The UK eGovernment Interoperability Framework (eGIF) was established over 10 years ago to include a range of different initiatives to make Government more efficient by introducing standardisation. Part of this strategy included the goal of moving towards the digitisation of all government services. This has now largely been subsumed by the Government Digital Strategy which aims to make transactions “digital by default”. In other words, digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to whilst those who can’t are not excluded. What is the relevance? Well I’d like to recount two incidents that I experienced in the last couple of weeks that demonstrate the impact of having or not having a coherent digital strategy.
The first incident relates to my UK VAT Return. As a UK business registered for VAT, I have to submit details on a quarterly basis to H.M. Revenue and Customs (HMRC). For quite some time now, HMRC has provided facilities for returns to be made completely online with no need for paper records. Excellent! This quarter however, I made a small error on my return. To notify HMRC of this error, rather than make an online correction I have to submit the correction on a separate form. This is available as a PDF document. No, not a PDF form that I’m able to complete on my PC but a plain PDF document that I have to print out, complete by hand, and then post by “snail-mail” to HMRC. It would be great to have the facility to make my correction online. Failing this, why not give me an intelligent PDF form that I can enter data into on my PC and then submit electronically?
The second incident concerns my son’s application for university finance. The department that deals with applications requires parents to provide supporting evidence of their income to calculate whether the student is eligible for grants, loans etc. I duly completed the information online and was notified that “no further information is required”. Imagine my surprise when a few weeks later I received a letter through the post (NOT by email) to let me know I needed to submit copies of payslips, end-of-year tax information etc to prove my income. There was no facility to provide this electronically so I had to print off those records that I had electronically and take photocopies of others and send them off. Postage 90p. Same for my wife. Approximately 3 weeks later, I received another letter through the post (NOT by email) informing me that the requested evidence had not yet been received. Could I send it urgently otherwise my son may not receive any finance for his university placement. I duly telephoned the organisation to explain that I’d already sent the information requested. After a rather lengthy conversation, it turned out that my details HAD been received but had not yet been checked, there being a 3 week delay in the processing of incoming mail. So, we have a department that has received my envelope, logged the receipt of the documents into their system but failed to link that transaction with the system that sends out reminders! They knew my documents had been received and had them logged in the system but still sent out the reminder anyway! To make matters worse, I asked what had happened to my documents. “They have been scanned into the computer system”, I was told. So those electronic documents that I’d printed out and sent hard-copy had now been scanned and digitised. Why not provide an option online to “Upload documents”??
So why have I bored you with these two tales? The reason is that an inefficient records process could be simplified and made more efficient NOT by the implementation of an expensive, complicated technological tool but simply by some joined-up thinking and by using a few simple, cheap desktop software tools (e.g. Adobe Acrobat Create PDF Form). Isn’t it about time we all took a few minutes out of our day to do some “blue sky thinking” and identify opportunities for “quick wins”…. areas where a simple change could make our process so much more efficient.