Here are the digital stories government slipped out over Christmas and New Year

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez January 3, 2019
Digital Marketplace is going global, Health Secretary Matt Hancock pushes new tech for GPs, and DWP hints at developing its own identity platform.

Westminster Government
As is the case almost every year, government departments took the opportunity over the Christmas and New Year break to slip out some interesting news. And this year, the news was rather interesting.

As we welcome back diginomica/government readers in 2019, we thought it would be good to kick off the year with a few of the highlights from Whitehall over the festive break.

Digital Marketplace tech to be shared globally

Earlier in 2018, it was revealed that the Government Digital Service (GDS) would be exploring how suppliers on the Digital Marketplace - Whitehall’s one-stop-shop for digital services and products - could sell their products internationally via the frameworks on the portal. Whilst that is still a work in progress, the Cabinet Office and GDS took the opportunity over Christmas to reveal that the technology behind the Digital Marketplace itself will now be shared with other countries in order to help international governments open up their procurement processes to smaller and more varied businesses.

The British government has a track record of sharing code and insight with other countries, in a bid to support its goal of openness and collaboration on digital efforts. For example, countries such as New Zealand have effectively used the UK’s GOV.UK platform for their own government websites.

The Digital Marketplace - which includes the G-Cloud and Digital Specialists and Outcomes frameworks - has helped to transform and simplify the selling of cloud and digital services to UK government buyers. It intends to provide a transparent, searchable platform, with the aim of democratising procurement in government, which has traditionally been dominated by a handful of large SIs.

Recent figures from the government indicate that indicate over £1.9 billion has been spent with SMEs on the Digital Marketplace since 2012, which is the equivalent of £1.35 out of every £3 spent by government. However, it’s worth noting that more broadly government spend is increasing with larger suppliers and attention seems to be shifting away from smaller businesses.

That being said, the Cabinet Office has highlighted that there are now 5,000 small or medium sized businesses on the Digital Marketplace approved to supply services to government, compared to figures in 2009 which showed that 80% of work was carried out by just 18 large suppliers. Those comparisons aren’t quite legit, given that most work still goes to large suppliers, but it can’t be denied that there is an increased variety of suppliers available for government now.

Following the success of the Digital Marketplace in the UK, GDS has received £11 million of funding from the Cross-Government Prosperity Fund to share its expertise in opening up procurement processes with countries including South Africa, Mexico, Columbia, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Cabinet Office has said that sharing this expertise could help to tackle corruption globally, as contracts via the Digital Marketplace are shared in a fair and transparent way.

Oliver Dowden, Cabinet Office Minister, said:

“The Digital Marketplace is enabling small businesses to work in partnership with the public sector to drive the UK’s digital transformation. Small businesses are the backbone of the British economy and this government is committed to helping them prosper.

“The creation of the Global Digital Marketplace will build on our successes and help tackle global corruption by improving transparency. It is right that we should share our innovative model with other countries who want to open up their systems of public sector procurement.”

Matt Hancock talks up new systems for GPs

Health Secretary Matt Hancock used the Christmas break to announce that the new GP IT Futures framework will be used to increase competition and move patient data to the cloud, following the recent announcement of his new technology strategy for the NHS.

The NHS has a chequered recent past when it comes to technology projects, with the National Programme for IT proving to be a multi-billion pound disaster, and failing within a matter of months. The National Programme for IT failed in particular because of its attempt to force a top-down, standardised approach upon GPs and their systems.

However, Hancock insists that this isn’t about telling GPs what approach to take, but rather focuses on introducing a framework that applies open standards and interoperability, allowing systems to talk to each other securely and continuously upgrade.

Hancock said that any system that does not meet these standards will not be used by the NHS and the government will look to end contracts with providers that “do not understand these principles for the health and care sector”.

The current market is dominated by two main providers, which the Health Secretary argues slows down innovation and traps GP practices into long-term contracts with systems that are not suited to the digital age.

By 2023 to 2024, Hancock wants every patient in England to be able to access GP service digitally, with practices able to offer online or video consultations.

It is hoped that the changes will free up staff time and reduce delays, whilst allowing “seamless, digitised flows of information” between GP practices, hospitals and social care settings.

Hancock said:

“Too often the IT used by GPs in the NHS – like other NHS technology – is out of date. It frustrates staff and patients alike, and doesn’t work well with other NHS systems. This must change.

“I love the NHS and want to build it to be the most advanced health and care system in the world – so we have to develop a culture of enterprise in the health service to allow the best technology to flourish.

“I want to empower the country’s best minds to develop new solutions to make things better for patients, make things better for staff, and make our NHS the very best it can be.”

DWP goes its own way with identity?

Here’s one to look out for. Earlier this week, Simon McKinnon, interim Chief Digital and Information Officer at DWP, hinted that the Department for Work and Pensions could be looking at new options for its own identity assurance platform. The Department had in recent months said that it would be using GDS’s Verify solution, which has faced problems in gaining traction with Whitehall departments.

The government recently confirmed that Verify - which was intended to form a crucial component of GDS’s Government-as-a-Platform strategy - would soon have its already capped funding come to an end and that a “private sector led model” would be adopted.

Despite proclamations of success, it can’t be denied that Verify has been problematic for GDS. Departments such as HMRC have insisted on using their own identity assurance systems and the figures for verifying users make for pretty grim reading. The ambition was to get 25 million users on board by 2020, but in October that number stood at 2.9 million, with just 18 government services using Verify.

It was hoped that DWP using Verify for Universal Credit would significantly boost Verify’s statistics. If DWP is now looking to use its own systems (which hasn’t been confirmed) then that could be another nail in the coffin for the flailing platform.

Take a look at what McKinnon said in a blog post this week. Whilst it didn’t explicitly rule out Verify, it hints at an approach that isn’t consistent with Verify’s model. He said:

“At the moment, I’m particularly excited about the work we’re doing on Trust and assuring someone’s digital identity. This isn’t solely about one-time verification of credentials. It is about proportionality. It is about continuous authentication. It is about building a holistic understanding of digital personas and intelligent real-time decision-making for every transaction, based on context and behaviours and building Trust.

“We’re continuing to explore how we can use Artificial Intelligence in some exciting ways, and finding new ways to exploit our data to make things easier for our customers.

“And we need to take advantage of the data that we hold in DWP and can access from other departments to build better solutions. In the last year, we have worked with colleagues from NHS Digital, HMRC, Home Office, MoJ and others in building better user experiences.”