Wednesday 18 November 2015

Ear tags for goats and the case of the missing platform

One week to go before the Chancellor's Autumn Statement and we know just two things about Government as a Platform (GaaP):
And that's it. There are four platforms, according to GDS. And no others.

Or are there? Are there some other platforms knocking around which GDS for some reason fails to mention?

Take a look at the Government Gateway.

And take a look at the screen shot below which lists the six public services DMossEsq is enrolled in via the Government Gateway and the 62 others he could be enrolled in (including the Sheep and Goats Ear Tag Allocation System for Animal ID Manufacturers).

Through this one gateway, we can all transact with many UK government departments including DEFRA, DVLA, DWP, HMRC, and so on. The Government Gateway is a platform. Individuals can use it and so can organisations. We've been able to use it for the past 15 years. HMRC relies on the Government Gateway to collect PAYE and National Insurance and VAT and Corporation Tax. And the UK relies on HMRC collecting that revenue to pay for public services.

And yet if you poke around GDS's performance platform, there's no sign of it. The Government Gateway isn't mentioned. How many accounts are there? No idea. How many transactions have been completed to date? No idea. What is the value of those transactions? No idea. How much does the Government Gateway cost? No idea.

The Government Gateway has been starved of funds for years. It's amazing that it still works. The UK depends on it. But all GDS want to talk about is their four home-grown platforms, two of which aren't live. They've framed their bids to the Chancellor in terms of those four platforms. And they may thereby have misled the Chancellor by excluding the Government Gateway from their briefing.

What the well dressed ram about town is wearing this season
When HM Treasury come to consider GDS's bids, they may want to know why GDS have spent the past four years not maintaining the Government Gateway. Why have GDS instead spent four years on not producing GOV.UK Verify (RIP), an identity assurance system that has trouble registering people, can't register companies or partnerships or trusts, and is nowhere near putting ear tags on the UK's sheep and goats?

  • DMossEsq has several Government Gateway accounts.
  • Listed below are the six public services he is enrolled in via just one of those accounts ...
  • ... and the 62 other public services, some of which he may well be enrolled in via other accounts.

Updated 19.11.15

The Government Digital Service (GDS) took the decision very early in its young life to get rid of the Government Gateway, which they still haven't done, and to replace it with a new identity assurance system, which they also still haven't done.

4 November 2011, and ex-Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE ex-CDO ex-CDO, ex-executive director of GDS and ex-senior responsible owner of the identity assurance scheme now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)", publishes Establishing trust in digital services:
... a lot has moved on in the dozen years since Government Gateway was developed and we have a lot of work to do to develop solutions that work for users in the many contexts that they'll need them.
Ten days later, 14 November 2011, and someone posted a comment on the GDS blog post with two questions for Mr Bracken:
Presumably you want to build a brand new replacement [for the Government Gateway]. But why? Isn't that wasteful? That’s question 2.
It's not as though he wasn't warned. Quickly. Four years ago. And several times since. Once, 16 October 2012, we even drew a map, to help. But question 2 has never been answered.

Mr Bracken has gone, the Government Gateway platform is still there working for users in 68 of the contexts in which they need it, GOV.UK Verify (RIP) still isn't, and it has no replacement senior responsible owner.

Updated 20.11.15

The current state of the art of UK Government as a Platform according to the Government Digital Service (GDS)  is shown in this table and, less easily readable, below.

GOV.UK Verify (RIP) gets a lot of publicity but is still in test mode and faces all the well-rehearsed problems including a low level of identity assurance. The performance platform and the digital marketplace are also still in test mode, the transformation platform has sunk and the payments platform doesn't exist at all.

