an iceberg, people landed on the moon, DotCom stocks boomed and busted … you get it)
Perhaps more importantly, if you were paying for this, ahem, service, would you? It’s trite, but you are paying, in so many ways.
Failed project? Check. Top 10 reasons for failure fulfilled? Check. Sunk cost fallacy? Check. Spin machine out of control? Check. Deluded? Check.
To judge from the Digerati’s comments, the recent move of Data (capital D) from GDS to DCMS is akin to the beginning of the end of GDS, that is, far beyond the end of the beginning that we were only celebrating a few weeks ago thanks to a brilliant talk by Janet Hughes.
For most in Government IT, disaggregation has been a hot topic and is a live goal for nearly all of them, even those busily extending their contracts with incumbents so that they can buy time to disaggregate properly, as I wrote in June 2013 for instance.
Concentrating power in big, slow moving central organisations has, traditionally, been a bad thing. As an organisation grows, so does its bureaucracy. Government has, then, repeatedly broken itself down (Departments and Ministries … agencies and NDPBs) in an effort to separate policy from delivery and get closer to the customer, with varying degrees of success.
Political fiefdoms have, at the same time, been created to satisfy egos (ODPM) or to pretend to the outside world that real change was happening (the story of dti on its journey to the current BEIS for instance). Alongside that, functions have moved – Child Benefit between DWP and IR (now HMRC) – and Tax Credits, whilst benefits, were sited in HMRC rather than DWP, to the great consternation of HMRC staff on day one (and for many days thereafter).
GDS, perhaps accidentally, perhaps as a result of a flood of cash in the Spending Review, has become that big, slow moving central organisation. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional – they saw gaps all around them and took on more people to fill those gaps. Before they knew it, they needed a bigger office to fit in the 900+ people in the organisation. Along the way, they forgot what they were there for, as the NAO said.
On data, all we know for now is:
“Data policy and governance functions of the Government Digital Service (GDS) will transfer from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The transfer includes responsibility for data sharing (including coordination of Part 5 of the Digital Economy Act 2017), data ethics, open data and data governance.”
The real issue here is not that “Data”, whatever that is in this context, has moved from GDS to DCMS, but that we lack (still) an executable strategy. We have a trite “transformation strategy” that is long on words and short on actions (see “No Vision, No Ambition” on this blog), but we have no real framework to evaluate this decision, to move “Data”, from one department to another.
An executable strategy would lay out not just the what, but the why, the how and the when. We would be able to see how changes were planned to unfold, whether incremental, revolutionary or transformational … and when a decision such as this was taken, understand the impact on the that strategy and whether it was good or bad (and sometimes, decisions with known bad impacts are taken for good reasons).
Mike Bracken, writing in the New Statesman, is emphatic that this is a bad idea – one that runs against what everyone else in the world is doing. His closing take is that:
“the UK seems to have made government a little bit slower, more siloed, harder to reform and more complex.”
GDS is hardly the rapidly responding, iterative, agile organisation that it set out to be (and that it certainly was in its early days as I’ve said before) … so maybe this little bit of disaggregation will free up the remaining (and still large) part to get moving again.
Over the last two decades we’ve had several goes at this – OeE, eGU, OCIO and then GDS. Each worked for a while and then got bogged down in themselves. New leadership came in, threw out some of what was done, took on some different things and did the things that new leaders generally do when they come in (say how rubbish everything was until they came along and then proceed to do much the same as had been done before only a little differently).
I suspect, though, that this isn’t enough of a change. We need a more fundamental reform of GDS, taking it back to its roots and to what its good at. So maybe it is the beginning of the end and maybe that’s no bad thing.
It’s been nearly two years since I last looked at G-Cloud expenditure – when the total spend crossed £1bn at the end of 2015. Well, as of July 2017, spend reached a little under £2.5bn, so I figured it was time to look again. I am, as always, indebted to Dan Harrison for his data analysis – his Tableau work is second to none and it, really, should be taken up by GDS and used as their default reporting tool (obviously they should hire Dan to do this for them).
