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Why are we doing this?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GOV.UK

It's all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of launching a new site full of interesting new stuff. If you're not careful, you can miss the bigger picture.  You can get lost in the wondrous geekiness of it all.

So, as much for myself as anyone else, here's a reminder as to why it's so critical that offers UK citizens the best possible digital experience.

As part of her Race Online 2012 challenge, Martha Lane Fox commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers (pdf) to assess the economic impact of everyone in the UK getting online.

The numbers are startling. If people who are not yet online can be tempted into doing just one of their (typical) 4 or 5 monthly Government transactions online, then that would save the Government - and hence taxpayers - about £1bn each year. That's a big number.

But, equally important, a which is so good, so simple, so hassle-free that it actually encourages people who are not online to get online will save them hundreds of pounds per year - think price comparison sites, cheap online offers etc. And many of those who are not yet online are people for whom savings hundreds of pounds can make a huge difference. (PWC's estimate is a saving of £560 per household per year.)

Shifting Government services to being digital by default would save everyone time, money and unfathomable bucketloads of hassle.

So making as simple as possible really matters. It needs to be so good people actively prefer it to offline alternatives, so much so that they recommend it to friends and family who are not yet online.

Lecture over. Back to the code.

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  1. Comment by Morven MacNeil posted on

    GO believes that launching this prototype is an excellent and innovative idea. Best to show this prototype and gauge feedback now, making sure that it fits the users' needs than making a website that has had no consultation process and ultimately wastes millions of pounds. GO has written an overview of alphagov to date:

  2. Comment by anon posted on

    How is different to directgov? It just seems like a web 2.0 version. Apart from the fact that different services use different logins instead of Government Gateway IDs, directgov is actually a good idea (albeit very expensive). Is this just a case of the new government deliberately making a new site to distance themselves from the old.

    • Replies to anon>

      Comment by Tom Loosemore posted on aims to covers the needs people have as citizens, the needs they have of central government departmental sites, the needs of business users, plus some deep links to local government online to cover the fact that many people don't understand the precise structure of government.

      Directgov covers citizen need only.

      • Replies to Tom Loosemore>

        Comment by Different Anon posted on

        So, this is DirectGov, with some bits of BusinessLink and a few deep links to local government, given a bit of a design polish, and optimised for Chrome (on widescreen Macs) so as to impress all the big-shot open-source lovers out there.

        No attempt to deal with the real problems of government online: as already mentioned, the multiple different logins and IDs needed; the difficulty of maintaining content when civil servants aren't employed for their web-writing skills (and probably can't access the site anyway since most of them are, sometimes for very good reasons, still on IE6); the challenges of all the people who (despite the big noise of Race Online) aren't and never will be online anyway; and any number of other problems which relate to the difficult stuff of managing processes rather than making sure there's plenty of white space on each page.

        And this has taken 14 people 15 weeks? Sheesh. Still, I'll applaud your transparency. Oh wait, what's another phrase for something that's transparent? Oh yes, that's right: the Emperor's New Clothes.

        • Replies to Different Anon>

          Comment by Matt T posted on

          I've been working on government wesbites, on and off, for 10 years now. From where I sit, this is a good first effort.
          Is it expensive ? Well, yes, if you just look at the headline figure - for something that's only an experiment at this stage. Is it expensive compared to the £130m/yr already spent ? Not particularly.

          Is it expensive compared to the (astronomical) amount spent providing this information over the phone, in advice centres etc ? It's a tiny drop in the ocean. Factor in the cost to the users of making trips to town halls etc and the cost becomes negligable.
          Big numbers are scary, but they only make sense in context.

          I agree this does seem to be a potential replacement for direct gov. Put another way, unless this replaces something then it's just yet another government website.
          It seems to me that there is a long road to travel before directgov (or business link) could be decommissioned.

          A few people have mentioned the underlying, person related data (names, addresses, e-mail addresses, NI numbers, tax codes, passport numbers and so on) - required to do anything truly useful.
          Getting this data - spread as it is across government - to a state where you could actually complete in depth tasks from one site is a huge mountain of a job with considerable security implications.
          Most goverment departments can't even manage to consolidate to a single system (some have 10s) - and that to me would be a more sensible first step. It would take years, and require a significant change in thinking.

          Front-ends can look pretty, but they only represent the tip of an iceberg on transactional sites. Much more is required underneath. So I'd predict that for now, this site or any similar one will remain an aggregator, and send users off to the relevant place whenever they need to login/interact.

  3. Comment by Colin posted on

    Hi Tom,

    Would this project not have been better for tax payers if it had been outsourced £261,000 for three months is poor economics. Assuming that the site requires more time for beta and then final release what is the overall budget set aside for this?



    • Replies to Colin>

      Comment by Tom Loosemore posted on

      Central sites cost a minimum of £128m/yr (09/10 figures) - give these use outsourcing model it doesn't look better value from where I sit.

      Need shared platform, shared UX, single url. Need proper digital culture of excellent inside government.

  4. Comment by Lindsey Annison posted on

    There are numbers missing here. Firstly, the impact on rural users.

    For instance, the security questions asked by HMRC showed up that I don't know the name of the road I grew up in as well as they do, so I failed the security test. In order to now access any HMRC services online, I must go for a personal interview. Total distance: 72 mile round trip. Cost to me at £1.48/litre of fuel? Plus wear and tear to my car etc? These figures start to add up. Need a passport? That'll be a trip to Durham which is 120 mile round trip. Hospital? Nearest one is Carlisle but if you need a specialist, it could be Newcastle or Leeds. Want to learn a uncommon subject? Fuggedit.

    Savings with egov, telehealth, e-education etc? Far, far higher than that £560

    Then, social capital. If I don't have to drive to Carlisle to see my heart consultant, but can instead do it through video conferencing and telehealth data collection, I am a) less stressed b) richer and c) I have probably around 4-5 hours on my hands I wouldn't have had otherwise.

    This frees me up to do things which make me happy. It might be time with my kids (spending the petrol money in a local attraction, p'raps), helping out in my community, or relaxing (which is good for my heart). Can you put a figure on that? Should you be putting numbers on that? YES. Because that is what my fibre connection would be worth to me, my community and hence the State.

    I can't do any of it over a poxy 2Mbps connection.

  5. Comment by Ian Clifford posted on

    Hi Tom
    we now think its greater than this. We have found that new users of the internet are shifting from face to face or telephone transactions to internet transactions in greater numbers. Our original estimates were based on just one saving per person per month, but we now believe that our users are saving on average at least 2.5 transactions per month, but some are 'channel shifting' more than 10 per month. We will continue to carry out this research.
    Ian Clifford
    Head of Business Development
    UK online centres