That leaves the publishing platform, GOV.UK, as the only live platform created by GDS and several other live platforms that GDS never mention including the all-important Government Gateway:

UK government platforms – the state of the art according to GDS
Platform Purpose Status* Mentioned by GDS ID #
GOV.UK Publishing Live Frequently, normally in the context of being "award-winning". 1
GOV.UK Verify (RIP) Identity assurance, for transacting with government and for use by private sector entrepreneurial apps Public beta Frequently and, so they say, openly, in order to build trust. 2
Performance Performance measurement of public services Public beta Rarely, but please see for example Telling stories with data: the Performance Platform as a tool for digital engagement. 3
Pay Payments (unidirectional, from people to government) Alpha With growing frequency, please see GDS to handle Govt payments? What could possibly go wrong?. 4
Government Gateway Transacting with government Live Sparingly and only ever to criticise despite the fact that the Government Gateway must by now in its 15-year life have been instrumental in raising several trillion pounds in tax to fund public services. 5
DirectGov Transacting with government Live Frequently mentioned in the past, normally in the context of having been replaced by GOV.UK. It hasn't been replaced by GOV.UK, that claim is false, try applying for a blue badge for example, you'll find yourself on The false claim that DirectGov has been replaced by GOV.UK has now, after several years, been removed from the GOV.UK home page. 6
BusinessLink Transacting with government Live Frequently mentioned in the past, normally in the context of having been replaced by GOV.UK. It hasn't been replaced by GOV.UK, that claim is false, try registering as an employer offering a job on the Universal Jobmatch service, you'll find yourself on DirectGov's The false claim that BusinessLink has been replaced by GOV.UK has now, after several years, been removed from the GOV.UK home page. 7
Transformation Transforming government Dead Frequently mentioned in the past, subsequently archived, after which the GDS director of transformation transferred to Methods Digital, a consultancy providing services to government. The Methods Group, of which Methods Digital is a member, "came up with the concept for NHS Jobs which was the first national ‘open’ web platform for public sector services in the UK, and has saved the NHS over £1Billion". GDS sometimes float the idea of a pan-government prison-visiting platform. But they never mention the NHS Jobs platform. 8
AdServer Serve relevant advertisements to people while they're transacting with government or afterwards None Never. But. The attempt to identify cross-government platform services pre-dates GDS's birth in 2011. The G-Digital Programme, for example, conducted a survey and published their findings in January 2010. They produced a list of Business Services (please see p.9), candidates to be shared across government, including for example an email alerts service, case management, complaints-handling and ... an ad server. That's one of the platforms the respondents to the survey wanted even if GDS don't mention it. C.f. Verizon, one of GDS's "identity providers" for GOV.UK Verify (RIP), quoted on "Ultimately, we don’t see ourselves as a data provider; we see ourselves as an ad platform that helps brands and consumers connect". 9, 10, ...
Please see GDS's Service design phases. *

With regard to DirectGov and BusinessLink, this is what the GOV.UK home page looked like two years ago on 11 November 2013:

Zoom in, and this is what you saw:

That false claim to have replaced DirectGov and BusinessLink has now at last been removed from the GOV.UK home page. It wasn't true two years ago and it still isn't true now.

Updated 24.11.15 1

The alert reader will have spotted that there is a reference to the Digital Marketplace in the 20 November 2015 update above but that the Digital Marketplace doesn't appear in the accompanying table.

How did this happen?

Clearly DMossEsq forgot about the Digital Marketplace until the last minute before publication and inserted a quick reference into the text even though it was too late to update the accompanying table. Not good, but there is some excuse – GDS themselves tend to forget about the Digital Marketplace and that failure is catching.

Take for example this blog post by ex-Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE ex-CDO ex-CDO, ex-executive director of GDS and ex-senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)", Government as a Platform: the next phase of digital transformation.

He remembers to mention GOV.UK and GOV.UK Verify (RIP). He omits to mention the Digital Marketplace.

Which is odd, because the Digital Marketplace (previously known as "G-Cloud") is actually live, unlike GOV.UK Verify (RIP), and it's even quite successful.

Although not as successful as its current boss Tony Singleton OBE claims:

Spot the 2,433% rise

"Astronomical growth"? "Rise of 2,433%"?

It is tempting to describe that figure as misleading. If a public company calculated its turnover growth to date the way Mr Singleton does and printed the result in its accounts, it would be caned. And any investment manager claiming to have achieved a return calculated that way would be fined ...

Updated 24.11.15 2

... which brings us to the question of analytics.

The Digital Marketplace/G-Cloud is used by central and local government to buy digital services. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the government procurement of digital services was growing astronomically and had risen by 2,433% he would be the butt of excoriating derision.

