On 6 November, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, UK, launched the new Government Digital Strategy, an action plan for redesigning government digital services around user needs, and to improve digital skills within government.
Published by the Government Digital Service (GDS), a team within Cabinet Office tasked with transforming government digital services, the strategy makes a start on the government’s commitment to ensure that government services become ‘digital by default’. The government has defined digital by default as “digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so whilst those who can’t are not excluded”.
During his speech, Maude explained that despite the fact that 82 per cent of the UK population is online, most government services aren’t. “Government provides more than 650 transactional services, used about 1 billion times every year,” he said. “But presently, there is only a handful where a large majority of people who could use the online option do so.” Research shows that only 46 per cent of the UK population has used a government transaction online.
The Government Digital Strategy prescribes 14 actions that government departments must implement to fulfil the needs of an increasingly digital nation that expects high quality, effective digital services.
One of the crucial actions recommended is redesigning all services with over 100,000 transactions each year to meet a new digital by default standard to be published by GDS. The seven departments which handle more than 90 per cent of the central government transactions will agree to three significant “exemplar” service transformations. This list of seven departments includes the Departments for Transport; Work and Pensions; Business, Innovation and Skills; and the Ministry of Justice.
Another important action that the Strategy calls for is increasing the number of people who use digital services. “The same people who do their shopping, banking and social networking online are still interacting with the government on the phone, in person or on paper, at less convenience to them and more cost to us,” said Maude.
Under ‘assisted digital’ efforts, the government has already started working with those not comfortable with the internet, through efforts such as internet training through UK Online Centres and providing access and support to use digital channels through internet-enabled terminals and face-to-face support for data input.
The ‘digital by default’ standard, however, does not mean digital only – access to non-digital channels will be available for those who need them.
Some of the other 14 actions recommended in the Strategy are completing the transition to Gov.UK, the new user-centric, centralised government website; including more small and medium sized enterprises among those tendering to supply digital services; building common technology platforms for digital by default services; and removing unnecessary legislative barriers. The complete strategy can be accessed on the strategy’s website.
Individual departments will release their own Digital Strategies by December of this year, explaining what actions they will take to contribute to this strategy. The Cabinet Office will conduct an annual review to track departments’ progress against the actions in this strategy.
Projections show that moving government services to digital channels will save the government upto £1.2 billion (US$1.9 billion) over the next three years and £1.7 billion (US$2.7 billion) a year after 2015. A Digital Efficiency Report, released by GDS this month, found that the average cost of a digital transaction can be almost 20 times lower than the cost of telephone and 50 times lower than face to face.
“We are determined to become digital by default and make government IT synonymous with easy-to-use, cost-effective services,” declared Maude.