ICT Telecoms and Technology

Digital public services

An overview of the implementation of the

Northern Ireland Civil Service’s digital transformation programme.


The Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) is undergoing a digital transformation. The Department of Finance and Personnel’s Enterprise Shared Services organisation is in the process of building better citizen services and driving a digital channel shift. The Digital Transformation Service (DTS) is responsible for delivering the digital transformation programme. The DTS is taking a digital first approach to the delivery of these services. This approach means that any new or redesigned service must be designed with an online first approach.

The Northern Ireland Digital Transformation programme aims to increase the number of government services accessible online and deliver 70 per cent of all citizen transactions with government via digital channels by 2019.

Recognising that the only way to create this digital channel shift is to deliver high quality digital services, the DTS is aware of the transformation that needs to occur. It is also aware of the need to look beyond organisational boundaries and provide assistance to those who can’t at present, use digital services. It aims to do this through working with a network of community based Digital Champions across Northern Ireland and events such as Silver Surfers’ Day.

Currently, fewer than 20 per cent of citizens use local council and government websites each week. To increase the use of these websites, the Northern Ireland Civil Service has adopted a citizen contact strategy that consists of six principles.

The first of these principles is to promote the concept of digital first, the second is to place a priority on redesigning services that receive more than 10,000 transactions per annum. The strategy also includes principles to develop digital capability across the public sector, build common re-usable components, design accessible and inclusive services and deliver these services through a single Northern Ireland government website.

‘16 by 16’

The headline for this digital transformation programme is ‘16 by 16’ in which 16 online projects are planned to be delivered by mid-2016. In order to select the processes that are set within this bracket, a threshold of 10,000 transactions per year was set. If a service is used more than that, it is placed in the 16 x 16 priority bracket but if used less than 10,000 times, the service will be developed by the specific department’s digital action plan.

The DTS has adopted an AGILE approach to the delivery of these services with many of the services now in different stages of development. The four stages of development are:

•   Discovery: user needs are researched and identified;

•   Alpha: a core service is built to meet main user needs;

•   Beta: the service is improved, then tested in public;

•   Live: the service is public and works well. It will be continually improved to meet user needs.

At present the nine services classed as live include the family history search, online map sales, waste carrier registration, career tools, landlord registrations and planning appeals. There are also seven services currently in Beta including farm payments, flood reporting, the registration of births and a careers chat service. Services currently in the discovery stage include prison visit services and school transfer and open enrolment services.

In 2015 these nine live services accounted for 2.8 million transactions and the nidirect website had 29 million visitors, an increase of 29 per cent on 2014. The number of Northern Ireland’s citizens who now have access to the internet is 81 per cent, a 4 per cent increase on 2014 and 90 per cent of customers using NICS digital services expressed their satisfaction with the services on offer.

In keeping with commitments made at the 2013 G8 summit at Lough Erne the DTS has also developed an open data strategy supporting the access of non-personal government held electronic data sets for use by anyone without restriction. The Open Data Strategy for Northern Ireland was endorsed last year and since formal endorsement of the strategy, the open data team has been engaging with NICS departments and other public sector bodies to identify high value data sets.

Shared services

The delivery of these digital services facilitates the use of crosscutting and the use of digital shared services. The concept of delivering services to the public with an efficient ‘develop once deploy anywhere’ approach is a central theme to this digital transformation and one that encourages the adoption of shared services.

An example of this is the Northern Ireland public sector shared service data centre. In October last year BT secured a contract for the provision of two secure, high availability data centres. BT will manage the operation of the facilities while the public sector will be responsible for the IT systems within the facilities.

The new data centres are expected to offer a much more efficient IT system for the public sector. The centres will offer a high level of security and operational stability assured by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) and the national technical authority for information assurance (CESG), providing a strong and secure foundation for Northern Ireland’s IT systems.

In the development of the service, public purse value-for-money was a key consideration and as such, any organisation that chooses to use the service can expect to see significant operational cost savings. The centres are designed to be environmentally friendly and have pre-installed infrastructure to enable fast set up and low on-boarding charges.

Anticipating the growth in demand for these centres, both have been sized for expansion and should cover public sector needs until 2032.

They will replace a wide range of smaller, less efficient facilities and are expected to save the Department of Finance and Personnel £500,000 each year. The anchor tenants for the new data centres will be HSC Business Services Organisation, IT Assist and Translink.

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