The Government Digital Service said it would begin its first two alpha-testing programmes for local government use of Verify, following a discovery period
The Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service (GDS) said it has moved its first two local-government pilot schemes for the GOV.UK Verify identity verification programme into alpha testing, amidst questions over the viability of the scheme’s planned expansion.
Separately, GDS said it would begin offering the GOV.UK Notify notification platform to local government later this year, and began recruiting a head of technical architecture community to oversee projects within GDS and across government.
‘Government as a Platform’
Verify and Notify are both part of GDS’ Government as a Platform (GaaP) strategy to develop tools and functions that can be reused across the public sector, and both were mentioned in the government’s digital strategy published last week.
GDS said the discovery phase for the use of Verify to provide secure access to online applications for travel passes and residential parking permits was completed last month and the projects had moved into alpha-phase testing.
The service said the projects are being developed using agile methods and in such a way as to make the resulting tools and processes usable across government.
“At the end of each phase we are collating the findings across our local authority partners and turning them into tools that can be understood and used by any local authority,” said GDS’ Michael Clark and Verify local authority lead Linda O’Halloran in a blog post. “We’ve done this for both residential parking permits and older person’s concessionary travel services using Verify. And we’re working in the open.”
Alpha testing is to focus on improving the existing prototypes through user tests, with the councils involved currently building testing and development environments. Private beta tests are planned once the prototypes have met service standards.
GDS said it has worked with 17 councils and conducted 150 interviews as part of its user research for implementing Verify in local government, developing templates to help councils move toward adoption.
The government has committed to expanding Verify to 25 million people over the next three years, targeting areas such as health care and local government.
But questions remain over this expansion plan, with the service only having gone live last May and its completion rate – the proportion of users who are able to successfully verify their identities – at only 33 to 53 percent since the beginning of this year.
Meanwhile, GDS said it has expanded the use of Notify across central government and would begin making it available to local authorities late this year, following an invitation-only beta-testing period that began last May.
The platform, designed to allow users to set up notifications for processes such as student loan, passport or voter registration applications without requiring a call to a contact centre, has so far handled 3.75 million messages, mostly text messages, with 32 services supporting it, GDS said.
“Being able to just ‘have a play’ with Notify, to create an account, to start sending test messages and to learn what the service could do (all without needing a meeting or a phone call) is an important aspect of self-service,” GDS said in a blog post.
The service added that large amounts of work remain to make the platform capable of handling local government needs to the point that councils wouldn’t be required to develop similar technology in-house.
The capability of initiating letters through the post is set to be added by April of this year and offered to all service teams by July, GDS said.
The government’s digital strategy mentioned Notify as one of the ways government is moving to curb reliance on contact centres to maintain communication with the public.
GOV.UK Verify and the under-development GOV.UK Pay were also mentioned as services being developed for deployment across government.
“We will build on the Government as a Platform concept, ensuring we make greater reuse of platforms and components across government,” the strategy said. “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.”
The role of GDS’ head of technical architecture community, currently being recruited, carries a salary of up to £82,500 and will be responsible for overseeing the professional development of technical staff as well as ensuring a diverse and skilled team is brought into place.
The head is to oversee community members’ work on projects, programems and business-as-usual activities and ensure that work is of an appropriate standard, according to GDS, which said the closing date for applications is 2 April.
GDS was formed in 2011 with the aim, in part, of implementing agile software development techniques and more broadly overseeing implementation of the government’s digital strategies across government.
It has at times met with resistance from government bodies that prefer to develop their technology in-house using their own methods to meet individually specified needs, leading in some cases to project delays – as was the case with a high-profile Defra programme, the National Audit Office (NAO) said last autumn.
Do you know all about public sector IT – the triumph and the tragedy? Take our quiz!