Whitehall Achieves Important Digital Presence Milestone - InformationWeek

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5/1/2013
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Whitehall Achieves Important Digital Presence Milestone

Most of central government, including a cyber version of the Prime Minister's office, is now at one Web address, but hundreds of URLs still have to make the shift.

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Six months since it came out of beta, the U.K. government's unifying online home GOV.UK can claim all 23 of its central state Ministries have successfully ported over.

Perhaps most important, at least symbolically, is that there now is a cyber version of No. 10 Downing St., the Prime Minister's residence.

The milestone is being celebrated by Francis Maude, Minister in charge of the Cabinet Office, a part of Whitehall that acts as a kind of COO for the public sector in Britain and which is in overall charge of on-going moves to reform the use of technology in government. Maude says he is "proud" to welcome his boss to the new site.

To get to this milestone, says the government, it's published over 50,000 pages of Web content, "weeded out" 116,000 pages and files, and redirected 275,000 government URLs from old sites to their new home on GOV.UK.

[ Should you be concerned about how companies are handling your personal information? Read Consumers Concerned About Online Data Privacy. ]

That doesn't mean that all of GOV.UK's work is done, however. It has 10 more months of work ahead of it, as the official completion date for moving all government websites over is March 2014. Still to go: the bulk of the state's other departments and public bodies, as only 31 of the 300-plus of these have as yet been re-housed. British central government is in fact made up of nearly 400 organizations, each of which continually publishes information in cyberspace about who they are and what they are doing, generating content about policy, issuing publications and announcements and so on. Overall, the state was operating 2,000 separate URLs, according to the reform-minded coalition of Tories and Dems. To rectify the situation, they brought in U.K. digital luminary Martha Lane Fox, who outlined an alternate vision of a more "Amazon style" single-Web home for all activities that could be run much more efficiently. Fox says the move will save at least £50 million ($88 million) in annual running costs across government.

The even bigger prize, though, is still considered to be the switch to Digital by Default, the government's program to shift the vast majority of citizen-state interactions -- whether that be to register a birth, renew a driving license, pay taxes or claim a benefit – from face, phone or post to online. "We are designing online services that put those needs first and make it easier to do things," said Mike Bracken, executive director for Government Digital Services, the unit that is both populating GOV.UK and also spearheading Digital by Default. "GOV.UK represents world-class public service delivery and a fundamental improvement in the way users interact with government."

Maude is convinced that the shift in citizen-state interactions to online could save billions, despite critics who say not everyone in the country either has or wants access to the Internet. This issues could come into much sharper focus later this year with the move to Universal Credit, the attempt to push all the U.K's myriad of benefits and welfare schemes into just one, primarily accessed by computer.

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