However, earlier this year the UK slipped from first to fourth in that very same league table, following what I and other observers have described as a reduction in focus, control and leadership. Things aren’t going terribly, but they could be going better. Read this post for more detail.
Today’s European Commission e-government benchmarking report, which is led by Capgemini (*ahem*), and jointly carried out by Sogeti, IDC and Politecnico di Milano, again calls much of the UK’s recent efforts into question.
Now, before I progress, it’s worth noting that these reports don’t ever give the full picture and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. However, the European Commission’s benchmarking does provide some interesting data and gives us some food for thought on where the UK is going wrong.
The big picture
The e-government benchmarking report focuses on four priority areas - user centricity, transparency, cross-border mobility and key enablers (e.g. electronic ID and authentic sources). The research was carried out by ‘mystery shoppers’, citizens of each of the observed countries, and validated by representatives of the EU28+ countries.
The overall performance of countries across Europe delivers results that are perhaps unsurprising, given that the top performers are countries that are typically touted as ‘digital government leaders’. For example, the top five performing countries are Malta, Estonia, Austria, Latvia and Denmark. These countries, according to the report, have managed to make public services “widely available online, in a mobile friendly manner and with a strong focus on citizen and business users”. At the same time, their public organisations are “transparent on service delivery, organisational operations and personal data processing, and equip users with smart key enabling technologies”.
The below map gives you a clearer picture of the countries’ performances (with the UK falling in the ‘average’ territory.
The UK ranked pretty poorly compared to its peers in two areas - 1) online availability, which captures the extent to which the steps necessary for obtaining a public service can be taken online, and 2) authentic sources, which measures if personal data that was previously gathered by the public administration is prefixed in forms presented to the user. Both charts are shown below:
The one ranking that the UK performed well in was cross-border online availability, which captures the extent to which basic public services for businesses are interoperable and cross-border. The UK came fourth for this:
The most interesting part of the report, however, is when the European Commission examines individual countries’ performance as it relates to ‘penetration’ and ‘digitisation’. Penetration in this context captures the extent to which use of the online channel is widespread among users of government services and stems from Eurostat data. Digitisation, however, is a proxy for the ‘digitisation level’ of the back- and front-office of Public Administration, using the eGovernment benchmark indicators.
The report breaks down these measures into four areas:
- Non-consolidated eGovernment - this scenario contains lower levels of digitisation and lower levels of penetration
- Unexploited eGovernment - this scenario contains lower levels of digitisation combined with higher levels of penetration
- Expandable eGovernment - this scenario contains higher levels of digitisation and lower levels of penetration
- Fruitful eGovernment - this scenario contains high levels of both digitisation and penetration
The countries are mapped on the below graph:
As you can see the UK is ranked as an “unexploited eGovernment”, which indicates high levels of penetration (lots of citizens online making use of online services), with lower levels of digitisation (the government not making the most of digitising the front- and back-office).
The report puts the UK’s ranking down to a lack of key enablers e.g. electronic ID and authentic sources of data.
As noted above, these benchmarking exercises aren’t perfect, but they do provide some interesting food for thought. The European Commission’s take on the UK’s position in being a country with active online citizens, but not making the most of digitising the front and back office fits well with my perspective of things. The UK has made some good strides in this area (e.g. GOV.UK), but is failing to make significant progress in others (authentic sources of shareable data, reengineering the back-end). But this isn’t just a story of technology - the British government is failing to grasp that it needs to rethink the role of GDS, it needs to assess how it’s culture is impacting development, and it needs to rethink resources. That’s the hard part.