Digital by Default Standard Surges Ahead

The UK’s Government Digital Service Programme Director Mike Bracken has been talking this week about the progress made under the Government’s Digital by Default standard, highlighting several key successes of the programme, even though it’s just 75% complete.

The two-year project to take 25 of the Government’s most-used services digital, which will eventually save £1.7billion annually, is due to be completed in 2015 and has already delivered major benefits to both Government departments and users alike.

Bracken is reported to have earmarked the online voter registration system as one of the most successful digital services launched to date. The online system allows citizens to register to vote in just three minutes and has seen 82% of those that have registered to vote since launch do so online rather than by paper.

Bracken also revealed that of the 25 services earmarked for digital transformation five are already live, 17 are currently being tested with users and three are still at the prototype stage. Indeed this is a process that Firmstep has been involved in, working with the Department for Education to take its services digital using our AchieveForms solution.

While it is encouraging to see that the Government is making fast progress with this initiative perhaps the most impressive statistic was end-user satisfaction which was reported to be at 90%. It is well documented that online and digital services can deliver more efficient practices and cost savings but ultimately without end-user buy-in digital will fail. On the evidence of this week however everything seems to be moving in the right direction.

US Follows UK’s Lead with New Digital Service

The White House announced last week that it is launching a new U.S. digital service with the aim of removing barriers to the improvement of online public services to citizens and businesses. The team will be led by Mikey Dickerson, a former Google employee who was one of the key figures in overcoming the technical issues that blighted the famous website and it is hoped that the service will help to prevent future similar disasters.

The launch comes a few months after the introduction of 18F, a group of IT professionals tasked with troubleshooting government I.T. and making online government services simpler and more efficient. Several comparisons have been drawn to the Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK, which was formed in 2011 to implement the government’s ‘Digital by Default’ strategy.

Along with the new service, the American government is releasing its Digital Services Playbook and TechFAR Handbook to the public, which contain advice on best practice for the design and procurement of public sector IT services. Firmstep has a number of deployments in the U.S., including San Francisco, where our AchieveForms have replaced a paper-based system that businesses can use to apply online for the city’s Enterprise Zone tax credit programme.

Public sector IT is under a degree of scrutiny from the media at the moment following the e-borders collapse and subsequent fines, but digital services like those mentioned help to guide organisation through these complex operational changes. Such large-scale projects are always likely to encounter some teething problems, but the long-term benefits make them worthwhile. 

Department for Education Discusses Going Digital with Firmstep

In June this year we blogged about the work we undertook with the Department for Education in helping take key services online, in line with the Government’s Digital by Default strategy. 

Following on from our announcement the DfE’s Digital Solutions Manager has written an article for Government Computing this week about the challenges the Department faced and how Firmstep helped the department overcome them. The full article can be found here

Consistency Doesn’t Mean One Size Fits All for Local Authority Websites

Earlier this year Socitm rejected proposals made by Policy Exchange that suggested building a single web platform for local council services would help councils deal with budgetary pressures and improve services.

This week Socitm published a detailed rationale for its rejection citing previous failed attempts to create uniformity in web design, such as the Local Government Navigation List and single software solution APLAWS. The report also explained that although a single local government could deliver economies of scale, the major cost would be created by its integration with a large variety of back office systems.

It is an unescapable fact that previous attempts to move local authorities onto a unified system have failed. However our experience suggests this is probably down to the fact that previous attempts have focused on making local councils using the exactly the same systems rather than looking to deliver a consistent system across all authorities.

Firmstep recently worked with the Department for Education to help it redesign its services to meet the Government’s Digital by Default Service Standard. The DfE is now using our AchieveForms intelligent online forms solution to streamline processes and used Firmstep Self suite to build a services portal that is live on GOV.UK, to give a user experience fully consistent with the Government’s central information and services site. The aim of this project was not to make the DfE the same as any other government department but instead to make it consistent with its counterparts.

It is important that local councils deliver a consistent, familiar and user-friendly experience that they recognise regardless of which authority they are dealing with. By striving for consistency rather than uniformity, local councils should be well positioned to improve services and cut costs as they move online. 

It may not be easy, but measurement is key

It’s always easier to move a public service online, than it is to measure the effectiveness of the web service you launched last month.  But measurement matters – it’s the only way that potential performance issues can be highlighted, and measures taken to improve them. 

This was discussed at a recent Local Digital Campaign event, which covered data analysis, self-service dashboard apps and other innovations in development by central and local government bodies. Topics covered included problems in assessing cost per transaction for online library services, segmenting data by demographic on use of online tax services to help improve end-user take-up and analysing geographies where digital use was highest and lowest.

While digitising public services is undoubtedly a good thing, offering improved efficiency and cost savings, it is important that the impact and uptake of the public is measured. The Government’s commitment to digital by default has already seen countless public authorities save money but the next step in transforming public services is measuring the impact on end-users, and ensuring that what is offered is what the public wants to use.

Burnley Borough Council Cuts Costs and Improves Service with Firmstep

Burnley Borough Council has been achieving cost reductions, while also improving services, having replaced many of its legacy systems with the Firmstep platform.

