Coalition to float prototype for single government web domain
Fate of Directgov in doubt
UK.gov is once again fiddling with the idea that a single government web domain will save cash and improve its shoddy IT strategy record.
The Cabinet Office set out plans for the government's IT strategy this morning, in which it claimed it would reduce costs, offer better support to smaller tech firms and commit to "mandatory open standards" in the public sector.
The wide-ranging proposals, undersigned by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, follow a review by the government's digital darling Martha Lane Fox in November 2010.
She claimed last year that billions of pounds could be saved if the Coalition agreed to her advice to shift more services online. At the time Fox said that the team running the Directgov website should be a "citizens' champion with sharp teeth" and added that government portals should be simplified to help cut costs.
Today Maude confirmed that Tom Loosemore, the man behind TheyWorkForYou.com – who previously served as a digital media strategy adviser at Ofcom – had been hired to head up work on a prototype for a single government web domain.
In his foreword about the plans, Maude was quick to offer a big fat disclaimer  about the management of IT on a grand scale.
"Government information and communications technology (ICT) has a really bad name," he wrote. "Much of this is unjustified. All big organisations – whether in the public or private sector – have examples of failure in delivering big ICT projects and programmes.
"In the public sector, the failures tend to be very public, while in the private sector, it is easier to keep them in decent obscurity. It is not obvious that the record of government is significantly worse than that of other big organisations."
Maude went on to admit that there had been "significant failures" and said the Coalition was "determined to do things better".
Over the next two years the government plans to bring in changes with details about how it will deliver the proposals being published this summer by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) Delivery Board.
"For too long, government has wasted vast amounts of money on ineffective and duplicate IT systems. We need to ensure that frontline services have the tools to do their job to deliver effective public services," said  Maude, who claimed millions of pounds could be saved.
"We will cut out duplication and wastage by sharing more of our assets across government and using common systems.
"We will end the oligopoly of big business supplying government IT by breaking down contracts into smaller, more flexible projects. This will open up the market to SMEs and new providers."
However, the strategy will need to secure the backing of other government departments and HM Treasury, leaving the possibility open for some tweaking of the plans before they are bedded in.
We've got a list and everything
Among other things the Cabinet Office would like to see are the following commitments to the strategy from government:
- Reduce the cost of using data centres – servers which store, process and transact government-held information – by 35 per cent over five years – cutting their carbon footprint.
- Move away from big bang solutions delivered by the same large suppliers to a greater number of smaller and agile projects.
- Publish details of government contracts and reduce bureaucracy and costs, so that new providers and SMEs have the opportunity to win government ICT contracts.
- Share and reuse ICT solutions and services – via a common ICT infrastructure, an ICT asset register and a fully online Applications Store – to enable the reuse of business applications and components across the public sector.
- Enable interoperable ICT by using common and open standards, creating cross-government standards on Application Program Interfaces and developing a quality assurance "kite mark" – helping to open up new innovative services from a diverse range of providers.
Elsewhere, UK.gov reaffirmed the "level playing field" mantra championed but not yet delivered by the current incumbents of Whitehall. The same commitment was put forward by the previous occupant of Number 10, Gordon Brown, who equally failed to pony up any real-world proof that open-istas could compete with big name IT firms on government contracts.
Similarly, in March 2010, the then prime minister announced plans to create a personalised web page for every UK citizen to access all public services online in a single location, which was in fact the original plan for Directgov.
But Brown's “Mygov” centralised dashboard, which was supposed to help save money by cutting face-to-face services, never saw the light of day.
Likewise, this government echoed the commitment of the previous one on bringing social media into the public announcement fold by using it "as a mainstream channel".
It's unclear what Maude's announcement means for the future of Directgov, which began life in 2004 as a central portal for British citizens to access public government information.
In November last year, Jayne Nickalls left her £95,000 per annum job as Directgov's CEO just days before Fox's strategic review of the government's website was published. ®