Improving Digital Engagement with the UK Government
Recently, the British government announced a £1 billion pound investment for faster broadband and 5G in the UK, which will benefit consumers and businesses.
Unfortunately, government departments or local councils looking for a boost in funding to improve digital services were left empty-handed.
The investment in faster broadband and cellular infrastructure shows that the demand for digital services in the UK is high. As more people become connected to high-speed internet, the expectation for businesses and government agencies to use digital channels to engage with customers will grow.
The improved access to high-speed broadband will create additional demand for online government services, but the government has not built additional capacity for digital engagement. Soon England will have more citizens digitally empowered and engaged but unable to access basic government services online, particularly at the local level.
Some government departments have great digital experiences, while others are well behind. Then, when it comes to local government, the online experience varies from one authority to another, which can be incredibly frustrating as a citizen.
For example, while it is relatively straightforward to lodge a self-assessment with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), it can be very difficult to track a passport renewal with HM Passport Office, especially during peak holiday season. Then if I want to pay my council tax or apply for a parking permit in my local authority, it is entirely hit or miss.
Compounding the problem, no two government organizations are in communication with the other. So every time citizens interact with an additional department, they must enter the same information, such as address, date of birth and national insurance number.
I’m pleased to say this is improving greatly across central government thanks to the government’s verification tool GOV.UK Verify, which launched in May 2016. This tool helps authenticate citizen identities and provides a simple and standardized way for people using online government services to complete transactions. It provides the improved customer experience outlined earlier—however, so far, local governments are unable to use this tool.
Of course, there is a lot at stake for governments, and no one is saying digital transformation in government is easy. Government is under constant scrutiny, and the threat of cybercrime is higher than ever. It is a fair assumption that consumers have even higher expectations of their government than a private sector enterprise.
Research from Verint found that 20 percent of consumers do not trust any of their service providers to keep their data secure. The stakes are certainly high, but there is also considerable reward for the government to get this right.
It’s no secret the government is facing budget pressures. They are delivering services for a growing population but have fewer funds to deliver them. Improving the digital experience will not replace the need for customer service teams, but it will allow the government to streamline its operations and boost efficiency—creating significant cost savings.
As more government agencies improve their digital experience, the demand for digital services across other departments will increase and generate even more opportunities for cost savings and efficiencies.
The good news is that the Government Digital Service (GDS) has announced a pilot project to give local councils access to GOV.UK Verify, helping citizens of these authorities to apply online for travel passes and parking permits. Only 19 authorities have signed up for the program so far. However, the first step for the government to boost digital engagement is to make this tool available at the local level—so progress is underway.
If the UK government is serious about using digital engagement as a means to make ongoing cost savings, it requires upfront investment. This investment will be a short-term pain for a long-term gain. Making Gov.UK Verify available to local authorities is a vital first step to create a consistent process.
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