In November the Government Digital Strategy set out a shared vision for digital by default government; our digital services must be so straightforward and convenient people prefer to use them. This strategy committed government departments to 14 actions and was written by Digital Leaders representing every central government department.
It was praised at the time, I believe rightly, for both its ambition and its bias towards action. Tim O’Reilly, the open source leader who coined the terms Government as a Platform and Web 2.0 declared: “This is the new bible for anyone working in open government”.
There are many government strategies now lying gathering dust which promised much but delivered little. Often this is due to a lack of ambition, the result of unactionable statements and risk aversion. Not so here.
Today, 18 government departments have published their own digital strategies. They have set the bar high.
These strategies describe how each department will change to become a digital by default organisation, offering digital services that are so good people prefer them. They also contain hard, actionable deliverables, and do not shirk from tackling the daunting task of transforming key parts of the state’s services. From future elections, to tax and social care, there is no ambiguity here.
To get a true sense of the scale of change being proposed, I recommend reading all 18 strategies.
But if you're short of time we've published summaries of how departments will respond to each of the 14 agreed actions. For example, you can find out how each department will improve its in-house specialist digital capability, or which transactional services will become the first to redesigned as digital by default exemplars.
While all such transactional services are important, it is worth exploring the sheer ambition and potential value some of them will bring.
DEFRA, through its work with Rural Payment Agency and other agencies, is creating a platform for farmland information to meet European legislation and administer millions of transactions. This will transform the way farmers apply for and receive payments, with a new digital service replacing 40 schemes delivered through 4 delivery bodies, each with their own IT systems. The data services created as a by-product could spur innovation in this space for years to come.
DEFRA’s Chief Operating Officer and Digital Leader, Ian Trenholm, has been the catalyst for a new take on a long-troubled service. It’s also good to see agile thinking and SME engagement at the heart of their approach.
HMRC, already an early adopter in digital services, has raised the bar again. From the Minister down, there is a sense of mission, not only to increase digitisation but to make it far simpler, clearer and faster for individuals and businesses to update their tax affairs.
For example, a new digital service will allow 30 million+ PAYE taxpayers to report changes that affect their tax codes, rather than making a phone call or writing.
And HMRC is forming a new unit, the HMRC Digital Service, which will become the home of the deep digital skills and experience required.
Many Government transactions are mandatory, but shouldn’t be seen as any less important. These ‘grudge’ transactions, whether booking prison visits or paying tribunal fees, can hugely affect millions of lives. At the Ministry of Justice, Antonia Romeo, Merry Scott-Jones and Roger Oldham are already creating a digital team capable of transforming such vital transactions.
Even the services currently seen as leaders can be improved. At DVLA and DSA, service managers like Carolyn Williams and John Ploughman have led the way in delivering digital exemplars such as road tax.
But there is still much to do to create ecosystems for suppliers and to create new space for innovation around the resultant data. The forthcoming integrated enquiries platform at DVLA is, to me, one of the best examples of radical transformation of a legacy business into a purely digital operation, as is their ambition to digitise vehicle logbooks to simplify the process of selling or scrapping a car.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has committed to a particularly broad set of service transformations. Stephen Lovegrove, BIS’s Digital Leader, deserves special mention for listing seven services to undergo digital by default service transformation.
These include Student Loans, Companies House registrations, patent and trademark applications at the IPO and a new digital service to make it much easier for people, often in dire straits, who need to apply to the Insolvency Service to receive statutory redundancy payments when the companies for whom they were working go bust.
There are many more. Non-transactional departments have been quietly achieving great things. The Department of Health has been taking the lead in open policymaking, while at DfID the recent announcement of its Open Aid Information Platform constitutes the best example yet of Government as a platform, and we should congratulate Charles Agnew, Julia Chandler and the team.
Similarly, FCO has produced a bold strategy for digital diplomacy, ably lead by Adam Bye, its Digital Leader.
It will take some time to digest these strategies, and in Government we have much work to do to build capacity, attract the right skills and suppliers and remove some of the existing process obstacles.
But for the first time, Government now has a collective ambition level which befits the expectations of our users in a digital age.