As an aside, the raw data has been persistently poor and is not improving. Date formats are mixed up, fields are missing, the recent change to combine lots means that there are some mixed up numbers and, interestingly, the project field has been removed – I’d looked at this before and queried whether many projects were actually cloud related (along with the fact that something like 20% of projects were listed as “null” – I can understand that it’s embarrassing having empty data, but removing the field doesn’t make the data qualitatively better, it just makes me think something is being hidden).
Recall this, from June 2014, for instance:
Scanning through the sales by line item, there are far too many descriptions that say simply “project manager”, “tester”, “IT project manager” etc. There are even line items (not in Lot 4) that say “expenses – 4gb memory stick” – a whole new meaning to the phrase “cloud storage” perhaps.
Here’s the graph of spend over the 5 1/2 years that G-Cloud has been around:
The main conclusions I reach are much the same as before:
– 77% of spend continues to be in “Cloud Support” (previously known as “Specialist Services”). It’s actually a little higher than that – now that PaaS and SaaS have been merged (to create a category of “Cloud Software”, Lot 4 has become Lot 3 but both categories are reported in the data. It’s early days for Cloud Software – it would be good if GDS cleaned up the data so that historic lots reflected current lots.
– 2017 spend looks like it will be slightly higher than 2016, but not by much. If the idea was to move work from “People As a Service”, i.e. Cloud Support, to other frameworks, it’s not obvious that it’s happened in a meaningful way, but it may be damping spend a little.
– IaaS spend, now known as Cloud Hosting, has reached £205m. I seem to remember from the early days of the Crown Hosting Service business case that there were estimates that government spent some £400m annually on addressable hosting charges (i.e. systems that could be moved to the cloud). At the moment Cloud Hosting is a reasonably flat £6m/month, or £70m/year. It’s very possible that there’s a 1:10 saving in cloud versus legacy, but everything in me says that much of this cloud hosting is new spend, not reduced spend following migration to the cloud. That’s good in that it avoids a much higher old-style asset rich infrastructure, but I don’t think it shows much of a true migration to the cloud.
28% of spend by the top 5 customers.
In the past I’ve looked at the top spending customers and top earning suppliers, specifically in Lot 4 (now a combination of Lot 4 and the new Lot 3). There are a couple of changes here:
– Back then, for customers … Home Office, MoJ, DVLA, DSA and HMRC were the highest spending departments with around £150m between them. Today … Home Office, MoJ, HMRC, Cabinet Office and DSA (DVLA dropped to 7th place) have spent nearly £800m (total spend across all lots by the top 5 customers is only £100m higher at £925m which shows the true dominance of support services at the top end). £925m out of £2.5bn in just 5 customers. £1.25bn (51%) is from the top 10 customers.
– And for suppliers, Mastek, Deloitte, Cap Gemini, ValTech and Methods were the top 5 with a combined revenue (again in Lot 4) of £67m. Today it’s Equal Experts, Deloitte, Cap Gemini, BJSS and PA Consulting with revenue of £335m (total spend across all lots for the top 5 suppliers is £348m – that makes sense given few of the top suppliers are active across multiple lots – maybe Cap Gemini is the odd one out, getting some revenue for hosting or SaaS). It takes the top 10 suppliers to make for 25% of the spend. I don’t think that was the intention of G-Cloud – that it would be dominated by a small number of suppliers, though, at the same time, some of those companies – UKCloud (£64m) for instance – are still small companies and, without G-Cloud, might not exist or have reached such revenues if they did exist.
A couple of years ago I offered the observation that
“once a customer starts spending money with G-Cloud, they are more likely to continue than not. And one a supplier starts seeing revenue, they are more likely to continue to see it than not.”
That seems to be exactly the case, here’s a picture showing the departments who have contracts that have run for more than 24 months (and up to 50 months – nearly as long as G-Cloud has been around):
- Should there be spend control review of “Cloud Support” contracts to determine what they’re aiming to achieve and then assess whether there really has been a reduction in costs, a migration to the cloud, a change in the contracting model for the service? If we were to do a show of hands across departmental CIOs now and ask how many were running their email in the cloud (the true cloud, not one they’ve made up and badged as cloud that morning), what would the response be? If we were to make it harder and ask about directory services (such as Active Directory), what would the answer be? If we were to look at historic Lot 4 and test how much had been spent in pursuit of such migrations, what would the answer be?
