A Single Web Site For Government Departments
Yesterday a press release entitled “Digital by default proposed for government services” published on the Cabinet Office Web site” described how Martha Lane Fox, the UK Digital Champion, has published a report that calls for radical improvement to Government internet services [PDF 5.71MB, 11 pages].
The recommendations in the report call for the “simplification and strengthening of digital government to improve the quality, and consequently use, of online channels“. The report argues that as well as providing better services for citizens “shifting 30% of government service delivery contracts to digital channels has the potential to deliver gross annual savings of more than £1.3 billion, rising to £2.2 billion if 50% of contacts shifted to digital“.
The key recommendations in the report include:
- Making Directgov the government’s front end for all transactional online services to citizens and businesses
- Making Directgov a wholesaler as well as the retail shop front for government services and content by mandating the development and opening up of Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) to third parties.
Government departments first and other public sector organisations, such as Universities, next? But how should Universities react to such moves towards centralisation of networked services? Note that in this post I’ll not address the question of whether such moves are desirable or not (which discussions are already taking place on Twitter) – rather I’ll consider the implementation issues which policy makers, who are not in a position to respond politically to Government announcements, need to consider.
Implications For Higher Education
A move towards centralised services for the citizen? Hasn’t the UK higher education sector been championing national services for the last couple of decades? JISC Services, such as Mimas and EDINA, have been providing centralised access to services for teaching and learning and research for many years and such services are much appreciated by the large numbers of users of the services.
Mandating the development and opening up of Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) to third parties? That sounds great and is also part of the JISC’s strategy for enhancing access to services – indeed last year the JISC funded the Good APIs work which provided advice on best practices for providing and consuming APIs.
But what of the bigger picture? Could there be a national user-facing service which provides information about, say, courses provided by UK Universities? Again, the higher education sector has ‘been there, done that’ when a number of higher education agencies including (HEFCE, SHEFC, HEFCW and DENI set up the Hero (Higher Education and Research Opportunities) service. However, as I described in a post on “Which Will Last Longer: Hero.ac.uk or Facebook?” published in June 2009, Hero, “the official gateway to universities, colleges and research organisations in the UK” was closed on 4 June 2009. And if there are suggestions that we should have a centralised online service for delivery of teaching resources we should also remember the lessons of the UK eUniversity, the UK’s £62m e-learning university which was scrapped in 2004 and described as “a “shameful waste” of tens of millions of pounds of public money”.
Will we see a move towards greater centralisation of networked services in the sector? I think this is inevitable. I also think that this can provide benefits as we build on the experiences in providing national services – which, I should add, are envied by many of those working in higher education in other countries which have not had the centralised funding and development to the extent which JISC provides in the UK. But the danger is that policy makers will failed to learn lessons from the approaches towards centralisation. Remember the “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it“?