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GDS: We might miss our digi-goal. Quick, MAKE IT BIGGER

'Beta' is near-as-dammit 'live', who'd notice that...'

The government has admitted it will fall significantly short of its original target to make 25 digital services live by March - a goal it had given itself four years to reach.

So far the Government Digital Service (GDS) has made a total of just eight digital services live, a figure it has indicated may not increase by the March deadline.

In its business plan for 2014/15, the GDS estimated savings of up to £979m (including the recurring annual costs) by making 25 “exemplar” services live.

But in a move that will be read as GDS moving the goalposts, the organisation admitted it is now counting services in "public beta" – as well as fully deployed services – towards its March deadline. The original target of 25 live services has been scaled back once already, being reduced last year to 20 live services, according to the GDS annual report which was published on Friday.

The Cabinet Office has said there are currently seven services in "public beta" out of a total of 15 "beta" services, a figure that could go up to 12 by March. El Reg is awaiting confirmation from the Cabinet Office as to how many services it expects will be live by that date.

The exemplars were supposed to showcase a new "agile" way of doing IT for Whitehall departments; however, as services in their own right, they are largely peripheral to the main workings of government.

Even more of a challenge for the GDS will be tackling high-volume services such as tax self assessment, corporation tax, VAT, and tax credits – which are all still based on systems put in place 14 years ago.

It also has the pressing deadline of getting all departments to have integrated its identity assurance system "Verify" with their digital public services by March 2016. This system will be key to underpinning all digital transactional services.

Verify has taken four years and is behind target by two years. The system underpins the online Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) exemplar application service for farmers, which according to the Farmers' Guardian has largely been abandoned in favour of an alternative telephone service.

El Reg reported in November that a public beta of the Verify CAP system failed to work.

The GDS was set up on the recommendation of Martha Lane Fox in April 2011, with the remit of making government "digital by default".

Opposition party Labour has also called for a probe into the identity assurance system if it is not in a more stable position before the next government takes office.

On the basis of its current track record, that does not look promising at this stage. ®

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