by Ian Litton, Commissioning Implementation Lead, Warwickshire County Council
There is no doubt that austerity focuses the mind. If we are to continue delivering quality services to customers at all levels of government, there is an increasing need to innovate, to do things more efficiently and more cost effectively.
Platforms, data and trust are key in allowing local government to ‘do more with less’.
In the case of platforms, we must identify the common, core capabilities we require to deliver services effectively. Then we need to build them once, share them and reuse them. This has been recognised at local level by councils such as Camden (see CIO John Jackson’s recent blog about their use of platforms) and in central government, notably by the Government Digital Service (GDS).
A platform approach, built on open standards, reduces overall risk and cost, increases reliability, delivers consistency, and reduces implementation times. It allows us to assemble services rather than build them from scratch.
Data drives all our processes. Good quality, timely data supports good quality and timely services, and effective intelligence-led decision making.
In his recent speech at the Open Data Institute Summit, Minister for the Cabinet Office Matt Hancock referred to data as “a mineable commodity, from which value can be extracted, the unseen infrastructure of the digital economy. He said: We’re in the foothills of a data revolution. Data is no longer just a record”.
Recent discussions about registers – authoritative lists that can be trusted to be up to date and accurate – are all part of the realisation that we need to get better at managing our data.
But one thing is certain: without trust, data sharing is dead. Remember Care.Data? If we are to deliver good quality, online services we need to find ways to share data across organisations in a way that customers understand and trust. In many cases, entitlement to a service is determined by reference to data held by another organisation.
A recent survey by the Digital Catapult found that trust in organisations to manage data about us is low, and that knowledge of how data about us is being used is limited. The report says, “In future, the creation of trust in the way consumers share personal data will be one of the defining competitive differentials for business. It will be one of the key dependencies in creating better services and improving the way we all live.”
Bringing it all together
If we are going to radically transform how we deliver services to meet the austerity challenge, we need to bring platforms, data and trust together. One good example is the development of an attribute exchange, which we define as “the online, real-time exchange of data specific to the transaction in hand, with the verified user present and with their full knowledge and permission”.
Warwickshire County Council has been working with GDS and private sector partners under the aegis of the Open Identity Exchange to develop ideas around attribute exchange. In a recent Alpha project we demonstrated how to build a generic, standards-based attribute exchange platform capable of answering key eligibility questions in response to a request for service from a customer.
The platform could link any service provider to any attribute provider without the need for customised point-to-point links. It used standard interfaces and open industry protocols, within an agreed set of principles and operating standards. And potentially it could be built once and used many times.
The Alpha project demonstrated how attribute exchange could be seamlessly linked to another platform component – GOV.UK Verify – to establish an online customer’s identity so that they could safely and legitimately apply for a service online.
Attribute exchange is all about data: getting hold of the necessary data to prove that a customer is entitled to the service they are applying for online, in real time, without recourse to paper proofs and offline processes. But this is at the ‘difficult’ end of digital by default. It relies on a common ecosystem to broker exchanges of data between any service provider and any attribute provider. That is exactly what attribute exchange delivers.
Allowing data to flow freely in this way would save the public sector billions of pounds each year and reduce fraud by preventing it from happening in the first place. It is also very convenient.
But why should customers trust attribute exchange more than they trust any other form of data sharing? Attribute exchange takes place in a ‘trust framework’ – a set of rules, processes, procedures and agreements that ensures that all the participants play by the same rules.
The customer is at the heart of the transaction and initiates the whole process. They have to give their explicit permission for data about them to be shared. Also, the data shared is the minimum needed to support the specific transaction in hand. Very often the service provider only needs to ask as simple yes/no question in the form “is this customer eligible for this service”.
Attribute exchange authenticates the customer to a high level of assurance by GOV.UK Verify, making sure the service provider and the attribute provider are requesting and releasing information with the real customer.
Finally, our user experience research shows that customers understand attribute exchange, accept the need to give permission for data to be shared, and are happy to give that permission.
Discussions are actively underway with GDS, the Department for Transport, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Local Digital Programme about how we can turn attribute exchange into a live service. We will also work with the private sector, through OIX, to explore how they can collaborate with us.
Bringing the themes of platforms, data and trust together in the shape of attribute exchange has extraordinary potential to transform the way we deliver services.