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Government Launches Beta Of Single Website With Gov.uk

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One-stop shop for online public services could save £50 million, the government hopes

The UK  government has made live the first beta website of Gov.uk, its project to consolidate the hundreds of government websites under one roof.

The government believes the single website approach will lead to anticipated savings of £50 million a year, thanks to software licence, infrastructure, and operational cost savings.

The overreaching idea of the Gov.uk approach is that people can access the information they need quickly, easily and securely in one place, without having to wade through many different government websites. It is built using open source technology as much as possible, and is intended to replace all the information that can be found at Directgov.

Cheap And Open Source

“Digital public services should be easy to find and simple to use – they must also be cost effective and SME-friendly,” said Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude announced. “The beta release of a single domain takes us one step closer to this goal.”

Our approach is changing. IT needs to be commissioned or rented, rather than procured in huge, expensive contracts of long duration,” he added. “We are embracing new, cloud-based start-ups and enterprise companies and this will bring benefits for small and medium sized enterprises here in the UK and so contribute to growth.”

“The beta release of gov.uk is a fantastic milestone in this government’s ambition to become a digital world leader and dramatically change the focus of public service delivery onto the end user,” said Martha Lane-Fox, the government’s digital champion, in a statement.

The beta of the gov.uk comes after the government unveiled a prototype of the Alphagov website in May last year. That site is now closed, but it was built in line with the recommendations of a review carried out by Martha Lane Fox in 2010.

Three Phases

Meanwhile, plans for the beta website were revealed in a blog by Tom Loosemore, deputy director of the single government website. He said that Gov.uk’s development will go through three phases:

“A few minutes ago we released the first phase of the beta test of GOV.UK – the next step on the journey towards a single domain for central government,” Loosemore wrote, after the beta of single domain was given the go-ahead in August 2011.

  1. Public beta test of the site delivering the mainstream, citizen-facing aspects of GOV.UK.
  2. Private beta test of a shared GOV.UK ‘corporate’ publishing platform, aimed at replacing most of the activity currently hosted on numerous departmental publishing environments.
  3. A first draft of a GOV.UK ‘Global Experience Language’, to provide clear, consistent design, user-experience and brand clarity for those developing sites for the single GOV.UK domain. (see BBC.co.uk/gel for an example).

“Today we have released the first phase. The second is on track to be released in a few weeks, with the third set fair for the end of March,” wrote Loosemore.

Website Culling

In December the National Audit Office warned that the government had not measured the benefits of its web strategy. It criticised the government for failing to put in place any method for measuring the benefits of its online portals Business.gov, Directgov and the Government Gateway, on which it has spent nearly £500m so far.

But the Coalition government has been active in culling of so-called “vanity” government websites.

In June 2010 it said it would axe three quarters of the government’s websites as part of the fiscal belt tightening. And in August last year it revealed that it had closed almost half of central government departments’ websites.

As of 1 July 2011, 444 websites were still open, down from 820. According to the Cabinet Office, and Whitehall has committed to closing another 243.

Meanwhile the previous Labour government had closed 907 of its 1,700 websites, following the recommendations of the Varney report back in 2006.

  1. The development of the gov.uk website represents a good start by the government in revamping its infrastructure. It is refreshing to hear cabinet office minister, Francis Maude state, “our approach is changing. IT needs to be commissioned or rented rather than procured in huge expensive contracts of long duration.”

    Moving forward, it will be key to keep to budgets and cut out the high wastage levels of the past. Yet the question remains what more can be done to improve the delivery of government IT services. One critical area is the need to move closer towards an approach based around small and medium-sized IT suppliers and away from unwieldy fixed term contracts that fail to deliver the value required.

    At Bull, we would advocate an approach focused on customer intimacy: to give the customer a more strategic relationship with the provider; to enable more flexibility and to ensure that the outcomes defined at the start of the project are delivered through to the end of the contract.

    The best way to deliver such a model will typically be through a consortium of smaller players, which gives the prime contractor a trusted network of partners and allows the consortium to use partners with particular skill sets to meet specific customer requirements. This multi-sourcing approach would deliver best of breed benefits, enhanced flexibility and is surely ‘tailor made’ to meet the current challenges faced by the Government.

    So while the new gov.uk site shows that the Government is making positive moves to revamp its approach to IT, a much more radical change of approach is required before the Government’s IT customers gain optimum value from the delivery of IT services.

    Andrew Carr, sales and marketing director, Bull Information Systems