- What incentives could we put in place to encourage departments to make the move to cloud? Departments have control over their budgets, of course, and lots of other things to spend the money on, but could we create a true central capability (key people drawn from departments and suppliers with a brief to build a cloud transition plan) that was architecture agnostic and delivery focused that would support departments in the transition – and that would be accountable (and quite literally held to account) for delivering on the promise of cloud transition? If that was in place, could departments focus on their legacy systems and how to move those to more flexible platforms, in readiness for future cloud moves (or future enhancements to cope with Brexit)?
- What more could we do to encourage UK based cloud companies (as opposed to overseas companies with UK bases) to excel? Plainly they have to compete in a global market – and I were a UK hosting company, I would be watching Amazon very closely and wondering whether I will have a business in a few months – but that doesn’t mean to say we don’t want to encourage a local capability across all lots? What would they need to know to encourage them to invest in the services that will be needed in the future? How could that information be made available so that a level playing field was maintained? Do we want to encourage such a capability in the UK, or should we publish the overall plans and transition maps and let the chips fall where they may?
- Are there changes that need to be made to the procurement model so that every supplier can see what every department is looking for rather than the somewhat peculiar approach now where suppliers may not even know a department is looking to make a purchase? What would that add to the timeline? Would it result in better competition? Would customers benefit as well as suppliers? Could we try it and see – you know that whole alpha, beta, A/B testing thing?
- I’ve been on the record for a long time as saying government should recognise that it doesn’t collaborate with itself – having collaboration services inside the department’s own firewall isn’t collaboration, it’s talking to yourself. I believe that I even once suggested using a clone of Facebook for such collaboration. Government doesn’t need lots of collaboration tools – it needs one or two where everyone, including suppliers and even customers, can get to with appropriate segregation and reviews to make sure people can only see what they’re supposed to see. Whatever happened to Civil Pages I wonder?
|Credit: Roger Hooper|
Efforts to transform government have been underway for more than 20 years. Despite that, government has remained firmly as the catalyst – the part of the reaction that remains unchanged – throughout each iteration. We need to understand that Government isn’t the subject of the transformation, it’s the object. The citizen is the subject. It’s their experience, their life, that we want to improve.
Whilst I have a strong disliking for the word “transformation” – because it implies a sudden, dramatic shift from what we used to call “as is” to “to be” and because it means different things to different people (one person’s transformation is another person’s incremental change) – it’s the word that is used to describe current change efforts in UK Government.
To get a sense of the level of ambition and vision for today’s programme, I looked at the Beyond 2020 Strategy. It contains a couple of extraordinary statements.
Here’s the first:
“Nobody can predict what the world of 2020 will look like. Technology moves quickly and changes constantly. However we do expect what we call ‘digital’ currently to be largely mainstream by then”
This is both true and false. More importantly, it’s entirely irrelevant in this context.
It’s true because we all know that there is a new iPhone coming out in a month or so and yet no one outside of Apple HQ knows how it’s all going to come together. We don’t know what products will be released next year, let alone in 2019 and 2020. So far so dull.
It’s false because we know how technology is moving and what there will be more of and less of. In 2001, one of our first demos of the Gateway to the then Minister of the Cabinet Office, Ian McCartney (the original sponsor of the Gateway), showed a VAT form being completed on a Compaq iPaq, sent over GPRS and acknowledged by HM Customs as being complete and valid. We didn’t know it would be 6 years before the iPhone would come along and that it would be longer still before mobile access to the Internet was common, but we could see it coming. We don’t need to know which products are coming along to set a direction for how we want our online government experience to look for the citizen. Technology in government, once deployed, can stick around for decades – ask HMRC how long the CHIEF system has been around, or the Home Office about the Police National Computer, or Cabinet Office, for that matter, about the Gateway. We don’t need to harness the latest and greatest product capability to make a difference.
