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Government Finally Reveals Its Digital Transformation Strategy

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Digital will allow government to offer a “revolution” in the way it delivers public services to the great unwashed

The British government has finally delivered its long-promised digital strategy outlining plans to transform public digital services by developing skills and culture, encouraging the use of shared platforms, and increasing collaboration coupled with an overhaul of the civil service.

Last month the Science and Technology Committee criticised the government for the continued delays to its digital strategy, arguing that other projects – such as its approach to developing critical digital skills – depended upon the broader plan.

Evil parliament (c) pisaphotography, Shutterstock 2014

‘To Govern, Is To Serve’

And now at long last this broader plan has been published. The Institute for Government has previously suggested the government could save £2 billion by 2020 with the right digital transformation strategy in place.

Indeed, the government already claims that it is one of the most digitally advanced in the world thanks to the since the 2012 Government Digital Strategy.

But now the 93 page ‘Government Transformation Strategy’ will replace that.

So what does it contain? Well it sets out some lofty ambitions about how the government will harness digital technologies, skills and tools in order to transform public services and put the citizen first.

It rather grandly proclaims it will help “redefine the relationship between the citizen and the state.”

At the core of the strategy is ensuring that people are verified, so identity assurance (i.e. ensuring that the user is who they say they are) will be a key element. It points to GOV.UK Verify, the government’s online identity verification service which went live in May 2016, to allow citizens to prove their identity online and to quickly access government services securely.

The government wants to accelerate the roll-out of GOV.UK Verify, and hopes to have 25 million Verify users by the end of 2020.

It is also already planning Verify pilots with local authorities, banks and the commercial sector.

“I want to see a revolution in the way we deliver public services – so that people up and down our country feel that government is at their service at every single stage in the journey,” explained Ben Gummer MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General.

“That is why we are today publishing our Government Transformation Strategy, outlining our commitment to reshape government by ensuring millions of people are able to access online the services they need, whenever they need.We will deliver these changes while driving efficiencies wherever possible, making considerable savings for the taxpayer.

“Only by transforming the relationship between the citizen and the state – so that the latter serves the former – will we deliver the Prime Minister’s commitment to build a country that works for everyone.”

Ambitious Goals

Other goals for the strategy (deadline end of 2020) will see the appointment of a new Chief Data Officer and a new Data Advisory Board to align efforts to use data across government more efficiently.

Meanwhile a new GDS Digital Academy will provide skills training, and it aims to train 3,000 a year from 2017 in an effort to create “the most digitally skilled Civil Service in the world”.

Services-wise, the government is making some pretty bold declarations.

Such as, by the end of 2020 it hopes to deliver a fully digital real-time tax system, in an effort to end the dreaded annual tax return.

It also intends to make 90 percent of passport applications online by the end of 2020, and in the following year hopes to make the 2021 National Census online (with a 75 percent online response, up from 16.7 percent currently).

Execution Challenge

Whether the government can deliver on these lofty ambitions remains to be seen. However the arrival of the strategy was welcomed by the UK’s tech trade body techUK.

“With this strategy, the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to public services that truly serve the people, and we welcome its recognition that digital transformation is more relevant than ever in the wake of the referendum,” said Julian David, techUK CEO.

“The imperative to change isn’t just about technologies, it’s about the people that deliver them and use them. That’s why it’s encouraging to see such a determined focus on equipping civil servants with the leadership, skills and support they need for the challenge ahead.

“Improving trust and transparency for users of Government services, with secure systems by default, is also critical. We are pleased to see the commitment to appoint a new Chief Data Officer and to expand the GOV.UK Verify platform to help achieve this.”

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