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We have also taken promising first steps in moving towards towards a more fundamentally digital government - one where we share code, patterns, platforms, components and best practice for approaching common technological and design problems across government. Cross-government platforms and cross-government services are the future.
We have built a number of shared components and platforms (such as GOV.UK Verify for online identity verification) but we also use commodity commercial products where these are supported by open standards. We will continue to evaluate whether to buy or build on a case by case basis, preferring industry-standard commodity components as a general rule.
Exiting legacy IT contracts is a precondition for all of this work. As we explain in business transformation not all old technology is toxic, but we need to have the right commercial models to effectively deliver the next stage of our transformation: shared platforms, components and business capabilities.
In order to explain what’s next, it is helpful to understand what we have accomplished under the 2012 Government Digital Strategy.
Patterns and code
There is currently a lot of sharing of government code but little reuse (mostly because it is difficult to find, it may be unsupported and it is often easier to start again). Where there is copying of code, this can accelerate the development of services, but it does not secure the maximum benefit from reuse because it creates divergent paths and multiple maintenance streams.
To help address this, we have been supporting the delivery of high quality, consistent services for users by making reusable code available to all. For example, we have built front-end tools to help departments build their GOV.UK services. We have also developed a prototyping kit to support rapid iteration of new services using the GOV.UK styles.
Most recently, we have started developing transaction patterns. These patterns help identify the best way for users to interact with the various steps in a service, such as checking eligibility. They increase the quality and consistency of services whilst reducing the effort departments have to invest to design services.
Common components and platforms
A common component provides a defined piece of functionality that usually only exists in one place and can easily be integrated into a wider service through the use of standards, preferably open standards. A platform is something that aggregates demand and disaggregates supply. Platforms are essential to better service delivery, Civil Service reform and to reinventing procurement for the digital age. GDS has focused on designing tools that act as platforms from the supplier perspective but also as components from the consumer side, meaning software developers can integrate them into the digital services they are building with ease.
An example of a common component that can be integrated into wider services using standard interfaces is GOV.UK Notify. It is also a platform that aggregates demand for notification services from government services and disaggregates supply of these services by third-party notification providers.
Platforms make it easier to procure and use third-party providers because these are intermediated by the platform. This means that government can change suppliers without departments themselves having to make any changes to their services.
It also means that we can more easily change the way that government works - for example, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLA) print shop has been integrated into GOV.UK Notify along with commercial printers so that public services can consume a printing capability at scale without having to integrate with a variety of different providers.
Because services do not have to interface with a specific provider directly, government can balance the load between different providers more easily, or make changes to back-office functions without affecting live services.
We have made a good start on platforms. However, we need to institutionalise their creation and use across the Civil Service. There is a critical role for GDS to maintain the catalogue of which platforms are available.
International role model
The UK government’s pioneering digital approach has been recognised internationally, including most recently by the 2016 United Nations e-government survey. We are now a global leader to which other governments look to model their approach, for example:
- the New Zealand and Israeli governments used GOV.UK source code for their web services
- the Australian government’s Digital Transformation Office began with a small team and an alpha project, just as GDS did
- the United States government created its US Digital Service, modelled on GDS
We are also a founding member of the D5, a global network of the most digitally advanced governments in the world.
Priorities until 2020
We have seven priorities for this parliament:
- exiting legacy IT contracts
- building, reliably operating and continuously improving components and platforms
- moving to business capabilities
- removing barriers to component, platform and capability reuse
- supporting reuse beyond central government
- going wholesale by expanding the number of available and supported APIs
- sharing internationally
Exiting legacy contracts
Having control over technology is a critical part of delivering this strategy. We cannot undertake business transformation, implement better workspace technology, make better use of data or use shared components without more control over our technology. Our focus here is changing the way that we buy technology: creating a shared understanding of the commercial and supplier environment and being clear about the products and services we expect to need in the future.
In business transformation, we explain our approach to legacy technology.
Building, reliably operating and continuously improving components and platforms
Cross government platforms and cross-government components are the future. We will accelerate the pace and scale of transformation by avoiding duplicated development of solutions, developing new digitally-native business processes and focusing on the specific challenges of legacy contract exit and transformation. We will do this in a way that is secure, with privacy and security considerations throughout the design and deployment of every component and platform.
We will build on the government as a platform concept, ensuring we make greater reuse of platforms and components across government. We will also continue to move towards common technology, ensuring that where it is right we are consuming commodity hardware or cloud-based software instead of building something that is needlessly government specific. Common components and platforms will cover both citizen-facing services and internal public sector technology.
We will work towards having a range of reusable components to make it quick, cheap and easy to assemble digital services. These will be a mixture of government-built components (both from departments and GDS) and common components that government can procure that are based around open standards.
The digital apprenticeship service was designed from the start to reuse or integrate services where possible and build components around open standards and flexible architectures. Read how they use GOV.UK Notify and an API integration with the Tax Platform, built together with HMRC.