Burnley Borough Council launched Firmstep’s Customer Experience Platform in early 2013, replacing its Northgate CRM and Jadu web content management systems. At the same time the Council also deployed the Firmstep Platform to drive channel shift by offering a growing range of online services through its Your Burnley self-service portal, giving residents a secure, easy-to-use method for accessing local services, personal information and transactions from PCs and mobile devices.

The Council made the move after deciding it wanted to replace the multiple legacy systems currently used for managing services and resident transactions with an integrated solution from a single provider where possible, to reduce its IT costs and to support a consistent approach to online service access.

Sharon Hargraves, Head of Customer & IT services at Burnley Borough Council, said: “The solutions available on the Firmstep Platform have made us more efficient in both our front and back office functions, helping us to make significant ongoing cost savings and giving us the opportunity to improve the way we deliver services to local residents.”

Having already made a significant percentage reduction on software licensing and support costs in the 2013-14 financial year, the Council is expecting to see ongoing annual savings for the foreseeable future. Not only have the Council now got a better service but also at a lower cost – who can say fairer than that? 

Digital by Default Moving Government in Right Direction – But Still Room for Improvement

In our work with various local councils and national government departments we see on a daily basis the progress and improvements that the Government’s Digital by Default strategy is delivering. From enhanced accessibility, greater efficiency and cost savings a plethora of benefits have already been realised. 

While huge strides have been taken in driving public sector services forward there is, however, still much further work to be done. A reminder that the digital strategy can’t simply rest on the laurels of past successes was delivered this week by Newcastle City Council as it argued that current initiatives on open government and shared government data are not delivering the expected benefits. 

Responding to a question in Labour’s Digital Government Review asking whether the current initiatives on open government data and shared government data are delivering the expected benefits, Newcastle City Council said: 

“The open data initiatives are based on what ministers think should be published rather than what citizens have actually requested in consultation. The impacts have been negligible in terms of assisting citizens or growing businesses.”

 The council went on to say, in response to a later question: 

The government needs to support local authorities, community agencies and other stakeholders in encouraging more people to use digital services, especially people from disadvantaged environments.” 

Newcastle City Council’s response is a reminder that government and local authority digital services have to deliver what citizens want – not what is assumed that they need.  It is all very good delivering more efficient services, but it must be done in a way that has the end user at heart – to encourage the end-user adoption which is critical to channel shift success.  Solutions such as a flexible service delivery platform, are available that can deliver the cost and efficiency benefits in line with user expectations – and it would be wise to use these more widely. 

UK Government Looks to Lead the Way with Digital Services

The UK Government is to provide an update on its efforts to transform and improve 25 high-volume services to make them Digital by Default in line with its Digital Strategy next week.

Stephen Kelly, Chief Operating Officer, HM Government will speak at Digital Government 2014, to be held at the QEII Conference Centre in London on Tuesday, outlining the progress that has been made in turning government services digital. He will also outline steps to achieve consistent progress, to deliver a saving of £1.8 billion annually, and make the UK the “most digital government” in the G8 by 2015.

At Firmstep we have already seen both national and local government take huge strides forward in turning key services digital. We continue to work closely with several county councils to help them offer streamlined online services and only last week made public the work we have undertaken with Department for Education to help them digitalise key services including schools’ applications for academy status, funding and Risk Protection Arrangements. 

With several government officials speaking at the event it will be interesting to discover how the government plans to not only take more services digital but also do so with a consistent level of success and cost efficiency.

More details, including registering to attend the conference can be found here.

Department for Education Aligns with Government Digital Strategy with Firmstep Platform

The Department for Education (DfE) is using Firmstep’s Platform to enhance its delivery of digital services and comply with the Government Digital Strategy for online services. The full story is here.

Using the AchieveForms solution DfE is streamlining processes for key services including schools’ applications for academy status, funding and Risk Protection Arrangements. 

Where users were previously required to download, complete and return documents manually with a range of supporting information, applications can now be submitted online in a more efficient and cost-effective way.  For schools’ applications for Academy status, the flexibility of AchieveForms has enabled the DfE to eliminate the need for users to manually key in basic information for their school, such as address and contact details.  Users simply enter their school’s Unique Reference Number, and the form automatically accesses data from EduBase, the DfE’s register of educational establishments, to populate the relevant form fields.

Following the initial success with the forms that are currently live, the DfE plans to rebuild and develop over 100 forms, each of which will benefit from enhanced functionality and automation which was not previously available.

Are council services lagging behind public digital demand?

A recent survey has highlighted the gap between the public’s and local governments’ perception of council digital services.  Consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers’ review of the local authority sector found that 75% of council leaders believe their council is embracing the opportunities that moving online offers in delivering better services to the public.

But just 29% of over 2000 members of the public agreed that this was the case.  The survey also found significant regional variations in how citizens use digital platforms to interact with councils.  Almost half of Londoners (48%) and people in Wales (47%) had interacted with their councils digitally in the past month, compared with 29% in the East Midlands.

One-fifth of the public said they had used their council’s website to access information and one in ten had paid for a public service online in the past month.  When asked if they wanted more services to be available digitally, almost half of the public agreed.   

The report also highlighted that both younger and older demographics were keen to use more online services:  a clear majority of 18-34 year olds expected better digital services, and over 40% of over 55s also supported the idea.  There’s more data here.