Measuring the performance of the executive branch of government is the subject of Whitehall Monitor 2015, recently published by the Institute for Government (IfG). The data used in these measurements needs to be "complete, consistent and accurate", the IfG say, it needs to amount to information, i.e. it needs to say something meaningful and help us to understand what is happening, and it needs to be usable as evidence, i.e. we should be able to base executive decisions on this data.

Measuring the performance of the executive branch of government is, in other words, a serious matter. How serious are GDS in their post Telling stories with data: the Performance Platform as a tool for digital engagement which appears on their Digital Engagement blog?

The rubric of GDS's Digital Engagement blog says: "On this blog we share how we use digital channels to engage with users ...; plus a candid view of what’s worked for us and what hasn't".

Is that true?

DEFRA's digital rural payments system collapsed. Farmers are having to use a manual system to apply for their basic payments. Digital engagement failed. Does the blog provide "a candid view of what’s worked for us and what hasn't"? Not a bit of it. The GDS/DEFRA débâcle isn't mentioned. And yet the blog post says "at GDS we want our communications to be open, agile and user focussed. Transparent communication builds trust with users".

It also says: "Sometimes we publish statistics that can lead to a bad news story. We have to, that’s just another aspect of being transparent". It would have been transparent to discuss the DEFRA system. But GDS haven't. And public trust is impugned as a result.

"The Performance Platform is really helpful ... as on it you’ll find a lot of data about GOV.UK services. It’s a tool that allows us to communicate the progress of public service development with greater transparency, as the service dashboards provide a clear record of the life of a service."

Really? There is no dashboard for the the Government Gateway, Nor for the Digital Marketplace, "The Performance Platform makes public the data we have about how services are working. It can be a fantastic starting point for reports, presentations, and blog content" – but not for stories about the Government Gateway or the Digital Marketplace.

"Reporters can get overview of the digital transformation work that’s underway from a reliable source, at any time". Can they? The Performance Platform says that the identity assurance platform GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is being used by 8 public services whereas the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) team say it is being used by 13. Which source is reliable?

"Sometimes there will be a situation where the statistics are not enough by themselves. You still need to figure out what story best goes with those facts."

That's true.

Look at the VAT dashboard. There are about 5 million "transactions per quarter". Does that mean that HMRC receive about 5 million VAT returns per quarter? Yes. But there's a wrinkle. The Performance Platform includes new VAT registrations in that figure of 5 million – "Data for declaration form submissions, amended submissions and registrations". Why confuse these two categories? Why not be transparent, reduce confusion and have two separate informative dials on the dashboard, one for VAT returns submitted and one for VAT registrations?

3 November 2015
The Minister for Cabinet Office Matt Hancock spoke about data-driven government at the Open Data Institute (ODI) summit

The digital platforms we’re building, led by the brilliant GDS, will depend on strong data foundations.
Or look at the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) dashboard. There have been 757,000 verifications (or "authentications") since inception. That figure comprises 185,000 "basic accounts", 314,000 "verified accounts" and 257,000 "sign-ins".

The platform is mixing up registrations and verifications. 499,000 user IDs have been registered (185,000 + 314,000). But the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) team have stopped talking about "registrations". Possibly because that word implies that there is a register. They refer instead to "verifying your identity for the first time". But registration is different from the subsequent use of your on-line ID to claim a redundancy payment, for example, and the two should have separate dials on the dashboard.

Claiming a redundancy is one of the "government services" the dashboard claims that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) can be used for. It also lists "rural payments". But there is no digital rural payments system, see above.

"Basic accounts" are by definition accounts that haven't been verified. Why are they being mixed up with "verified accounts"?

Do the 257,000 "sign-ins" include people signing in with a basic account? We don't know. The Performance Platform doesn't tell us.

In the week to 22 November 2015 the "authentication creation success rate" was 67%. Does creating a basic, unverified account count as a success?

In the same week, the "authentication success rate" was 77% but the "authentication completion rate" was only 28%:
  • How is a journalist supposed to use this dashboard to tell a meaningful story?
  • Would the IfG consider that this data amounts to information?
  • How could an official make a policy proposal based on this data?
  • And how on earth is a minister supposed to make a decision?
The Performance Platform has been open for business since April 2014. It's supposed to provide a new operating model for government. They may call it a "platform". But as platforms go it seems awful unsteady.

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