Corporate report

Government Digital Strategy: annual report 2014

Published 16 January 2015

1. Foreword by Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude

This has been a great year for digital government. It’s been 12 months of getting things done. I’m pleased to report that the hard work of the Government Digital Service is transforming the way that the public interacts with the government.

We have completed the transition of over 300 agencies and arm’s length bodies, as well as HMRC, to GOV.UK. This is a tremendous achievement, and one which means we have delivered our pledge to make GOV.UK the single online home for government information and services.

GOV.UK celebrated its second birthday in October and received its billionth visit.

We pressed on with transforming significant government services. We already have 16 exemplar services accessible to the public, and a further 4 will be available by March.

By making these services simpler, clearer and faster to use, we’re improving the lives of millions of hardworking people. Our services such as registering to vote, claiming Carer’s Allowance or applying for Lasting Power of Attorney status are designed to put the user experience first.

Government departments such as HMRC and Ministry of Justice are fully embracing the digital approach, and transforming services beyond the exemplars. This year the Department for Work and Pensions opened its second digital academy, based in Leeds.

In our efforts to make government digital by default, one of our primary messages is that we will not leave anyone behind. Our Digital Inclusion Strategy aims to reduce the number of people without online access by a quarter by 2016. We’re working with a range of partners to do this, identifying the reasons why people aren’t online and helping them realise all the benefits that the internet can bring from contacting relatives across the globe or saving money through buying online.

We are also introducing an assisted digital programme to help people who aren’t able to use digital services independently. Partnerships are crucial. For example, the Office of the Public Guardian is working with Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, and the Citizens Advice Bureau on the Lasting Power of Attorney assisted digital provision.

Last month we hosted the inaugural meeting of the Digital 5 group. The UK founded this community of leading digital governments and invited South Korea, Israel, Estonia and New Zealand as founding members. Our shared experience on transforming services digitally ran through the event. We will continue to work together to learn from the best examples of digital government; our initial areas of focus are connectivity, open markets and teaching children to code. But we know that we have lots more to learn and lots more to share from our own digital development.

Read this report to learn more about the way that this government is making the way that the public interacts with the government better for everyone involved.

2. Background

In November 2012, we published the Government Digital Strategy with 14 actions. We updated this in December 2013, adding new actions covering digital inclusion and opening up government services and information. In December 2012, all but 1 department published their own strategies saying what they would commit to achieving against these actions. Every 3 months we report on what’s happened, our successes and our challenges.

What follows is an overview of progress across government since December 2013, but you can also see in more detail:

  • what individual departments have done in 2014 against all the commitments they made and what they plan to do across all relevant actions in 2015
  • what has been done action by action in 2014 and what is proposed for each action area during 2015

2.1 What the Digital Strategy aims to achieve

The strategy promised numerous benefits to users, to government, and to the country as a whole. Among the things we said we’d do were:

  • move all departmental, agency and arm’s length bodies (ALBs) to GOV.UK, to make getting information simpler, clearer and faster
  • create digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so while those who can’t are not excluded
  • assess those services we’re redesigning that handle over 100,000 transactions each year against a service standard that sets out what great digital services should be like, and not let them go live until they meet it
  • help civil servants understand the potential of digital to help them in their work, and gain the access and skills to use it well
  • improve the flexibility and quality of the technology underpinning digital services
  • broaden the range of smaller highly skilled and innovative companies from the UK’s digital technology sector who can work for government (by reducing barriers and simplifying tendering processes)
  • potentially save between £1.7 and £1.8 billion a year by moving services from offline to digital channels (and more if they are fully redesigned in the process)

3. Progress in 2014

3.1 GOV.UK

GOV.UK celebrated its billionth visit on its second birthday in October 2014, and it has had nearly 2 billion page views this year alone. In the first week of October this year, it had 10.3 million unique visitors, the highest number to date.

At every stage of its development, GOV.UK has been rigorously tested in public against the needs of real users, to find out what works and what doesn’t. We made an average of 6 deployments a day over the year, making changes based on user feedback to improve the user experience. This is how digital public services are supposed to work.

We build GOV.UK using open source technology. This means that government doesn’t incur expensive software licensing costs and we reap the rewards of code that has been developed and peer-reviewed in the open. It also means it can be used by other governments. Australia, New Zealand, Estonia, Norway and Hawaii have taken the source code for GOV.UK to run for themselves, demonstrating the world class nature of the digital service we are building.

