Question 3: Sharing the platform

To what extent should Central Government provide a platform for the delivery of digital services by other parts of the public or voluntary sector – for example, local authorities, councils, voluntary and community sector organisations?

17 Responses to Question 3: Sharing the platform

  1. cyberdoyle says:

    Government don’t need to provide platforms. The platforms are all out there, waiting for people and orgs to use them. The main role of government is to get the infrastructure to everyone, especially the final third. Only when the feed is there will people come to drink at the fountain of light. Half the country have little better than dial up speeds. This is not enough to access the apps we need. Mobile coverage is equally poor outside main urban areas (and getting worse everywhere). People will stick to analogue until digital is easy. The main role for govt has to be removing the obstacles the incumbent and previous govs have placed in the way of innovation. (planning, highways, access and VOA tax).
    If govt wastes time on worrying about side issues this will hold back addressing the main issue which is NGA for Everyone, as quickly as possible, otherwise we will be left out of the digital new world and stuck in the slow lane on obsolete copper.

  2. John Rudkin says:

    Sharing a platform? Does this refer to a great big unwieldy gargantuan “thingy portal”. Where has Government succeeded without costs spiralling and ultimately the projects (they are always projects) getting taken for a long ride around the houses? The smaller, diverse and varied ways of the open world are far more successful because they evolve by need and demand. As soon as they forget that they are in trouble.
    Standards to exchange data need to be established. Look at the way Facebook, Twitter and the like interconnect today and you have a model of delivery that can suit all, and yet they all remain part of the bigger picture.
    I fear some local stakeholders will need advice, but exemplars of great ideas are free for all to see.
    Why do I use a Mac? It is about standards (quality) and standards (open interoperation). I can do what i want, how I want, yet still be confident that 99.99% of what I do is swopable and interchangeable with 99.99% of the rest of the world.

  3. It shouldn’t. There are already numerous platforms available for the delivery of digital services. Almost all the best ones are (a) open source (b) multi-platform and (c) available as a managed service i.e. there are already low-cost and flexible solutions available, the public and voluntary sectors just need to know about them.

    Central government could play a role in supporting voluntary/community organisations by providing advice and technical assistance in adopting/adapting the existing platform that best suits their organisation(s). Although that requires the expertise to exist in central government.

  4. Not sure where this falls (this question or the next), but you should at some point consider the pervasiveness and usefulness of location information. This is irrespective of platform and it also refers to the interoperability issue addressed through open standards. Geospatial data, software and services are used in virtually every aspect of Government today.

    Please note that well-established, open standards exist to facilitate the exchange of such data (via web services, etc.). The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) does exactly this via a worldwide membership collaborating on standards development and working with others like CEN, ISO, OSGeo, W3C and IETF.

  5. john culkin says:

    At the risk of repeating my answers to the other questions… I think central govt should support syndication of content for other parts of the public or voluntary sectors.

    Presumably this would involve making agreements on the technical specifications for syndicated content, but ideally, the content should be able to be shared across as many platforms as possible.

  6. No. Government should not provide the platform. If you treat the government like any other organisation, the development of the platform is not a core part of their organisation – their purpose for being. They should concentrate time, energy and influence with those international platforms which exist or develop in the future and ensure the platforms have solutions which cover some basic standards, delivering on core purpose, for the people and usable and accessible for all. A recent example is a great idea to help startup businesses backed by some big names, but the resultant sites don’t validate against W3 standards

  7. This question is a bit of a red herring. I don’t see a problem with government providing platforms providing they’re decent/ cheap to begin with and easy/ cheap to configure as needs change.

    Again this comes down to the way that Govt procures tech i.e. limited bidders, proprietary technology, PRINCE, obsessive emphasis on security for sites that don’t need it.

