by Stefany Barker
[original story here]
In September import•io attended Wall Street Journal’s TechCafe talks with Mike Bracken, director of the Government Digital Service unit (GDS) in the Cabinet Office, and Ben Hammersley, David Cameron’s Tech City ambassador and author of 64 Things You Need to Know Now for Then, to gain intimate insight into the government’s digital strategy.
Bracken’s job to transform public services into a “Digital by Default” model is no easy task. Hammersley explains that there is a leap in “the way we view the world” between those who “did the bulk of [their] intellectual development before 1989” and those who did so afterwards. Given that most individuals in charge of public policy today fall in the latter category, it is fortunate that Bracken emphasises a tabula rasa approach to digital strategy. When transforming a public service, he asks “What would we do if no other technologies existed, like the phone services?”.
Bracken singles-out Estonia’s e-governance as exemplary and explains that the fact that their digital strategy is fairly recent allows for an approach similar to his recommendation. Indeed, Estonia understands the cost-saving potential of digital services Bracken refers to, and was the first country in Europe to initiate e-governance. Today, Estonians have free internet access across the country and 94% of tax forms are filled online – in less than five minutes. Estonians also have a national identity card with which they can vote, use public transport, pick up pharmaceuticals (prescriptions are electronic), and can access all the data their government has to offer.
Hammersley’s discussion revolved around a rule of thumb that computing power doubles every eighteen months, called Moore’s Law, coined by Intel’s co-founder, Gordon Moore. Despite the challenges this phenomenon represents to implement digital strategies faster than they inevitably evolve, the Cabinet Office has taken several impressive initiatives.
First on the list is AssistedDigital: an initiative to get the estimated 9.2 million offline Brits to use digital government services. Their mission includes providing an interface for digital services where non-digital elements are required, like identity verification, as well as the provision of online training for those who still require digital skills. Further to getting people online, the GDS’s Digital Engagement project encourages citizens to have a say in government decision-making via a combination of departmental websites and social media channels.
Perhaps most exciting of all is DirectGov, the GDS’s effort to centralise government services to improve consumer access to them, and make processing them cheaper for the state. Bracken specifies that “Putting users at the heart of digital services is our vision statement, and as such it’s ultimately simple but involves a lot of transformation.” GDS has a dedicated mobile team, too. In parallel to these endeavours are the Identity Assurance Programme, which aims to avoid the complications of multiple login details and to assure security, and GOV.UK, the single domain for a central government.
import•io is particularly happy that Bracken and the GDS Team’s efforts have led to the creation of the G-Cloud. The G-Cloud revolutionises the procurement process. It is all about making it easier for suppliers and government work together. At present there are four categories of services available on the CloudStore: Infrastructure, Software, Platform and Specialist Services- which do you fit in?