Three things inspired me to write this:
- Dave Briggs' excellent piece on GaaP
- This week I'll be attending a Local CIO Council workshop on Place as a Platform.
- This FOI request to Worcestershire County Council.
GaaP isn't really a new concept. The idea of a single, cross-organisation platform has been around for decades and those with the view that GaaP should just have a single service developed for each function (an opposing view to Dave's) are really calling for a return to the old days of having one system for common applications, bulk data processing, and so on. This should probably be called Government as a Mainframe (GaaM), but that's another debate.
Elements of the open version of GaaP have been around for a while too; take Open 311. Rewind to four years ago, and I worked with Fix My Street to create an Open 311 Service. There's a good piece about Open 311 here, but basically it means that service requests made via Fix My Street go straight into the system the back-office use.
So the service request bit of GaaP already exists in a growing number of local authorities and if you're creating a platform for government and you're not considering common standards like Open 311 for reporting, OAuth for authorisation, and the variety on schema.org, you're probably developing a proprietary platform that leans more towards GaaM than GaaP.
So what does an open platform, using common standards enable? Many things, but in the context of this piece it creates a new market for software developers to create applications that use council services, for the public. This is a good thing for many reasons, three of which are:
- It facilitates a move for private sector companies who currently design for councils, to designing for users, and as users understand their own needs better than anyone else the service is far more likely to meet user need. Should a shift to design around user need be happening anyway, yes, but is it, probably not, and definitely not as fast as it should be.
- It frees council services from the confines of their own GOV.UK website, making them far more versatile. I discussed this here, but it'll mean that the likes of Fix My Street or roadworks.org will be possible for every local government service.
- It creates choice, and it'll be possible to have multiple applications that use the same end-to-end service. Is this a waste, perhaps, but it's not a waste of public money and if you were to consider every unsuccessful venture purely as a failure rather than also a lesson learnt, the process of improvement would be dramatically slower.
There's a lot more to GaaP than the single aspect I've written about, and you'll see a lot written over the next year. One thing's for sure, GaaP isn't anything for the Private Sector to fear, in fact if done right, we'll see better digital public services and a new market for software developers.