    Surely this is about appropriate technology. Orgs shouldn’t be forced to go down the proprietary route if WordPress, Campaign Monitor and co do the job just fine. But there should be a role for smaller and more agile teams of government developers/ UXers to work, say, on a Council Tax collecting bolt on for local government to use as it sees fit. Or a secure single sign on that’s easy to deploy if needs be.

  8. Ian Tresman says:

    Central Government has no remit to share services. But it should make sure that superfast broadband (100Mb/s+) is widely available. The everyone will be able to provide a platform.

  9. rex_Imperator says:

    The current set up where Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh parish council has to procure and manage its own web presence is absurd. Hospitals should be deploying the resources they have on direct patient care, not the hosting of servers and web designers. This has to be a no-brainer. But it does require a common set of standards (see previous questions). It also needs not be the customary gold-plated central government solution. The platform and associated elements should specify which technologies can be handled (so everyone can use the same tools), a maximum file size and so on, recognising that not all recipients of this service can access the servers through ultra high speed broadband connections.

  10. Central Government should be setting the standards for the delivery of information to the public, which these other bodies should adhere to.

  11. Antony Watts says:

    Provide a common platform for all government organisations that legally enforce anything on me, or offer me any service. But absolutely exclude voluntary or community activities, these only muddy the water, cost money and can do it themselves.

  12. Absolutely not at all. This is better done by the private sector. I can create and host a blog in five minutes for free using any number of services out there.

    This is an IT contractor’s wet-dream: a never ending project with support fees up in the heavens.

  13. Paul Nash says:

    Presenting content as text only is not inclusive. The range of content types should be included, video with sub titles, pictures and stories in text and audio. User journeys are informative for other users and mirrors the way in which some sectors learn to use services by listening to the stories of friends. Text should be available in different colours so the use of colour changers on every page is also important.

  14. Chris Webster says:

    The sharing of the Directgov platform has enabled a signficant reduction in cost in the provision of government web-sites through the web rationalisation programme. The fact that these savings have not been taken as budget reductions should be a question for the departments and not for Directgov.

    Going forward, the idea of a single shared platform needs to be rethought as more and more services connecting to more and more departments and local authorities. There needs to be a common shared set of services which include single sign-on to all services, content management (including semantic web), single view of citizen, personalisation capabilities, site feedback and review, payment engines and many more. This collection of services should be delivered through as services in the cloud (more than just infrastructure in the cloud) but designed to a common set of principles such that they can be extended and swapped as necessary.

    In this way, in may be feasible for departments to adopt all or some of these services and only pay for the ones they consume. This will require a collective design that only Directgov can provide. Failure to do this will mean that the vision of a single point of access for all government information and services will fail leaving each department to do its own thing and the citizen left to engage with them all on a one by one basis.

