In 2001, I joined the Office of the e-Envoy, part of the Cabinet Office. I was responsible for ensuring government departments produced high quality e-government strategies (the forerunner of today’s digital strategies) and met the target of “e-enabling” all services by 2005. This was in the very early days of online service delivery and, in many cases, was met by simply making PDFs available. Not perfect, but it was a start!
I moved to the team responsible for Directgov just before the website launched in 2004. Directgov was the government’s first digital service that provided a single point of access to public sector information and services. It was also a world first, replacing the UKonline portal which had been built around life events. Directgov’s information architecture was, in comparison, designed around people and topics based on a franchise model. The idea was that, in the same way in which you might walk into a large department store and everything looks and feels the same, it is, in fact, run by individual franchises. In the case of Directgov, the site and its look and feel are the department store and the content areas, the franchises. In fact, at one time, it was proposed to sub-title Directgov, the online government store.
Directgov grew from 300,000 visits a month in 2004 to around 20 million hits a month, of which over 8 million were unique users, in 2009.
In March 2006, I moved from being Deputy Programme Director to Chief Operating Officer. Although I took on new responsibilities for setting the business strategy, financial control of the organisation’s budget and running the commercial team, I kept responsibility for managing the project and business change portfolio, including a programme to transition all citizen facing content from central government websites onto Directgov.
This programme was part of the Transformational Government strategy, “Service transformation: a better service for citizens and businesses, a better deal for the taxpayer”. The report proposed that all citizen facing content from other government websites was migrated onto Directgov and those other websites closed. It was estimated that the programme, combined with improvements across all government websites and the shared use of infrastructure, delivered approximately £400 million of savings over three years,
The programme was a very large cross-government digital change programme that was successfully delivered on time. As a result of government using Directgov and the equivalent site for business, Businesslink.gov, as its primary e-channels, gave users a coordinated way to access services at their convenience. This may seem common place today but this was in an era when one-stop shops were about as joined-up as service delivery got. And these were normally only open Monday – Friday between 9 am and 5 pm. One interesting piece of research we carried out looked at user needs for services being available outside of office hours, for example night-shift workers, so that online delivery of those services could be prioritised.