Appearing coincidentally near the launch of the UK Government Data Service is the release of a report from the National Audit Office on the topic of ‘Digital Britain One: Shared infrastructure and services for government online’. The report is essentially a review of the three key government websites – Directgov, Business.gov and Government Gateway. It’s also at a time when local government is anxiously waiting to see what proposals for a citizen authentication application are going to be made, given that identity cards were thrown out after a substantial expenditure.

The report accepts that user experience of Government Gateway damaged Directgov, which is no surprise. I can’t see anybody voluntarily using the Gateway, it’s so complex – it was also incredibly flakey before a large amount of cash paid for replacement hardware. The report also identifies the absence of feedback data from the Gateway, although sufficient comes through Directgov to bring out the issues. The report also identifies the number of government websites closed since 2006 but no-one is still quite sure how many actually existed or how many new ones have sneakily made their way into existence avoiding the command.

The report also confirms that statement made at the GDS launch that customer satisfaction with Directgov was increasing but unfortunately we are still not clear how this is impacting channel shift. As has been repeatedly stated on this blog, and by my academic work - along with feedback ACROSS ALL CHANNELS, usage figures ACROSS ALL CHANNELS are a necessity to identify shift. I commended the GDS team for finally responding to and using feedback from site users to improve it, but we are unaware, apart from an increase in satisfaction, of who is shifting away from conventional channels. Whist user satisfaction is increasing with Directgov it is noted in the report that there is a decrease in stakeholder satisfaction, along with that for Business.gov – this might be resolved by Beta.gov and the new tools being implemented, but I would suggest it is worth investigating.

Importantly the report concludes by stating that:

  • website rationalisation has been driven by policy rather than business case (nothing unusual here, it being politics)
  • evaluation mechanisms that are accurate and involve costs and benefits should be inherent in the GDS
  • it should be ensured that the GDS has authority across all digital channels
  • there should be a federated approach to identity assurance

Given the learning of the last decade in local government this is no surprise to us in that community. However I would go much further. There needs to be a government-wide channel strategy to ensure channel shift. Given the recent admission that there are different requirements for security across departments (shouldn’t that be services?). Given that Departments have heavily invested in and outsourced services across more expensive channels that will never fit with Beta.gov or a government-wide solution, this is all a bit of a game. In fact, this report might have had greater effect if it considered access to all or a range of government services and then identified the diversity. Have you tried contacting the HMRC electronically or had to deal with their identity assurance?

As with local government, central government should be focussing on the heavily used services, where the users can most easily be transferred online to the benefit of ALL.