NAO reports on eGov ‘digital by default’ initiative pretty positive


The National Audit Office (NAO) has published it’s independent research report on Digital by Default objectives being based on sound assumptions about the preferences, capabilities and needs of the citizens of England.

The report is based on independent research established from the viewpoints from face to face survey of over 3,000 people, on-line surveys of 130 businesses and eight focus groups across England.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that the NAO undertook an earlier review on the previous decades progress on the development of what was then the UK Government on-line service development initiative (Digital Britain One: Shared infrastructure and services for government online) which many will recognise as being Directgov and Business.gov along with the infrastructure service Government Gateway, the transition to which commenced in 2000.

In December 2011 report the NAO report concluded that the government Digital Britain One initiative had not:

in general measured the benefits delivered by its two central internet services Directgov and Business.gov, and the infrastructure service Government Gateway, which together cost some £90 million a year

The report concluded that it was:

crucial that the Government Digital Service (GDS), established in March 2011 to implement a new strategy to deliver all government information services digitally, builds in the right mechanisms to achieve value for money as it plans the future of digital shared infrastructure and services.

Government Digital Service

Established in Mar 2011 GDS was tasked to accelerate the move towards digital public services, critically given the emerging economic challenges, to secure at the earliest estimates savings of between £1.7 and £1.8 billion each year, largely on the basis of digital efficiencies achieved on the basis of on-line transactions estimated to be 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than postal and as much as 50 times cheaper than face-to-face.

Government Digital Strategy: December 2013

This strategy sets out how the government will become digital by default. It fulfils the commitment we made in the Civil Service Reform plan.

Critically, “digital by default”, meaning digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so whilst those who can’t are not excluded.

A first stage completed has been the rationalisation of the previous two Directgov and Business.gov websites into a single website gov.uk, transactional services now present the biggest focus to save people time and save the government money.

All departments are undertaking end-to-end service redesign of all transactional services with all new or redesigned transactional services going live after April 2014 required to meet the new Digital by Default Service Standard.

7 departments which between them handle the majority of central government transactions. These are:

  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • Department for Transport (DFT)
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
  • Ministry of Justice (MOJ)
  • Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)
  • Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Home Office

Each of these departments have identified 3 significant exemplar service transformations with Cabinet Office. These were identified and published in departmental digital strategies in December 2012, alongside delivery plans. Departments started to redesign these exemplar services in April 2013 and implement target date is set at March 2015.

Key Digital by Default National Audit Office Report 2012 Findings

The government has made more ambitious plans over the last year, for making public services digital.

In the 13 years since the government first announced that it would move public information and transaction services on-line; a move it initially intended to complete by 2005. The current government’s scope of requirements has been extended to addressing the more fundamental need to redesign public services.

Set up in 2011, the Government Digital Service established firm leadership of this digital agenda. In particular it has:

  • started to improve the Cabinet Office’s digital capacity, and establish digital leaders in departments;
  • replaced the Directgov and Business.gov portals to public services with a single website – GOV.UK a single point of entry to on-line public services;
  • analysed and published cost and performance information on on-line public services; and
  • published the Government Digital Strategy

The Government Digital Strategy is based on sound evidence that many people and small- and medium-sized businesses can access and have the skills to use on-line public services.

NAO surveys report 83% of people use the internet. Whether people live in a rural or urban area appears to make little difference to their internet use. Age, socio-economic group and disability do affect internet use. Over 90% of those the NAO surveyed who were on-line were experienced internet users who felt confident about completing on-line tasks without help. However, 7% of those on-line lack confidence and may need help to use the internet.

Challenges on Citizen Engagement

Most people have access to the internet and can do the types of transactions required by on-line public services. However, in some areas this is not translating into the government’s on-line services being used. For example, for the 20 public services covered by the NAO research they found that the proportion of on-line transactions ranged from less than 50 per cent to over 80% dependent on which was being used.

There are three types of barrier identified by the NAO to people choosing to use more public services on-line:

  • People’s behaviour rather than their awareness of an on-line option identified to be a potential significant barrier. Of those people who had used one of the 20 public services covered by our survey offline, between 80% and 90% of users were aware of an on-line option for five of the services. Some of the people who attended our focus groups said they preferred face-to-face contact, even if they knew they could use the service on-line.
  • People are generally not happy with providing personal information on-line. Although trust in government is higher than for on-line banking or shopping among on-line users, only 37% are happy to share information with government on-line. 17% have some security concerns, and 5% do not share information with government because of these concerns.
  • Low awareness of some on-line public services. Across the 20 public services in our research, the proportion of people on-line using services offline, who knew that there was an on-line option ranged from 47% to 89% across the different services.

The Government Digital Service has set out plans on how it will support people who are offline to use on-line public services. Those the NAO surveyed expressed some concerns about the impact of putting more public services on-line on the elderly, and those digitally excluded from the internet.

The government is planning to develop assisted digital support for 23 exemplar digital services by 2014-15, and to put in place common models of assisted digital support and shared procurement routes for assisted digital services. Of those people surveyed, 17 % do not use the internet and of these 72% do not intend to go on-line in the coming year. Most of those offline have low confidence in using a computer and know little about the  Internet.

Based on these numbers, four million people in England may need help in using on-line services. However, of those people who are offline, 48% already receive help from someone else, such as friends, family and work colleagues. Critically the government’s approach to assisted digital services does not recognise this situation.

eCulture Observations

The government has long been aware of the need to support those who are offline to use on-line services. It is developing plans to assist those who are offline and recognises the importance of users knowing how and where to access services. The NAO assessment of users’ capability has identified that a significant number of people will need help, particularly those who are over 65, in lower socio-economic groups or disabled.

Article Links

Link to the NAO Digital Britain 2: Report – 28th Mar 2013

Government Digital Strategy: December 2013

UK Government Online

Digital Britain One: Shared infrastructure and services for government online – 9th Dec 2011

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