And it’s irrelevant because:
In these days of driverless cars, missions to Mars, rocket stages that no longer fall uselessly into the sea, artificial intelligence engines that get the maximum score on Ms Pacman, augmented reality and more …
… we are still talking about digital government as paving the cowpath, that is, putting forms online.
And here, in that context, is the second extraordinary statement:
“We want to make the best possible preparations for the post-2020 period. We will use current and emerging sources of data so that we can understand what is working well for the current transformation programmes and combine this learning with emerging macro-trends to make the best possible plans for the period after 2020.”
I challenge you to tell me, in simple words, what that means. I suspect you can’t, so let me translate as best I can:
Instead, the so-called Transformation Plan for the period from 2017 to 2020 simply repeats the mistakes of the past, focusing on linear transactions, ticking them off one by one, without dates, ambition or any sense of rationale. For instance, here are some of the “deliverables” picked at random from the document (I’d like to call it a “plan” but there are no dates or details):
- continue to deliver world-class digital services and transform the way government operates, from front end to back office, in a modern and efficient way
- make better use of data – not just for transparency, but to enable transformation across government and the private sector
- broaden the definition of users, for example to reflect that some users will interact with government through third-party services that use government APIs (application programming interfaces
- design and deliver joined-up, end-to-end services
- we will build a framework for the best way to deliver transformation across government
- building a national data infrastructure of registers (authoritative lists that are held once across government) and ensuring they are secured appropriately
- building shared components and platforms, extending the use of the ones that we have and onboarding more services
Are you any the wiser? Do you see the vision? Do you see the ambition? Do you know what’s coming and when and are you palpably excited for how it might change your life for the better?
I wasn’t quite being honest when I declared that there is no vision. The document does state one. It says:
We will transform the relationship between citizens and the state – putting more power in the hands of citizens and being more responsive to their needs.
Which to me is a lot like saying “Our washing powder will wash even whiter than the last one that washed whiter.”
We have forgotten about the citizen – the ones who we truly want to see changed for the better. We have instead labelled them “users” and decided that if we work closely with them we will design better services. That’s backwards.
The citizen’s interaction with government needs to be about them, not about government. We need to think about what we want them to become, what power we truly want to put in their hands and how we will make that happen. Going through the list, form by form, is not how that will come alive.
Here is an excerpt of the Transformation Programmes underway as of November 2016:
Those programmes, inevitably, translate into some online forms:
Transformation? No. Not even close.
All the way back when this began in the late 90s and early 00s, we declared that we wanted to harness the potential of the web, initially, to layer a veneer on top of government – to mask it’s complexity from the citizen by presenting a joined up and citizen focused front end; we knew that the transactions underneath that would start off point to point. We thought that would buy us time to engineer some truly joined up capability and we designed the Gateway to allow that – it could take in a single schema, split it up and send to different parts of government, get the responses, join it all up and send it out again. That capability remains unused.
|A slide from a 2003 conference|
It’s time to move away from the point to point nature of efforts so far and to imagine, instead, what we want our citizens to be able to do when we have delivered a successful digital capability. For instance:
– We want to encourage new startups and make it easy to create a company with, say, 10 lines of information and 3 clicks? Company registration, payroll, VAT, R&D credits etc. What will it take to achieve that? How will we know we are doing it right? What will the impact be on accountants and other professionals as well as on potential startup founders?
– We want to make it so that there is no need for anyone to ever phone HMRC to resolve a problem? How many people who could use the Internet make a phone call now? How many problems could be moved to an Internet channel meaning a call wasn’t necessary? How many result from mistakes made by HMRC that we could correct before the citizen knew and how many can we prevent from occurring at all? How would we make all of those changes? How can we move the entire relationship a company has with HMRC to online interactions? How can we do the same for a company employee? For a retiree? Not everyone wants to be online all the time, but if they want to be, we should give them a way.
– We want to make the administration post loss of a loved one simple and effect, cutting by 80% the amount of paperwork and the time it takes to handle all of the different pieces – inheritance tax, pensions, council tax and so on. Can Tell Us Once help? Why is Tell Us Once not available everywhere? What else would we need to do?