When we wrote the Digital Strategy in October 2012, we were hoping to get the corporate content of all departmental, agency and ALB sites moved across to GOV.UK by March 2014. This was initially delayed because of difficulties in resourcing, which meant we didn’t have enough people to do all the work. We built additional functionality (like new ‘finder’ tools and a better organisation homepage template) as we moved 70 of the more complex websites to GOV.UK. By doing this, we met specialist users’ needs fully and maintained a high-quality user experience​.

We finished moving all sites to GOV.UK by the end of December, a tremendous achievement by everyone involved. The result is that almost all government information is now available in a single trusted place, making it clearer, simpler and faster for people to deal with government.

Transitioning 300+ agencies and arm’s length bodies to GOV.UK

To encourage more people to use government services online, we need to make sure that they feel they can trust them. We’ve therefore been taking action to deal with the problem of misleading websites, third party sites that charge for services people can get for free or at a lower cost through GOV.UK.

Search engine providers removed a number of sponsored adverts from their sites where the websites were breaching their terms and conditions. [The National Trading Standards Board pursued 5 people who ran sites like this under the Fraud Act. And we ran a social media awareness campaign encouraging users to go to GOV.UK for government services and information, with help from partners like ‘Which?’ magazine. We’re already seeing fewer people coming to our services through these third party copycat sites.

3.2 Service transformation

Departments and the Government Digital Service (GDS) are transforming and improving 25 of the most significant government services.

The transformation programme continues apace. Sixteen new or redesigned services are already being used by the public. Some are for individual citizens, such as [Register to vote]](https://www.gov.uk/transformation/register-to-vote.html), Carer’s Allowance and Student finance. Some are aimed at business users, such as Renew a patent and Waste carrier registration.

These services are already being heavily used. For example:

  • there were more than 1 million applications to Student finance for full-time loan and grant applications for the academic year 2014/15 after its release in January 2014
  • Carer’s Allowance had 125,000 digital claims made in the year following its public release in October 2013, with over half of applications made digitally
  • in the 2 months after Register to vote was released in England and Wales in June, it received 1 million applications; by November the service was released in Scotland and the number of applications made rose to 2.2 million

By October 2014, more than 3.7 million user transactions had been made across the 15 services publicly accessible at that time.

We anticipate that by the end of March 2015 20 exemplar services will be publicly available, in live or public beta. Home Office (HO), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will continue work on the remaining 5 exemplars, building digital by default services that meet the needs of their users.

3.3 Meeting the Service Standard

April 2014 saw the Digital by Default Service Standard come fully into force. Any new or redesigned service for GOV.UK has to meet 26 criteria and is assessed at each stage of development. For example, a service has to prove it:

  • meets user needs, including those of offline users
  • is developed in an agile and iterative way by a skilled and multi-disciplinary team
  • handles user data securely
  • measures and publishes performance data

All services handling more than 100,000 transactions a year are assessed by GDS specialists. Services with fewer than 100,000 transactions are self-certified by departmental assessment panels, trained by GDS. Between April and the end of December, GDS ran 71 assessments and 10 departments established their own panels.

All assessment outcomes are published online. We make things open; it makes them better.

4. New ways of working

Achieving each service transformation is an important goal in itself; but we’ve got wider ambitions too. We want to learn from the service redesign we’re doing to build expertise in departments so they can carry on working in different ways in the future.

GDS worked with HMT to clarify and publish business case guidance for agile projects. This acknowledged that agile projects not only had potential to produce better systems more quickly and cheaply than conventional IT planning and project management, but could also maintain effective business planning and spending control processes.

Four departments worked with GDS to develop new governance principles for agile projects, to improve the way they’re supported and run.

5. Increasing access

We’ll only succeed when more people switch to using services online. The Government Digital Strategy described how use of government services lags behind other sectors like banking and retail.

We’ve pulled together advice and case studies on successful channel shift to help services increase digital take-up. We’re starting to see real progress in persuading users to move to digital, with more than half of voter registrations and Carer’s Allowance applications now made online. Business-to-business services like waste carrier registrations and patent renewals are achieving digital take-up of over 90%.

We also need to help more people get online. In the UK:

This may mean helping people get the right access, skills, motivation or confidence to go online.

In April we published the Government Digital Inclusion Strategy. It aims to reduce the number of people who are offline by 25% by 2016. We’re working with partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors, including digital skills charity Go ON UK which acts as a link between government and non-government partners. For example, EE held Techy Teaparties in September to offer help and advice to people facing challenges in getting online, and Tinder ran Get Online Week in October. We’re sharing what does and doesn’t work to help get people online.

