The U.K. government has been delivering on its Government as a Platform initiative for the past few years. But what exactly is it?
The official definition is "Government as a Platform is a new vision for digital government; a common core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes on which it’s easy to build brilliant, user-centric government services.”
Perhaps this (really good) YouTube video provided by the Government Digital Services department will help clarify things. The main aim of the Government as a Platform strategy is to help ensure that government services are no longer built independently of each other. Rather, they should be reusable “platforms” that are built specifically for sharing by multiple departments and agencies.
That sounds like a good idea, but what has been delivered to date? So far, there are two main platforms: GOV.UK (a “publishing” platform) and GOV.UK Verify (an identity verification system).
GOV.UK appears to be the more successful of the two, with all 24 ministerial departments already using it, including the Prime Minister’s Office. However, according to the GOV.UK website, only nine of the 22 non-ministerial departments are using it, and less than half of the 357 agencies and other public bodies are using it.
That said, this is significant progress in a relatively short period of time. According to Mike Bracken, Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office and head of the Government Digital Service, transitioning just two websites to GOV.UK (DirectGov and Business Link) saved more than £60m a year.
GOV.UK Verify is still in beta at the time of this writing and, in my view, will take a little longer to be successful if history is anything to go by. You see, this is not the first time the U.K. government has tried to offer a reusable identity verification system. More than 10 years ago, the U.K. government created an identity verification system that was initially deployed in the Passport Agency but was also intended to be used elsewhere, including local government. To my knowledge, no other government organization used it.
Will they be successful this time? I believe they will. Citizens are demanding convenient and secure access to government services. If not well-thought out, delivering security can be at the expense of convenience; however, if implemented correctly, there will be an increased uptake of a broader set of services online. And that is exactly what the U.K. government is hoping for. To help them achieve this goal, Verint is in the process of certifying its Engagement Management solution to work with GOV.UK Verify.
However, history provides a valuable lesson. The U.K. government hasn’t had much success when it has come to sharing services. So-called “shared services” are not new ideas, and they are certainly not limited to digital services. It is human nature to believe that you’re different from everyone else. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in most government organizations the world over.
So, short of persuasion, the U.K. government may need to consider legal “incentives,” such as not being able to ask a citizen for the same data twice, something that was built into law by the Estonian government. That said, I believe that for Government as a Platform to be successful, it needs to be able to accommodate those who wish to pick and choose the platforms they wish to share—and those which they do not.
We all have more to learn from history. With plans to deliver up to 30 platforms, including payments, bookings and case management, the true success of all the Government as a Platform services will depend on their actual uptake across departments and agencies. This will be partially determined by the ability of these departments and agencies to adopt them—from both a business perspective (as some will require transformation) and a technical perspective (as some will require technical integration).