In 2011, the U.K.’s Cabinet Office began work on GOV.UK Verify, also known as the Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP). The program intended to establish one trusted login across all online services provided by the British government. When fully operational, GOV.UK would easily verify a user’s identity in only 15 minutes. 

While this should have added ease and convenience to citizens’ experience, it only caused headaches for the project team. Years later, key targets remain unmet.

Today, we’re diving into the GOV.UK Verify failure. Why did it fail to reach its goals, and what can organizations implementing transformative technology, like ERP software, learn from this mishap? 

The GOV.UK Verify Failure: What Happened?

The GOV.UK Verify program was announced as a flagship digital program for the British government. However, nearly five years after it went live in May 2016, it’s still riddled with a litany of problems.

Many of the key issues impeding the functionality of the GOV.UK Verify program were laid out in scathing detail in a 2019 report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC). In this report, the PAC explained that the system wasn’t delivering enough value for the £154 million invested into it by the British Government Digital Service (GDS).

Increasingly, users were running into roadblocks, finding it difficult to sign up for the login services or access all the government sites. As such, the PAC deemed the system “not fit for purpose”. It also stated that most government departments had ultimately shunned its use altogether.

Initially, the government anticipated that 25 million users would sign up for the service by 2020. However, only 6.7 million had made use of it by May 2020.

Why? Despite several internal and external reviews, the GDS and the Cabinet Office failed to resolve uncertainties and win user trust.

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3 Lessons Learned from This IT Failure

In the PAC report, the committee explained that there were a few key factors that led to the project’s failure. These included too much initial optimism coupled with a lack of planning and inadequate decision-making, among other issues. Let’s take a look at how these missteps contributed to the program’s tepid uptake and steady decline.

1. Project Goals Must be Realistic

When setting the performance targets for any technology implementation, it’s important to be realistic with those goals. Yet, it’s easy to overshoot and miss the mark.

As mentioned, the GDS expected that 25 million people would sign up to use GOV.UK Verify by 2020. In addition, it also projected that at least 46 government services would adopt the platform by March 2018. However, only 22 have done so to date.

Not only were those expected benefits far beyond reach, but poor performance made it nearly impossible for them to achieve those milestones.

One of the most unsettling results? The GDS first claimed that £2.5 billion worth of benefits would be distributed through GOV.UK Verify over ten years. Now, that number has shrunk to £366 million over the course of the tool’s lifetime. 

The takeaway is that it’s critical to understand the true capacity and potential of any system before making claims or projections about its performance. Setting realistic goals in the beginning can help ensure that you meet those objectives in the future.

2. System Testing is Key

The PAC explained that of all the people attempting to use Verify to access their government accounts, only half, on average, are able to do so on their first attempt.

This number dwindles even more for users trying to log into Universal Credit to receive their social security benefits. Though Universal Credit is Verify’s largest customer, only 38% of claimants can use the program successfully when applying.

Not only is this challenge frustrating for online users, but it’s also costing taxpayers more money., The U.K.’s Department for Work & Pensions now anticipates spending roughly £40 million to process manual Universal Credit applications over the next ten years. 

To avoid these issues, we recommend conducting system testing at every stage of your rollout to identify and remediate glitches and technical errors, so they don’t impede usability. In addition, rigorous quality assurance reviews can help you verify system uptime and ensure against lockouts. 

3. Departmental Buy-in is Non-negotiable

The PAC also reveals that the GDS failed to receive buy-in from several key departments before moving forward with the project. As such, the final product didn’t include features that most teams required, and there was much hesitation and change resistance.

One of those teams was HM Revenue & Customs, recognized as the U.K.’s tax, payments and customs authority. Feeling that Verify wasn’t adequate for their department, this team developed its own online registry system, known as Government Gateway. Though this system was decommissioned in March 2019, only around 4% of users on the team made the switch to Verify.

Project leaders must be able to clearly communicate the features and benefits of a new system to every department affected by the change. Just like in an ERP implementation, some degree of organizational change management will be required because it’s never wise to impose a major initiative on an unpersuaded workforce. Be sure to develop a change management plan involving regular meetings to share updates and gather feedback.

Strategies for a Successful Technology Implementation

The issues that came to light during the GOV.UK Verify failure can serve as a valuable lesson to other business leaders embarking on digital transformations

While your core project team can help lead your effort toward success, it all starts with defining manageable, realistic goals. As you work to meet those goals, remember to listen to employee feedback, ensure system components are in excellent working order and test the final system continuously to make sure it’s running without a hitch. 

Our team of ERP consultants has experience with many kinds of enterprise software and digital technology. Let us help you avoid ERP failure as we set your project up for success. Contact us below for a free consultation. 

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