Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Gov.uk - one website for all UK government digital services

"One Website to rule them all,

One Website to find them,

One Website to bring them all

and in the darkness bind them"

The UK Government are shutting down all departmental websites including arms-lengths-bodies (you don't use the word quango anymore) into one super-site. The question is... will it be super?  
As I often do, because I'm lazy, I've chosen to point towards someone who's said it far better than I can:

Rory-Cellen Jones wrote for the BBC:

"Can the government run one decent and cost-effective website, which gives customers speedy access to vital information and services? Unlikely, you might think given a track record of over spending on far too many sites that deliver a poor user experience at a hefty cost.
But today sees the launch of www.gov.uk which seeks to change all that. The vision is of one website to rule them all - or rather a single destination for the government's customers rather than more than 400 different addresses spread across the various Whitehall departments.
If this is to work it is going to need a change of culture, from one where the government viewed its web operations as something to be farmed out to some giant suppliers and forgotten, to something far more responsive.
When I visited the Government Digital Service - now in charge of this operation - there were some encouraging signs. At first glance the office appeared to be awash with T-shirts and ponytails, more like a technology firm than a government department, though with much worse coffee and no free food."

In theory it's a great idea. One place to interact with the Government... that means you can renew your passport, driving license, collect pension, do your tax, renew your tax disc, etc online in one place. Businesses will similarly be able to register their business, get all the permits they need to run their business, check export/import rates, etc.

Anyone who's tried to renew their driving license online will know how painful it is to have to register for a Government gateway ID and follow the process to completion. It's doable, but not intuitive. As a starter I hope that activities like this will be simpler yet still secure.

I think this site will fail for users who don't know what task or info they need. There are heaps of random pieces of legislation and guidance out there for businesses and public alike. If I'm specifically searching for something, like renewing my driving license, that task is easy to find... but what if I'm a buiness, legally required to hold permits X, Y and Z? There are many activities and pieces of guidance for business and public, regulated by various Government bodies, that people simply don't know are there. Unless I search specifically for something it's hard to find what's relevant to me... as the Gov.uk site grows these lesser known bits of information may become more and more lost.

In theory the idea of Gov.uk is great; one website to rule them all.

We'll have to wait and see what the reality is. It'll all be down to how robust the architecture turns out to be and how good the content is. It'll also be down to how efficiently they continue to improve the site and how much support they provide the 400 departments and agencies that will now be feeding into the site. They've adopted an agile methodology; if they continually invest and improve this site then they've a fighting chance but it's a mammouth task - the needs of the Police vs Defraa vs Natural England vs the Post Office vs the MOD vs JobCentre+ are all very different and the needs of the many many different customers will be massively varied. After all the UK is a very varied place.

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