We need to flip the thinking away from what do our departments do and how do we put that online to the problems that our citizens have and how we can solve them through smart use of technology.
This isn’t about user needs. It’s about a vision of how we want our citizens to lead their lives in relation to government services. This is Henry Ford territory, that is, it’s not about faster horses.
As Paul Shetler says, “we can’t kumbaya our way through this.” We need to get concrete. Assumptions, plans, deadlines, delivery focus.
To make this happen, we’ll want to lay out some assumptions
1) The shape of government isn’t going to change materially in any way that would help our efforts. Departments are still going to be departments. We aren’t going to split them into horizontal layers focused on citizens. We aren’t going to join up the machinery itself, we’re going to have to do that through our own capabilities – we are going to have to pretend that it’s joined up through use of technology.
2) We have all the technology that we need. We don’t need to wait for flying, driverless cars. We don’t need to see what’s around the corner, or what’s going to launch in 2020. The technology that we launched in 2001 and that we have today is all that we need to pull this off.
3) We have all of the capability and capacity today. If it’s not already in the public sector, it’s in the private sector. We shouldn’t bolster one at the expense of the other, in either direction. It’s all there today and we need only to focus it.
So what we have is what we need and vice versa. It’s time to lay out a true, specific vision and to back that up with plans.
We then need to be transparent – about those plans, about the financials and about our progress. Delays will be forgiven if they are telegraphed early along with the true reason. Whilst we have what we need, it won’t be easy to create this level of change and so we need to bring people along for the ride, explaining what is and isn’t happening and why.
Rule #1 – No surprises
Rule #2 – See rule 1
The conclusion to Part 3 (The Reboot) was:
- Verify – It’s time to be brave and ignore sunk costs (investment to date and contractual exit costs if any) and let this one go. It hasn’t achieved any of the plans that were set out for it and it isn’t magically going to get to 20m users in the next couple of years, least of all if HMRC are going their own way. The real reason for letting it go, though, is that it doesn’t solve the real problem – identity is multi-faceted. I’m me, but I do my mother’s tax return, but appoint my accountant to do mins, but I work for a company and I do their payroll, and I counter-sign the VAT return that is prepared by someone else, and I act as the power of attorney for my blind father. Taking a slice of that isn’t helping. Having many systems that each do a piece of that is as far from handling user needs as you can get. Driving take up by having a lower burden of proof isn’t useful either – ask the Tax Credits folks. HMRC are, by far, the biggest user of the Gateway. They need citizen and business (big business, sole trader, small company) capability. Let them take the lead – they did on the Gateway and that worked out well – and put support around them to help ensure it meets the wider needs.
- GDS speakers at the event encouraged suppliers to use the GaaP tools in their own products, in the hope of widening their use. However, according to guests at the event that Computer Weekly talked to – who wished to remain anonymous due to their ongoing relationships with GDS – GDS was unable to give any guarantees around support or service levels.
- GDS has now developed a new feature for Verify that allows “level of assurance 1” (LOA1) – a reduced level of verification that is effectively a straightforward user login and password system, which offers “minimal confidence in the asserted identity” of users for low-risk transactions. In effect, LOA1 means the government service trusts the user to verify their own identity.
- The government has committed to having 25 million users of Verify by 2020, and offering LOA1 is seen as a key step in widening the adoption of the service to meet this target.
