GOVUK development embraces modern approaches

The UK Government has launched a beta of its GOV.UK platform, testing a single domain and consistent user experience that is planned for use throughout government. The new approach will replace the existing, the UK government portal, (Directgov) with the aim of delivering faster, more effective digital services to citizens through a much improved user interface at lower cost.

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This new platform uses modern approaches that are in contrast to the perception of monolithic government IT projects that cost millions and fail to deliver as needed. These approaches have been designed to make the on-going growth and development of government sites flexible and agile but consistent and easy to understand. For example:

  • The culture behind the development is more like a start up with small teams delivering iterative agile development rather than a traditional ponderous waterfall approach
  • The development and release of a standard user experience framework, based on the ideas of the BBCs GEL (http://www.bbc.co.uk/gel) to make the averages persons search for information consistent
  • The delivery of the site uses open source (The code behind GOV.UK was released as open source code on GitHub), mobile friendly, platform agnostic approaches and is hosted in the cloud
  • A beta of the site has been made available, inviting feedback and input before it is complete

Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office said “Digital public services should be easy to find and simple to use – they must also be cost effective and SME-friendly. The beta release of a single domain takes us one step closer to this goal. Our approach is changing,….IT needs to be commissioned or rented, rather than procured in huge, expensive contracts of long duration”

GOV.UK is a welcome new approach in how the government approaches Web design, both in terms of what is on screen and how it was developed. The team of developers, designers and managers behind the platform collaboratively built GOV.UK using agile development and the kind of iterative processes one generally only sees in modern Web design shops. Given that this platform is designed to serve as a common online architecture for the government of the United Kingdom, that’s meaningful.

Law firms can learn a lot from this – in my experience development of both internally and externally facing solutions are still often constrained by outmoded conservative approaches that stop them from delivering the benefits that they should. If you don’t engage with the people (including clients) that will use a service during its design and development, if you insist that you must own and manage all the resources involved in the delivery of that service and if you don’t build agility and flexibility into your investment planning you will not be able to adjust and adapt to changing circumstances.

Can it really be that even the UK government is more progressive than law firms?