The UK cabinet office just published its Government Digital Strategy, which culminates its focus on all services to be “digital by default”. The strategy states 11 principles and 14 actions to shape how UK central government departments and agencies will embrace digitalization of their services and improve uptake by citizens and businesses.
What is good
The strategy exudes the drive that the cabinet minister, Francis Maude, has given to digital government, shown already by the appointment of high calibers like Tim Berners-Lee, Mike Bracken and Martha Fox in leading roles. Amongst its most positive aspects:
- It puts digital government square at the center of the top priorities of each department, by requiring the appointment of senior executives as digital leaders, by establishing digital service managers, by mandating the redesign of high-volume transaction services.
- It righty focuses on departments with high transaction volumes, where the digital channel can have the most immediate and evident impact both on constituent service and on efficiency.
- While pursuing full digitalization, it recognizes the importance of “assisted digital” for those who are more reluctant or less capable to access online, by engaging both staff and intermediaries.
- It aims at defining and deploying common technology platforms, which is likely to reduce diversity and costs and to ease interoperability.
- It provides (and promises more) guidance in terms of governance, prioritization, measurement, and promotes transparency in sharing performance data.
What is less good
The document shows several shortcomings, some of which are almost surprising, given the maturity of this theme in the UK government:
- There is almost no mention of furthering joined-up government: the transformation of transactional services seem confined to the specific departments and agencies that deliver them today, without emphasis on integration and co-development.
- Other countries, such as the US, Denmark or the Netherlands, are taking steps toward a data-centric transformation, where the focus is on a platform of open (both public and non public) data with web APIs and application services developed around those. The UK strategy, despite the work done on open services and on identity assurance, seems to take a more traditional approach: in one of the annexes it mentions open standards and APIs, but there is no evidence of a modern data-centric approach.
- Despite the objectives of increasing the digital capabilities in the civil service, there is very little on the digitalization of the workplace and the role that individual employees can have in leading the transformation of their job. The strategy is imbalanced toward transactions, and does not address employee-intensive interactions, such as case management.
- It addresses social media in a very traditional way, focusing on citizen participation in policy making and missing almost entirely how social media can transform transactional and other services, as well as the role of employees on social media as key component of the connective tissue between government and citizens.
- Although justified by the desire to move departments forward, the strategy implementation has the risk of being too focused on compliance and central control by the Cabinet Office.
The strategy is a good document that did not consider digital government beyond constituent transactions or consolidation of web sites, hence missing how to better equip employees and make human-intensive interactions more innovative. Oddly enough, it has several repetitions, as if it has been rushed to publication. It would be great if – going forward – the Cabinet Office could find a better balance between the desire to mandate and dictate, and a more organic and bottom-up transformation process.