When Francis Maude first talked about combining all the government websites into one big one, that part of me that had worked in IT since before there even was an internet, thought it sounded a bit risky. The principle isn’t too bad: why not provide a single front end, or a portal? It could be an improvement, as long as you don’t just put the whole thing in the hands of a bunch of Silicon Roundabout chancers. But it sounds like that is exactly what they did…
I have to admit that I didn’t notice anything wrong because I only use one tiny part of the .gov.uk website, the bit for renewing car tax, and that bit works just fine. I guess that most people are in the same boat, and see that the only bit they use is OK, which makes it easier to accept when the Cabinet Office pops up to say it is a huge success and is saving pots of money.
Reading between the lines of the story though, it sounds like the whole set-up of the Government Digital Service is ripe for a sitcom mashup of The Thick Of It, The IT Crowd and Nathan Barley.
Let’s scrap a load of complicated computer systems that took years of development and testing, replace them with a new one, built by people who are more concerned about SEO than the back end, and think that a user requirements spec is for cissies! Who would have thought that advising people to store petrol in the cupboard under the stairs was not the silliest idea of Maude’s after all?