If people are unable to use government digital services independently, we’ll provide assisted digital ways for them to use those services offline. No-one will be excluded.

All 25 exemplar services are working with GDS to ensure they provide good assisted digital support. This is in place to help people book prison visits and we’re testing it for those claiming Carer’s Allowance.

We also assessed the complexity of each exemplar service against the digital inclusion scale. This will help services understand the level of digital skill required to complete the service, the skills their users have, and what level of assisted digital support they should plan for.

6. Working across government: common platforms

6.1 Identity assurance (GOV.UK Verify)

GOV.UK Verify entered public beta on 14 October. The new identity assurance service provides a faster and safer way to prove your identity when using government services online. It’s vital users know government services are secure and that they can trust how government handles their information.

The identity assurance programme works with central government departments and agencies and other public service providers to plan how they use GOV.UK Verify. We published information on the services that plan to start using GOV.UK Verify over the next 6 months.

6.2 Measurement and user-centred design

Our Performance Platform is helping services understand their users needs and behaviour, and pinpoint areas for improvement and development.

We now have a world-class user lab at GDS, which is available for all departments to use. The Cabinet Office (CO) policy lab helps policy teams test how design principles can improve policy making, and put users at the centre of policy design.

7. Building a digitally skilled civil service

The Civil Service Capabilities Plan, published in April, identified digital capability as a high priority. We’re working to ensure government has those skills.

By summer 2014, the GDS Recruitment Hub helped departments recruit over 100 leading technology and digital experts to leadership positions across government departments. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and a number of other departments have set up and expanded specialist central digital teams within their own departments.

HMRC set up a digital delivery centre in Newcastle, the first in government; and DWP established digital academies in both London and Leeds. They provide in-depth training for digital specialists, and project-specific programmes to support teams working on services together. They also provided foundation and expert based courses for other civil servants who work closely with digital specialists (such as user researchers).

GDS further developed its service managers’ induction and development programme for those leading on service transformation. Over 1,000 lead and content editors working on GOV.UK were trained on user needs, content management and web writing. GDS ran sessions as part of professions’ training (for example, a digitally themed event for senior civil servants in the operational delivery profession) and shared learning from exemplar service redesign through cross-government events such as Sprint 14 and Sprint Beta.

Sprint 14 film

More than 15 departments and agencies helped GDS develop and pilot a digital and technology skills and learning matrix. This has already been used to contribute to a number of digital transformation activities such as:

  • designing skills assessment initiatives
  • creating development plans
  • helping shape training courses
  • defining consistent skills specifications for digital roles across government

The Government Digital Inclusion Strategy commits departments to ensuring that all their staff have the basic digital skills necessary to do their jobs effectively and to use and help improve government online services. This means ensuring they meet level 7 on the digital inclusion scale.

Departments have been running digital skills briefing and training sessions, targeted to their own services’ needs. They’ve also set up internal support networks, such as Department of Health (DH) digital champions, CO’s digital pioneers and BIS and Ministry of Defence’s digital buddies schemes. Departments such as CO and Home Office have set up code clubs to encourage staff to develop their own digital skills as well as understand digital more deeply. FCO developed a digital curriculum for its staff covering policy work, communications and service transformation.

Departments such as MOJ, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and DWP have begun to run their own Sprint events. GDS also ran community events such as Sprint Go to support GOV.UK editors preparing to move agency and ALB websites, and set up a service managers community.

We published cross-government guidance over the year such as a community development handbook, social media playbook and revised guidance on civil servants’ use of social media.

We’ve got 2 cohorts of our new Digital and Technology Fast Stream underway. This is designed to provide career paths and training linked to current and future digital and technology roles in government. The Fast Track Apprenticeship Scheme was also extended to include a digital and technology scheme; DWP and HMRC took the first group of school leavers.

The Open Policy Making Team and departments have been working with us to increase the use of digital to support open policy making, and engage with people. In January and May, events were held to show how digital tools are being applied to open policy making and service design. A number of departments such as DH and BIS have developed digital toolkits to take this forward, and the use of digital has led to more responses and participation in consultations. For example, a BIS consultation using a hub called Citizen Space generated the highest response for a science-based consultation in 6 years. FCO’s digital transformation team ran numerous pilots with policy teams, for example on election monitoring, public policy consultations and several hackathons.

8. Technology across government

We’ve worked with departments on much-needed changes to equip government with the right technology to deliver great digital services.

