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Report of the Digital Government Review

Identifying benefits and risks

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It is all too easy to focus on large benefits without understanding the risks that delivering projects face. These risks may mean that the benefits are never seen. They may show that it was never possible to realise benefits in the first place. This report covers both benefits and risks, and is aimed not at consensus, but rather at creating informed debate – and better-informed opinions.

Some benefits can be quantified financially as savings in government expenditure. For example, moving central government services online has been forecast to save government £1.7 billion every year whilst the imminent expiry of other major government contracts could lead to billions in yearly savings as new services are built to replace them.

But there are many other benefits that, though quantifiable, do not fall directly to government revenue. For example, improving digital skills will improve people’s employment prospects and productivity as well as giving them access to cheaper goods and services.

There are also benefits that are less tangible to identify and more difficult to evaluate financially than employment or productivity; but that still carry significant value to people and our society. For example, increasing the level of trust and participation in public services, or sowing the seeds of future services and innovations.

Direct financial savings make it easier to justify investment and have thus been keenly sought after at a time of austerity. However, it would be a grave mistake to ignore these other, wider classes of benefit.

Better outcomes for people (for example education levels, employment prospects and health) have a significant beneficial impact on our wider economy and society. Improved trust in government digital services will lead to higher levels of engagement with government and greater participation in the wider digital economy. A small increase in productivity and overall GDP will ultimately be of far greater financial benefit than a cut to a government department’s expenditure.

Similarly, we need a broad definition of risk. It is important that we understand implementation risk and timescales when considering anticipated benefits. After all, the government does not have a very good track record of managing large and complex digital projects. Equally, it is important that other risks are effectively managed: the risk that a section of our population is unfairly excluded from the benefits of digital, for example, or that people who distrust government with their personal data will choose not to use its digital services.

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