- The goal isn’t to have 25 million users. That’s a metric from 1999 when eyeballs were all that mattered. 25 million users that don’t access services, or that sign up for one and never use another service isn’t a measure of relevancy
- A government authentication platform is instead for:
- Giving its users a secure, trusted way of accessing information that government holds about them and allowing them to update it, provide new items and interact with government processes
- Allowing users to act as themselves as well as representatives of others (corporate and personal) with the assurance that there is proper authorisation in place from all necessary parties
- Putting sufficient protection in the way so as to ensure that my data and interactions cannot be accessed or carried out by people who aren’t me. In other words, “I am who I say I am” and, by definition, no one else is
- Create an environment where a first time user, someone who has had no meaningful interaction with government before, is able to transact online and need never use offline processes from that moment on
- Sixteen year olds would begin their online interaction with government by getting their National Insurance numbers online
- They would go on to apply for their student loan a couple of years later
- With their first job they would receive their PAYE information and perhaps claim some benefits
- Perhaps they would be handling PAYE, or VAT, or CT for their own employer
- Health information and records would be available to the right people and would move them as they moved jobs and locations
- Perhaps they would be looking at health information and records for others
- They would see the impact of pension contributions and understand the impact of changes in taxation
- Perhaps they would be helping other people figure out their pension contributions and entitlements
- They might decide whether they can afford an ISA this year
- In time some would pay their Self Assessment this way
- Or maybe they would be completing Self Assessments for others
|A 2002 Slide|
Instead of spot creating some transactions that are nearby or easy, we would seek to change the entire experience that someone has who doesn’t know about government – they would never know that it had been broken for years, that paper forms were the norm for many, or that in 2010 people had to go from department to department to get what they needed. They would take to this the way a baby learns that you swipe an an iPad screen – it would never occur to them that a magazine doesn’t work the same way.
This wouldn’t be about transformation – the bulk of the users wouldn’t know what it was like before. This would just be “the way government is”, the way it’s supposed to be. Yes, in the background there would have been re-engineering (not, please, transformation), but all the user would see is the way it worked, fluidly, consistently and clearly, in their language, the language of the user.
Verify isn’t the way into this journey. Verify started out trying to solve a different problem. It isn’t seen, and wasn’t conceived, as part of a cohesive whole where the real aim is to shift interaction from offline to online. In its current form, it’s on life support, being kept alive only because there’s a reluctance to deal with the sunk costs – the undoubtedly huge effort (money and time from good people) it’s taken to get here. But it’s a “you can’t get there from here” problem. And when that’s the case … you have to be brave and stop digging.
If my original take on “What is GDS for” was:
GDS is for facilitating the re-engineering of the way government does business – changing from the traditional, departmentally-led silos and individual forms to joined-up, proactive, thought-through interactions that range widely across government. It is not, in my view, about controlling, stopping, writing code or religious/philosophical debates about what’s right. It’s job is to remove the obstacles that stop government from championing the user cause.
Then what if GDS took the vanguard in moving government to cater for the user journey, from a user’s first interaction to its last. A focused programme of making an online government available to everyone. A way of assessing that “I am who I say I am” is an essential part of that – and starting with a 16 year old with minimal footprint is going to be challenging but is surely an essential part of making this work. This would be a visionary challenge – something that could be laid out step by step, month to month, in partnership with the key departments.
It can be dull to look backwards, but sometimes we have to, so that we move forward sensibly. The picture above shows the approach we planned at the Inland Revenue a long time ago. We would take on three parallel streams of work – (1) move forms online, (2) join up with some other departments to create something new and (3) put together a full vertical slice that was entirely online and extend that – we were going to start with a company because our thinking was that they would move online first (this was in 2000): register the company, apply for VAT and tax status, send in returns, add employees, create pensions etc.
It feels like we’ve lost that vision and, instead, are creating ad hoc transactions based on departmental readiness, budget and willingness to play. That’s about as far away from user needs as I can imagine being.
As a post-script, I was intrigued by this line in the Computer Weekly report:
GDS was unable to give any guarantees around support or service levels.
On the face of it, it’s true. GDS is part of the Cabinet Office and so can’t issue contracts to third parties where it might incur penalties for non-delivery. But if others are to invest and put their own customer relationships on the line, this is hardly a user needs led conversation. Back in 2004 we spent some time looking at legal vehicles – trading funds, agencies, JVs, spin-offs – and there are lots of options, some that can be reached quite quickly.
My fundamental point, though, is that GDS should be facilitating the re-engineering of government, helping departments and holding them to account for their promises, not trying to replace the private sector, or step fully into the service delivery chain – least of all if the next step in the delivery promise is “you will have to take our word for it.”