How the Government Digital Service plans to streamline payments and notifications

by Louise Fellows, managing partner and O2 public sector champion – central government

Not too long ago, I read this article by Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology Correspondent for BBC News. In it, he reveals some particularly exciting, and interesting, digital projects being launched by the Government Digital Service (GDS) that seek to provide better, and more affordable, communication between government and communities. The new services aim to make payments, reminders, notifications and verifications simpler, faster and more efficient for both citizens and government workers.

These developments, I think, are evidence of how, and how often, the communication between government workers and citizens is changing. Regular, up-to-date communication is something we have all come to take for granted in the last few years. People use their phones to talk, text, interact on social networks, send emails and share files all from their phones – some would say that our phones are ‘the remote controls of our lives’, and I tend to absolutely agree with this…It most definitely is mine. We all expect to communicate instantly with companies and individuals, and to get immediate access to, and updates about, the information that’s relevant to us.

The work done by the GDS shows that the government is determined to follow the ethos of putting ‘people first’, and creating tech that meets their needs and expectations.

Of these new services, the first, Notify, is a service which will allow government departments to keep in touch with citizens’ services via email, text (preferred by busy professionals and on-the-go millennials), and even the good old post for those who still like a tangible touch. Notify seeks to eliminate the currently fragmented approach that currently comprises citizen communication.

Once fully rolled out, Notify will provide a single platform which any civil servant can plug into and use to send notifications to citizens on the government’s database.

The second service being launched is Pay, a system that enables government departments to efficiently receive payments or to make refunds. As with Notify, Pay proposes to consolidate the efforts of all government departments, but it also promises to be able to quickly implement new means of payment with zero system downtime. With card-less and online payments rapidly becoming the norm, this kind of agile, forward planning is heartening, and shows that the government is listening and responding to the way people want to interact with them.

Not only could these services reassure citizens with personalised, up-to-date notifications on matters like tax assessments, traffic fines, and council taxes, but the reduced reliance on face-to-face interactions and the postal service promises to ‘do more with less’ by also resulting in significant savings. As Rory states in his article: “A face-to-face interaction with government is estimated to cost £8.62, while a phone call costs £2.83 and a web message just 15p. So keeping in touch with your customers via email or text rather than having them drop in or phone up is good business”.

Notify alone is scheduled to reduce spending by £600m over the next five years, compared with the £200m that Pay is scheduled to save the government.

While there are noteworthy logistical challenges to the successful adoption of these systems, and others like it, as Rory rightly points out, GDS’s past failures can be attributed to the ‘cultural chasm’ between service providers and those they are trying to serve. Just as is the case with the opposition to the Royal Mail closures, the bigger picture can be hard to see, and even harder to support, when the people affected feel that their voices, needs, and way of life are not being respected.

Ultimately, a phased approach that encourages people to use new services, but that is still flexible enough to support the way they choose to work, and that puts people first—even if that does include a hand-delivered notice— will have the best chance at success.

As a public sector champion, I’m interested in understanding how people choose to work, and how technology can help them reach their full potential. I’m always keen to see how other organisations are approaching this, so if you’d like to discuss this with me further, I can be contacted directly on 07912 398 323.