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Digital government scores on both sides of The Pond

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 2, 2013
The US government's celebrating the first birthday of its Digital Strategy, while the UK government's crediting its Digital by Default policy for saving £0.5 billion so far. Digital success stories from both sides of the Atlantic?

Steven Van Roekel, US Federal CIO

Interesting proof points from both sides of The Pond on the potential for digital government.

In the US last week, the Obama administration was celebrating the first anniversary of its Digital Strategy while in the UK today the Cabinet Office has been boasting about the cost and efficiency savings it's chalked up, with IT and digital technologies getting a fair bit of the credit.

The US government's Digital Strategy was introduced to formalise plans to reform federal mobility, websites and the sharing of digital services. The strategy was bolstered by a memorandum from President Obama emphasising that this time the government meant business.

Obama wrote:

For far too long, the American people have been forced to navigate a labyrinth of information across different Government programs in order to find the services they need. In addition, at a time when Americans increasingly pay bills and buy tickets on mobile devices, Government services often are not optimized for smartphones or tablets, assuming the services are even available online.

As the next step toward modernizing the way Government works, I charged my Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) with developing a comprehensive Government-wide strategy to build a 21st century digital Government that delivers better digital services to the American people.

One year on from the publication of the Digital Strategy and that same Federal CIO Steven Van Roekel has issued an anniversary update on progress to date:

In twelve months, the Federal Government has significantly shifted how it thinks about digital information - treating data as a valuable national asset that should be open and available to the public, to entrepreneurs, and others, instead of keeping it trapped in government systems.

Successes cited include:

  • The releasing of hundreds of government datasets via machine-readable formats which can be used by private-sector developers to create new applications and services. 
  • The website transitioned its central catalog to an open source platform, enabling automated aggregation of data directly from agencies’ websites to 
  • President Obama issued Executive Order and Open Data Policy, making open and machine-readable the new default for government data.
  • A Digital Services Innovation Center was set up to launch to help agencies build plug-and-play websites.
  • The Mobile Application Development Program was put in place to help agencies plan, test, develop and launch mobile apps. 
  • The Managed Mobility Program at General Services Administration was set to so that agencies can better centralize management of devices and strengthen security of the government’s mobile platforms.
  • A government-wide Digital Analytics Program is running across all Federal websites to provide insight about what information the public is looking for, where they’re looking for it, and if they’re able to find it.
  • Federal websites are being optimized for mobile devices and creating mobile apps to ensure government services are available to citizens anywhere, anytime and on any device.
  • The first government-wide mobile and wireless security baseline has been put in place to help agencies identify appropriate security solutions and share them across the Federal Government.

Back in Blighty

Meanwhile in the UK, the Efficiency and Reform Group within the Cabinet Office says it has bust by 25% the £8 billion savings target for 2012 to 2013 and in fact saved £10 billion.

Digital and IT account for around £500 million of those savings, with £42 million saved by transition to GOV.UK as part of the Digital by Default strategy.

Of course that success means that there will now be tougher targets set - the UK is far from free of the austerity regime of the past two years. Francis Maude, the minister for the Cabinet Office, was quick to state on twitter:

Today's [savings] are by no means the last word - the very best orgs continue to make savings year after year.

while also on Twitter Government Chief Operating Officer Stephen Kelly confirmed:

We are moving towards a target of £20bn #GovSavings in 2015.

Stephen Kelly, COO at the UK Cabinet Office

With that in mind, a lot of attention will be brought to bear on a new UK government Digital Procurement Framework that will appear later this year.

Mike Bracken, the Executive Director of Digital for the Cabinet Office, said at the recent Thinking Digital event that new guidelines were necessary to further the drive toward digital across the UK public sector:

"It's important, because it means we're getting the right suppliers for agile and digital teams across government. That model and that framework should allow suppliers – all manner of digital suppliers – to work with government in a more meaningful way."

Elsewhere the UK Government Procurement Service (GPS) is reported to be delivering an online catalogue for the public sector to purchase commodity software, akin essentially to the CloudStore at the heart of the national G-Cloud programme.

All told, it's still early days on both sides of The Pond, but there are certainly notable successes to date in the drive towards digital government. The trick now of course is to keep things on track and not let the momentum slide.

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