Building reusable business capabilities
Components and platforms are necessary but not sufficient for the transformation of government. We will take this one step further to talk about ‘business capabilities’ - defined as all of the the people, process and technology an organisation needs to achieve a specific outcome.
Capabilities can be primarily technological (for example GOV.UK Verify gives services the ability to establish users are who they say they are) but also include the work carried out by people (such as internal audit). In this sense, the Government Internal Audit Agency provides a shared business capability to government (the ability for departments to audit themselves). We want to see more shared business capabilities wherever possible with defined interfaces so that they can be reused across government.
This way of thinking makes it easier for components, platforms or capabilities to recursively form part of other components, platforms or capabilities, or to be easily assembled to create new services which in turn deliver value to citizens and businesses.
Removing barriers to component, platform and capability reuse
Across the whole of government, we will do more to address the blockers to implementation and consumption of common components, platforms and business capabilities. This means:
- helping all parts of government understand the value of shared platforms, components and business capabilities
- ensuring the right technical support and guidance is in place for reuse of code, components, platforms and business capabilities
- maintaining a list of appropriately supported components, platforms and business capabilities, making sure they can be easily found and consumed
- developing procurement frameworks to provide public sector organisations without the right level of digital capability and/or capacity to easily source professional services support in implementing platforms and components
- ensuring that everything is designed to be used securely and that service managers know how to maintain high levels of security - the National Cyber Security Centre will lead on coordinating security
We will clarify our priorities and principles for technology - being clearer about where commodity cloud services should be used and where services should be built for or by government organisations. We will also look at the environment in which technology is used. For example, where we use old court buildings and Victorian prisons we may need to include this work in broader business transformation plans to ensure that we are looking at not only the technology in isolation, but also the physical environment and infrastructure.
Supporting reuse beyond central government
GDS has built a number of platforms (such as GOV.UK Verify, Notify and Pay) that local authorities and non-crown public sector bodies want to use. We will investigate how best to make these and future platforms available to the wider public sector. Pilots in this area started in October 2016.
GOV.UK Verify allows people to use one account to prove their identity online securely for government services. GDS will work with the private sector to enable people to use the same account, which meets high government standards, to prove their identity online for private sector services, such as opening a bank account without having to go into a branch.
In her 2010 report to the coalition government on the future of Directgov (one of the precursor websites to GOV.UK), Martha Lane Fox said “Make Directgov a wholesaler as well as the retail shop front for government services and content by mandating the development and opening up of Application Programming Interfaces (APls) to third parties.”
The initial phases of digital transformation have focused on online services and GOV.UK, the UK government’s single domain. We have had some success with APIs, particularly in HMRC, where we have released a number of tax-related APIs for external software developers to use. We continue to work closely with software developers to enable them to bring new and more sophisticated products to the market.
Our priority for the period until 2020 is to expand the number of available and supported APIs, for use both inside and outside of government.
Inside government, this means moving away from monolithic systems that are intended to perform a large number of tasks to individual components that communicate with each other through APIs and which are shared across government, rather than bound to organisational silos.
Outside government, this means following the model established by HMRC and making whole services, components or platforms available to external software developers for reuse.
In this Parliament, we will work with other governments to set global standards for digital services and technology, both through our bilateral international relationships and especially through international partnerships such as the D5 and the Open Government Partnership.
We will share our platforms, common technology components, standards and guidance. We will help other governments develop their own capabilities to benefit from our approach. We will learn from best practice in other countries to continuously hone and improve our services.
We will also encourage other countries to adopt our approach to purchasing and procurement, to show how user-centred design can support successful delivery from a broader range of suppliers.
We will continue to be a world leader in data and transparency, promoting and implementing open, accessible technology across the UK public sector and D5.
How we will do this
Exit large IT contracts
Departments will continue to lead programmes to exit large IT contracts, with support from experts in the Cabinet Office, including the IPA, the Government Commercial Function and GDS where appropriate.
Develop new common components, platforms and capabilities
Across all of government, we will develop an ecosystem of reusable components and platforms so that these can be used together to quickly and easily deliver new or improved services for users. For example, DWP’s payments out platform could be offered as a cross-government component, avoiding the need for different departments to build or procure their own solutions.
- provide advice and guidance on when and how to use common components, platforms and capabilities
- develop and publish standards for components, platforms and capabilities
- develop implementation guidelines to allow the public sector to easily reuse components, platforms and capabilities
- share approaches to building business capabilities by adding guidance for people and process to shared platforms
- introduce procurement frameworks with pre-approved suppliers to aid transition
- encourage and support all parts of the public sector to develop and support common components and business capabilities
- create a list of assured components, platforms and business capabilities, publish it openly and establish a mechanism to join up service providers and potential consumers
- coordinate, through the National Cyber Security Centre, the security properties of common components, platforms and capabilities
- continue to operate the digital services and components GDS and departments have built so far on the GOV.UK single domain to a high standard of reliability, security and performance, and continue to improve them to better meet their users’ needs
- continue existing support for sharing code libraries, patterns and findings from implementation
We will also continue to develop the following specific components.