8.1 International work

We are keen to share learning with other governments. The government founded and hosted the D5, a group of the most digitally advanced governments in the world (South Korea, Estonia, Israel, New Zealand and the UK), at a 2-day event in December. These governments signed a charter of principles for digital development.

The government also led a delegation to South Korea to participate in a UK/South Korea IT policy forum, covering topics such as 5G, the Internet of Things and government support for digital start-ups.

8.2 Open standards

Led by our Technology Leaders’ Network, we’ve been selecting and implementing open standards. We’ve agreed open formats that government must use by default for all the documents we create. We made this switch so that:

  • people have a choice about the software they use to read government documents
  • it’s cheaper and easier to do business with government
  • people in government can work across different platforms

We have been working with the OpenDoc Society to provide guidance for technology leaders to help them move to the chosen formats.

We have also selected open standards for exchanging contact information and calendar events in a way that people can use to add to their address book or calendar applications.

8.3 Common technology services

We’re building common technology services and platforms that all departments need like networks, hosting, desktop and directory services. We’re calling this Common Technology Services (CTS). Our aim is to show a different way of designing and providing technology to the civil service. We want users to have modern, flexible technology services that are at least as good as those people use at home. These services will also be cheaper than the services currently in place. The programme will allow staff to do their job faster and more effectively, and is expected to save significant sums.

The Cabinet Office Technology Transformation Project (COTT) is an example of how we’re changing the way technology is provided, and similar approaches are happening in other departments. COTT has developed common technology platforms for all CO staff (plus some from Crown Commercial Service and DCMS). This year they moved more than 2,000 users from the old, outsourced IT system to the new technology services.

CO moved every local authority and council to the Public Services Network (PSN), the government’s high-performance network. This helps collaboration and secure sharing of services between local authorities. In April GDS took over responsibility for the PSN programme and reviewed the PSN strategy by looking closely at the user need for networks. For example, technology leaders revised the PSN’s compliance regime to make its processes simpler, clearer and faster.

We’ve set up a technical architecture function that will ensure departments have the technical architecture necessary to meet user needs. We’ve been looking at common needs around data formats and exchange and the role of architecture, quality assurance and technical governance. We’ll be using this information to inform priorities for development of application program interfaces (APIs) for core government services, which will allow cross-government services to develop services using common datasets.

We have started to consult on what APIs it would be useful for us to build next year. We’ve also started work to simplify the underlying technical architecture of the GOV.UK publishing platform so that both read and write APIs can be developed across all information published on the site. This should increase our capacity to publish reliable data rapidly.

8.4 Buying digital services

We’re also encouraging departments to use shorter, lower­ cost, more flexible contracts and helping them to exit big, expensive, long­ term IT contracts that are too slow and cumbersome for today’s fast­ moving technology. We are making it simpler and faster for the whole of the public sector to buy digital products and services when it needs to by creating a pool of quality suppliers of all sizes, who work in agile ways.

The Digital Marketplace replaced Cloudstore in 2014. The Digital Services framework provides access to a diverse range of suppliers who can help the UK government deliver its digital strategy. By working with a wider range of businesses, including more SMEs (Small and Medium­ sized Enterprises), we’ll deliver world-­leading digital public services, help growth and build a stronger economy. This will help the whole of the public sector to buy digital products and services from a pool of quality suppliers of all sizes, most of whom work in agile ways.

9. Efficiency savings

In June, we announced that the government saved £210 million during 2013 to 2014 by:

  • scrutinising digital and IT spend requests across government
  • moving websites across to GOV.UK
  • transforming online services

10. Plans for 2015

Work on GOV.UK and the transformation programme has revealed a huge opportunity for service transformation through the development of shared, interoperable services; services that can work together as they’e developed. This approach, known as ‘Government as a Platform’, will help government build and provide new and redesigned services.

We have already built platforms for publishing (GOV.UK), identity (GOV.UK Verify), and performance data. These are platforms all of government share, saving money and unifying the experience for users.

Platform services will give us an infrastructure which services and teams can build on. This may also lead to the development of APIs so that some of the infrastructure – or data within it – can be used by third parties to build their own services.

It’s more efficient for many services to share common technology such as server space, software to verify users’ identities, or a way to receive payments. Companies like Amazon and Twitter have been very successful in making various web applications, websites and devices which draw on a common infrastructure.

Over the next 6 months we will be working to enable more cross-government platforms for the future, working with agencies and departments to identify what the priority platforms might be and how we start start developing them.