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UK only average in terms of digital public services

The UK trails countries like Germany, Spain Italy and France when it comes to making its services available digitally, despite being seen as a leader in digital innovation, according to a benchmark of eGovernment services across Europe.

The eGovernment Benchmark study from Capgemini surveyed over 10,000 websites across the EU countries, and measured the digital service quantity and quality for: starting a business, losing and finding a job, studying, and family life.

“The UK is undoubtedly a leader in terms of digital innovation and the design of user-centric services, so it might seem surprising that this year’s eGov Benchmark shows it slightly falling behind the group of the biggest European economies in terms of digitising its services,” said Niels Van Der Linden, principal Consultant at Capgemini Consulting.

“The UK has developed a number of very smart digital initiatives, and is now working hard to implement these solutions across its entire public sector. The challenge for the UK in climbing up the ranks is to increase the availability of key enablers such as electronic identification and [authenticated sources of information so data can be reused], where other countries have already made steps forward.”

To be pulled up on this, the UK must be doing badly, because the total use of electronic identification was only possible in one of two European public services (52%), and pre-filling of online forms with data the government already knows about the user was only available in 47% of European public services.

The UK government’s Gov.uk Verify platform is one attempt to identify people across government services. But recent uptake figures show only 15 digital services use Verify, with an average of only 46% of people using those services being able to successfully create a verified identity. This is a far cry from the government’s original 2015 business case, which, according to documents seen by Computer Weekly earlier this year, planned for 90% of people being able to verify their identity online “with a 90% success rate by April 2016”.

Earlier this month, in her first speech on digital government since she was given ministerial responsibility for the digital agenda across Whitehall, Cabinet Office parliamentary under-secretary Caroline Nokes said the government is ramping up its work on digital services. “By 2020, we will have delivered at least 89 digital services, including a new digital mortgage service and an online divorce service,” she said.

The Capgemini report did find that the UK is doing well when it comes to making services mobile friendly, with a score of 91% compared with a European average of 54%, and was just above the European average for user centricity at 82%.

Quality rather than quantity is now the focus. According to the report, countries have accelerated to amount of services being made available via digital channels and now need to improve them. Quality improvements might include making the services more transparent and enabling forms to be prepopulated with personal information.

The report shows the European public sector continues to bring more services online. While countries quantitatively increased the online availability of public services, qualitative measures (e.g. more transparent delivery procedures and prepopulating online forms with personal data) are necessary to improve the overall digital service experience.

Progress being made

Overall, eGovernment performance in Europe is moving in the right direction, the report concluded. “For instance, good progress was made on the mobile friendliness dimension, with more than half of the services (54%) being mobile friendly (compared to 27% in 2015).

“User centricity of European public services reached the average of 85% which indicates a mature level of online availability of services and of interaction and feedback possibilities between citizens and public administrations.”

As well as improvement needed in identification and data source authentication, more also needs to be done on transparency, said the report. Authorities, it said, have to do more to disclose information on the process of service delivery, their own responsibilities and performance, as well as personal data usage.

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