There can be no doubt that there have been several high profile Government IT initiatives which have failed miserably. Attempts to upgrade and improve the NHS’s IT infrastructure were last year heralded as “one of the worst fiascos ever”. The abandoned scheme cost the taxpayer £9.8 billion pounds – a shocking waste of resource where all we can hope for is that some serious lessons were learned to never be repeated again.
However, there have been some really notable IT innovations within public service that are really making a difference. I’d like to celebrate a couple of those with you today to hopefully promote the huge power that IT innovation can make to help the country to run more efficiently and effectively.
The first initiative that I’d like to celebrate is GOV.UK – a truly impressive source of information which has been completely designed to meet the needs of the citizen and indeed, won the “Design of the Year” award in 2013.
A big problem within public service is the proliferation of information that exists about any of the thousands of services that a government provides, all of which can be exceptionally difficult for citizens to navigate. Can you imagine the levels of information that the UK Government is responsible for?! To aim to achieve a ‘one stop shop’ for citizens was a sizeable undertaking. GOV.UK has de-cluttered and simplified all of this information, conveying just the basics of what is required, all of which written in an easy to understand language. Try it out yourself and marvel at how within a few clicks, you can be effortlessly transported to essential information which answers your problem.
I had reason to use the website recently as I needed to change the address on my driving license. I reached the GOV.UK website by typing “change address driving license” in google and from that point, entered a process to really marvel at!
The first thing to note is the list of things ‘you’ll need to’ have or satisfy in order to be able to use the service, automatically making sure that those about to enter the process will be able to continue. When you “start now” you are taken through a series of screens which verify who you are (thanks to NI numbers, driving license numbers etc.) and from there you can then update your address. So far so good. I half expected to then be sent a printed application form in the post which I could then sign, attach a recent photo and return- the same process that occurs when applying for renewal of a passport (filling our your information online and receiving a printed, electronic copy to return sounds more expensive and more hassle, but actually ensures that you only fill out the information that is relevant to you and makes sure that you fill out all of the essential information thanks to “required fields”. It greatly simplifies the process whilst helping to guarantee that spellings are accurate – much better to type your details than for an officer to attempt to interpret potentially illegible written offerings!)
Imagine my surprise when the computer thanked me for my application and informed me that my new photo driving license would arrive shortly?! The driving license system was linked to the passport system and pulled my signature and photo from last year’s passport application. I was amazed! Sure enough, within 5 days a photo driving license, with my new correct address, arrived in the post. So easy! So effective! So little effort required from me!
In previous years, the Passport Service and the DVLA would have been very ‘separate’ institutions, the idea that these organisations ‘automatically talked to each other’, helping the citizen out by using information given to one in order to fulfil the requirements of another organisation, would have been almost inconceivable. Yet, when you think about it, it makes complete sense. The state knows what I look like, the state assures me of my citizenship and of my competence to drive, so the state should make it easy for me to prove both of these things. The whole process bore the hallmarks of ‘elegant simplicity’ and made paying my taxes, slightly more comfortable! A truly effective use of IT innovation within a public sector service.