One of the most important and challenging aspects of delivering transformed online services is identity assurance - establishing that the user is who they say they are and not someone pretending to be them. GOV.UK Verify, the government’s online identity verification service, went live in May 2016 and delivers a federated, market-based approach to identity assurance for central government that can be reused in the wider public and private sectors. We will continue to enable individuals to prove their identity online and to access government services securely and safely. We will help protect against the growing threat of online identity fraud.
To achieve this, we will:
- work towards 25 million people having a GOV.UK Verify account by 2020
- run a series of pilots for local authority and private sector services during 2017 to understand the user need and the commercial and legal basis for allowing people to use their GOV.UK Verify accounts to access services in those sectors
- continue to work with industry and GOV.UK Verify certified companies to expand the range of ways people can prove their identity online
- work with the Open Identity Exchange to further explore the role of secure, trustworthy digital identities and benefit from market innovation in that field
Building on the identity verification that comes with GOV.UK Verify, we will be working with government departments to make sure that government transactions can be completed electronically.
We will also work across government to determine the best next steps for other forms of identity (such as verification of intermediaries and businesses) and which part of government would be best placed to lead on this.
The government receives millions of online payments every day. We want people to have the option to pay digitally for public services. We are committed to offering users who pay for public services online an experience as good as any they might expect from leading online businesses.
GOV.UK Pay took its first payment on 2 September 2016. It makes it easy for people to pay government securely online, reducing the time and hassle of doing business with government and removing the need for the government to buy or build payment systems multiple times. We aim to increase its scope over time, so that citizens can pay for services using a wide range of payment types (such as cards, Direct Debit and e-wallets).
We will work with the financial technology (FinTech) sector to use GOV.UK Pay as a catalyst for the development and adoption of new methods of payment - showing how government can be at the vanguard of innovation and act as a catalyst for our own digital sectors.
The government receives millions of calls every year from people anxious to find out the progress of an application, or to check if a payment has been received. We want to avoid people needing to call government and to reduce the amount that government spends on contact centres. We want to transform the way citizens communicate with government.
GOV.UK Notify sent its first messages on 18 July 2016, making it easier for service teams across government to keep people updated through text messages, emails or letters.
Transform government’s content and publishing practices
To make it quicker for GOV.UK users to find exactly what they are looking for, we will co-ordinate work across government to review and consolidate government’s existing stock of published content (currently over 300,000 items and growing at 2,500 new pages per month, with a large number not being viewed by anyone) and roll out a unifying site navigation for all content (from services through to policy information) based on users’ needs.
We will transform government organisations’ approach to producing, managing and retiring content so it is maintained and designed in the context of whole services to meet well understood user needs. We will also investigate the potential to reinvent the end-to-end process of drafting content and publishing it on GOV.UK, so that digital content (designed to be read on screen and easily portable to other formats) becomes the default.
We will continue to improve all aspects of the GOV.UK single site and publishing tools iterating towards the vision set out previously, including by 2020:
- improving tools for content teams across government, so it is easier to create, review and manage digital content based on evidence of user needs
- targeting improvements of the top tasks that users come to GOV.UK to do, improving the user journeys across GOV.UK
- making the history of changes to any page on GOV.UK easily visible and comparable
- making public APIs of government content publicly available for reuse
- providing more effective ways to help users find and access transactional services and seek help through other channels when they need it
Investigate other new platforms
We will investigate the case for adopting additional platforms across government, for example based on:
- payments out - DWP are updating their existing payments out solution to meet the needs of not just DWP teams but so that it can be reused by other government departments in the future
- common forms - Home Office have built a reusable component that lets service teams quickly assemble forms-based digital services and is already in use in the Home Office and which has a strong potential for reuse
- message passing - DWP have built a component that allows medical professionals to authenticate with DWP services to allow faster submission of medical diagnosis and quicker assessment of benefits cases (designed with a view to it being reused by other parts of government)
We will also explore whether we could create components to meet other common needs (such as appointment booking or secure digital messaging between government and citizens).
Build and support APIs
We will introduce guidance and standards for APIs for both internal and external services. This will include further consideration of how the private sector can best reuse our services (such as the example of using Verify identities to open a bank account, above).
We will pilot new APIs, publish what we have learnt from what we have done today and publish a roadmap of APIs for data, services, components and platforms.
We will openly develop the process by which GDS will co-ordinate and provide assurance of public-facing APIs built across government.
Work with international partners
- demonstrate how we are using the D5 principles and mutual co-operation to establish a world-leading approach to government use of digital and technology to enable countries to more easily develop an advanced digital government based on our expertise and assets
- engage with the United Nations (UN) and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) to find out how better digital government can be achieved across the world and support work on using digital government to support international development
- work with businesses and other countries around the world to make sure that we are learning from and making use of advances in technology and digital capability
- continue to play a leading role in the international Open Government Partnership and share the UK’s expertise in open government
- work with other governments, businesses, data scientists and the international open data community to develop an anti-corruption innovation hub to explore how new technology and approaches can better tackle corruption