UK government warned Digital by Default is faulty

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan July 8, 2013
As the Cabinet Office invites suppliers to bid for a role in delivering the digital agenda via a new procurement framework, an influential group of MPs has torn into the government’s Digital by Default plans.

Francis Maude

Timing is everything as the UK government has just found out.

As the Cabinet Office invites suppliers to bid for a role in delivering the digital agenda via a new procurement framework, an influential group of MPs has torn into the government’s Digital by Default plans.

A Digital Strategy document released in November last year claimed that shifting government service to digital delivery would save between £1.7 billion and £1.8 billionn per year in phone call handling and face-to-face admin costs alone.

The government is aiming to have the Digital by Default strategy fully implemented by April 2014.

But in an open letter to Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee says that there is no proof Digital by Default will actually deliver the promised savings.

Committee chair Andrew Miller said the government hadn't provided any evidence showing that moving transactions online saved money:

"A key justification of the strategy is savings to the taxpayer. It is not evident to the Committee that the Government has a handle on measuring these savings.

"We…urge the Government to be clearer about the detail of both savings being made as services become Digital by Default, as well as the costs of designing, or redesigning, the services."

The Committee questioned the level of awareness of the Digital strategy and in particular the:

"assertion that if the Government can get 20% of the population to transact online, it can achieve 80% participation. The Committee would like the evidence behind this figure to be brought to our attention.

"There appears to be low public awareness of the Digital by Default strategy. You suggested “word of mouth and a good user experience” is the best way to promote the strategy. Has the Government evaluated the effectiveness of these public awareness techniques?"

Miller also raised the spectre of Digital by Default endangering personal privacy and data protection:

"Public trust is absolutely essential. The government must ensure the integrity and security of data and give people sufficient control over their stored personal information otherwise, the 'digital by default' strategy will not succeed."

The committee said it had considered the government's identity assurance principles and suggested that there be a new principle that states that:

"If a dispute arises concerning a citizen's online dataset, that the citizen should be initially presumed correct; and if a mistake has been made, the citizen's data should be instantly corrected".

Maude now has until October to come up with some answers.

Ploughing on 

Meanwhile he and his team are pressing ahead with their digital ambitions.

Today saw the publication of an OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) notice inviting bids to join a framework of suppliers that can in turn bid for government contracts to provide digital project build services across the UK.

The Digital Services Framework has been put together by Government Procurement Service (GPS) and the Government Digital Service (GDS) and will be offered as a managed service to central government departments, with all services under the framework procured centrally through GPS as the contracting authority.

The Cabinet Office argues that the framework will:

give government access to a pool of agile suppliers needed to help departments build and run services that meet the Digital by Default Service Standard. GDS will work with departments to ensure alignment with the standard and the framework will also be available for the wider public sector to use.

The Digital Services Framework is an example of government procurement that is faster, simpler and easier to do business with.

Like the G-Cloud framework, the Cabinet Office hopes to see large numbers of SME providers bidding to participate.

Maude said:

“To deliver the efficient and responsive public services that users demand, we must ensure that government has access to the most innovative and cost-effective digital solutions.

"Often, these services will be provided by smaller firms that in the past have been locked out of public sector business by complex and expensive pre-qualification requirements."

Unlike G-Cloud - which is based around the concept of commodity cloud service provision - the Digital Services framework takes bespoke digital solution development as its starting point.

The framework will be open to applications until 7 August.


Too early to tell.

The Science and Technology Committee wants too much too soon.

The Digital Services Framework is a welcome step forward and if it replicates the success of the G-Cloud it will bring Digital by Default a lot closer.

But there's  a long way to go yet.


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