From April this year, all Whitehall digital services are required to meet the digital by default service standard in a bid to ensure clarity of content and create a benchmark for usability.
The migration of 300 agencies and arm’s lengths bodies from their individual domains to the GOV.UK platform to create a single point of access for official government information and services falls underneath this strategy.
With a number of paper-based services in operation and limited online services, DfE has a large job to do to become digital by default.
Historically, the Department’s online forms had been very basic in nature, as well as the domain through which they were presented.
For this reason, DfE decided to focus on the quality and execution of online forms.
“This presented us with the challenge of having to build up to 100 forms while also creating an environment that would sit within the main government website – GOV.UK,” claimed Laurence Rugg, digital solutions manager for the Department.
“In practice, users visit GOV.UK for very specific purposes, requiring us to strip away content that may distract from or delay this process,” he added.
A number of services also required users to download, print, complete and return forms and documents offline.
“This was not only time consuming for our end-users, requiring them to provide information in writing that we probably already held on file, making the process laborious and unnecessarily complex,” claimed Rugg.
“As a result a lot of resource was being invested in gathering information on paper that was already stored elsewhere digitally as well as matching paper forms with these records,” he added.
The DfE set out to challenge the existing offline steps and processes and embrace the opportunities that the digital age presents.
It also wanted to restructure processes in an attempt to boost efficiency and reduce admin costs.
To do this, solutions from several potential vendors were evaluated, before the Department finally settled on web-based solutions provider Firmstep to supply it with the functional and efficient digital service that was required.
Rugg praised thee customisation and “ease of use” that the company’s AchieveForms platform offered during the selection process, including the ability to allow DfE to take the development of its GOV.UK portal and forms in-house.
“This led to us deploying AchieveForms and its Self Suite to automate many of our forms to integrate with GOV.UK,” explained Rugg.
Since implementing Firmstep AchieveForms, DfE claims to have enhanced the user experienced and improvement Departmental Efficiency.
One example is the process which allows schools to apply for academy status, as the need for users to manually key in basic information such as address and contacts details has been eliminated.
By entering a Unique Reference Number (URN), the form can automatically and securely access data from DfE’s register of education organisations in England and Wales EduBase to fill in the form.
“Following the initial success with the forms that are currently live, we are now planning to re-build and develop over 100 forms, each of which will benefit from enhanced functionality and automation,” claimed Rugg.
“The platform has completed changed the way we offer our services and engage with users. The feedback from users and internal stakeholders has been very positive: not only does it meet user needs, it’s driving business efficiencies and really changing the way that the Department deals with applications and correspondence from our customers,” he added.