  15. Alan Mather says:

    Let me start by declaring my bias. In 2001 I ran the team that either built or operated (sometimes both) UK gov’s central infrastructure (the government gateway,, knowledge network and the GSI; later we built other capability –, secure email, the criminal justice exchange and so on.
    Almost a decade later I still believe that any government needs a core of central infrastructure. That doesn’t mean that there’s only one of everything or indeed only one of anything. But it does mean that there are enormous economies of scale (for government) in having only a very small number of things and enormous efficiencies (for the population at large) in being able to access definitive, joined up, secure content and services provided by government.
    A good example of how a platform can be developed in central government are the various tax services offered by HMRC. Sure, they come in for lots of flak from those who will happily throw rocks from the doors of their rickety greenhouses, but they work and work well. HMRC provides self assessment as a service (SAaaS?) yet publishes the schema and the rules so that other providers can do the same; likewise with PAYE – you can fill the forms in online at HMRC if you want, but there is a vast market in providers of integrated accounting systems that provide far better PAYE than HMRC could (or would want to). We’ve come a long way since the debacle of the online fishing licence.
    It’s 5 years since I stopped running central infrastructure and, whilst I believe I left it in a pretty good state, those who followed have made enormous strides that I only wish I could have done. That must be allowed to continue, with at the centre of it.
    When I started in UK government, the website count was already over 1,000. It climbed soon after to over 3,000. Only recently has that trend been arrested and the count, whilst still too high, is being managed down.
    As a consumer of UK government information, I want to be sure that I am accessing the most up to date, most relevant content. I don’t want to learn how government works and be forced to remember which department operates what services or how I need to access them. Likewise, I only want one password to access government services (via the gateway) although I understand why some would want more. should certainly act as a platform and extend what it already does – it should aggressively aggregate and distil content so that the chasms between government organisations are largely hidden from my view (this was always the point of of course). It should make that content available to those who want to reuse it (as it does now through its syndication engine) and it should continue to close down non-specialist government websites. All that remain should be specific departmental policy sites such as those for accountants where arcane policy advice needs to be made available but where usage is low. should then re-open its search engine, taking it back to the original instance where search was pan-government. Any government website should be able to use that engine to search its site but also to provide links to’s content (as sponsored links or “ads” down the side) so that any one on any government site can find content on any other site all through one managed engine. should provide (and perhaps already does) mini-campaign sites for every department that wants to launch an online initiative, and provide a centralised ad engine that allows ads for those campaigns to be displayed on other sites (by provide in this instance I don’t mean some monolithic central capability but access to tools and services that can do this quickly and cheaply).
    I applaud those who have navigated around central bureaucracy and used tools such as WordPress to create, often within hours or a few days, sites that meet specific needs or that handle sudden reorganisations of the government machine. But, that said, I innately believe that fragmentation of government content is a bad thing – I don’t want to figure out which of the 310,000 instances of the phrase “disability living allowance” is the right one. I want to be taken to the right one by And I don’t want different government departments spending money trying to keep each of those 310,000 instances up to date as the rules change.
    The last part of being a platform is transactional. Should move into directly providing transactional services into government? We always imagined it should and would. It hasn’t so far (short of providing skins for those who do provide such services). Increasingly I think this is a step too far and that it is better for departments to be required to open up the rules for their transactions and to provide white label forms that can be used by others alongside their own branded ones. The trouble here is that when sending information to government, I think I’d want to be sure that it was definitely going to government and that there was a near-zero risk of someone else seeing it (the napster version of Self Assessment where you could briefly share tax forms caused some chaos for a while). So there needs to be some kind of kitemark or audit process but, at the same time, people have to recognise the need for their own diligence as evidence by the recent iTunes problems where compromised accounts were used to boost the chart ranking of books and applications.

  16. Liam Slater says:

    The government should not be providing a single shared platform but should provide open standards for data allowing other public and voluntary organisations to impliment whatever systems they feel are most appropriate at a local level.

    These standards should not rely on proprietary technologies and should be simple and flexible (a defined schema accessible through a choice of JSON and XML at least).

  17. Paul Clarke says:

    I’m not entirely convinced by the question. As others have pointed out, for central government services there are economic and consistency advantages in having a platform that can be used by many areas of government activity. I am wary of the word ‘platform’ though – it can have too many interpretations for my liking. cf ‘Framework’!

    What I think might lie behind the question is: should more be offered centrally to help more disparate public service players (public, private or voluntary) deliver digitally? And I’d offer a big ‘no’ to this. How many infrastructure rollouts have failed because they offered something that became too big to specify, too complex to procure and ended up being so slow that other alternatives had already got there ahead of them?

    Digital technologies are fast-developing and fast-flowing. Good services will find a way to their audiences, and poor ones won’t. We’re not in 2001 now, where having a clearly navigable structure of websites was at the heart of digital strategy. We’re in a networked, modular world. To a great extent it doesn’t matter where services are hosted, what they are co-located with, or who actually operates them. If they are findable, and deliver benefit, then they thrive. Interfere with those natural mechanisms at your peril. (And please don’t use a ton of my taxes in trying…)

    Disclosure: As Question 1.