GOVERNMENT DIGITAL SERVICE (GDS)CASE STUDY: WHAT ARE THE INNOVATION OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES FOR THE GOVERNMENT DIGITAL SERVICE?
In April 2011, one year into the term of the last coalition government, the Government Digital Service was created as, essentially, a tech start-up within the UK cabinet office. Led by Mike Bracken, the GDS was tasked with helping the public sector to deliver better public service to UK citizens and businesses, by providing digital services that would be easy to access and use, and more efficient. The GDS started to achieve successes early on with the 2012 launch of GOV.UK: a platform that enables several thousand content providers to publish information from across governmental departments and services, to the public domain, in a consistent and straightforward process. It has been hailed as revolutionising the way that more than 60 million citizens interact with more than 700 services for 24 government departments and their 320 agencies. Since then, the Government Digital Servicehas also launched a service for identity assurance, and a digital marketplace for commissioning suppliers. Together, these services have reportedly led to the GDS saving the government £500m in 2012/3, £975m the following year and still more in 2014/5; and it has received numerous awards for “some of the world’s most transformative programming”, which is being copied by governments around the world. These achievements are despite the UK public sector having a reputation for delivering poor IT services, expensive IT projects that frequently fail, and having departments that do not work effectively together. In fact, much of what the Government Digital Serviceseeks to achieve also points to the need to change this culture of departmental silos, and their relationships with the IT ‘oligarchs’ that supply them. The digital vision of the GDS is for departments to focus less on technical solutions for themselves, and more on “platform thinking” to reduce duplication, and produce savings across departments. One example is for a common approach to bookings: whether a jobseeker’s appointment, a prison visits, or booking a driving test etc.; though Bracken has had his sights on more than 25 common services. However, momentum has slowed. The Government Digital Servicehas repeatedly had to face financial restrictions due to central funding cuts, and it continues to face resistance from departmental IT teams. Following the recent election, the GDS has been hampered further by the need to convince a new set of ministers and permanent secretaries to approve funding – which is still far from being assured, and puts the future plans of the GDS into question. Citing these as frustrations, in August 2015, Bracken resigned from his position as executive director, and has been followed by a number of key members of the team.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
- What, if anything, is innovative about the GDS?
· How sustainable is the GDS operating model?
· What are some of the ways that the GDS been disruptive?
· What strategies could help the GDS to establish “platform thinking”?
· How can the GDS influence the public’s use of the government’s digital platform?