The Challenges of going Digital by Default

The UK government is set to save £500 million this year owing to the digital by default agenda which was cemented with the launch of the Digital Strategy in 2012, a strategy that is revolutionising the way the public sector’s largest transactional services deliver their services.

The government maintains that on average online services are 20 times cheaper than a phone transaction, 30 times cheaper than post and 50 times cheaper than face to face.

With over 25 high volume services across government undergoing digitisation, the Government Digital Service has been mapping the journey and progress so far.

Sixteen exemplar services are currently in the beta phase (the penultimate phase before a service is made live) and, according to the GDS’ quarterly report from April 2014, exemplar services are allowing the department the opportunity to review, assess and carve out a new vision for projects that are currently being worked upon. The latest review says:

“3 departments, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Home Office, are helping to pilot new guidance on governance for agile service work. This guidance covers principles, processes, case studies and a range of resources like documents, data models and plans.”

The DVLA as a multichannel business – digital by default or digital by preference?

The DVLA has been held up as an exemplar digital project.

But rather than going digital by default the department has aimed to become a “multichannel business” that incorporates both digital and traditional methods of communication. A recent piece in the Computer Weekly notes that the department is becoming “digital by preference” since much of its inbound traffic is still paper-based.

The DVLA’s Chief Executive, Oliver Morley, notes that some transactions are unlikely to ever be completely digital. A prime example of this is where the DVLA needs to assess whether someone should give up their driving license for medical reasons. According to Morley, this kind of transaction is paper-heavy and requires a continued conversation with the customer as well as input from medical specialists.

The DVLA also continues to process 3.5 million cheques every year and a significant proportion of its customer-base don’t have bank accounts and continue to send in postal orders to pay for their car tax. Making the DVLA digital by default therefore would simply cut these channels.

“If there’s a segment that really doesn’t like using digital means, or technically can’t, we need to make sure we can still collect the tax,” says Morley.

Nonetheless, the department continues to make strides in a bid to cut inefficiencies. According to the GDS, the DVLA has made significant progress at a reduced cost to the taxpayer:

“[The] DVLA used expertise developed through its exemplar projects on other services. It released new versions of the tax disc, Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) and vehicle enquiries services into public beta having passed the service standard assessment. It created these services in just 7 weeks at a cost of £240,000 – less than half the original financial estimate.”

Join Whitehall Media’s prestigious 5th Central Government Business and Technology conference on 25 September 2014 at the Hotel Russell where the Chief Executive of the DVLA will be presenting on how the DVLA is transforming its services to deliver better value to its customers. To register your place to attend, please visit:

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