By Ben Rooney
How do you go about transforming the U.K.’s civil service to deliver digital services? By recruiting the best people you can.
Mike Bracken is the man responsible for delivering all of the U.K. government’s digital services.
U.K. Tech City Ambassador Ben Hammersely describes him as a “god” in his role as executive director of digital efficiency and reform at the Cabinet Office. At the WSJ’s Tech Cafe, Mr. Bracken outlined the government’s strategy for opening up government services online.
1. Create the government digital service: “Fifteen months ago we didn’t have anything. Now we have 200 people with world-class digital skills empowered to create government as a platform.” Mr. Hammersley, speaking earlier said the government had recruited the best people out there. “It is the U.K.’s most impressive start-up,” he said.
2. Create the a digital estate: “We had several hundred websites, 20-odd departments, several hundred [government] agencies. Whatever digital skills we had, and they were highly variable, were spread out over this. We have brought that into one place.”
3. Fix publishing and transactions: “We have to set up our publishing platform to make sure that when you go to a government service, it looks the same and works the same as all the others. Also when we make a change, we we change it once and it changes for all of the sites.”
4. Go wholesale: “The final part is going wholesale, taking the services, and particularly the data, and opening them up.”
Mr. Bracken said this was not about making government websites, but about changing the way government operates. “If we don’t reform the civil service, the institution itself, then what we can do may not persist. Just as important is the internal change we are affecting on the government machine,” he said.
He was critical of previous efforts to digitize government, which involved putting the existing services online. “The previous administration looked at what they did off line and said we need what you get at a counter or office, but we need that online. That is why people get half way thorough and give up and pick up the phone. That doubles the cost of the service. What we need to ask is ‘how do we natively create digital services?’”
He said it was important to fix the existing services before they could achieve the long-term goal of opening them up to APIs, which are used to create software applications.
On the subject of privacy, Mr. Bracken suggested that the government was moving toward a market model. “You as consumers or businesses you already have a model of trust around your identity with a number of suppliers, your bank Facebook, Twitter, etc.,” he said. “We can leverage some of that trust to validate identity. Government does not need to build large scale technical infrastructure to leverage what is out there already.”