The Government Digital Service was one of the great unsung triumphs of the last Parliament.
In 2011, the UK government operated two portals (BusinessLink and Directgov) and about 2,000 different department and government agency websites. The portals were slow and expensive to maintain, and content was often duplicated or unnecessary. User needs were ignored in favour of government needs.
The founders of Public Digital, along with many others, helped to set up and build the Government Digital Service (GDS) from scratch.
An alpha of GOV.UK was launched after 12 weeks by a small team, at a cost of £261,000. A full version of GOV.UK went live within a year. Over the next two years, 25 central department websites and hundreds of smaller agencies were moved onto GOV.UK - 1,882 websites were replaced, at less than 30% of the annual cost of the sites they replaced. It now has 14 million users weekly, and handles 1.03 billion transactions a year.
In parallel with developing GOV.UK GDS reformed the Government’s approach to technology. This work meant running spend controls, introducing a Technology Code of Practice, reforming cross-government technology leadership governance, building on the successful procurement approaches of G-Cloud through the digital marketplace, and changing approaches to risk and security, GDS became a catalyst for the creation of multi-disciplinary teams and adoption of digital skills across government.
The website’s design received several national awards when it was launched, beating the 2012 London Olympics to Design of the Year.
Over time, GDS had an influential effect on other government departments, which started setting up their own user-centred digital delivery teams. The lasting legacy was a diaspora of people and ideas that continue to shape digital government in the UK.
The influence was international, too: many government teams including those in Australia, Peru, California and Madagascar were set up in direct response to the success of GDS in the UK.
A GDS Story - one story of the many that comprise GDS’s history 2010-2019.
Digital Transformation at scale: why the strategy is delivery - our book on building digital digital institutions.