Government Digital Service calls in “hackers” to test its platform

The UK government has hosted a “hack day” to get developers to test out new Government-as-a-Platform components it has been working on over the last few months.

Around 30 developers were invited to the Cabinet Office to help in building a community across government and improve the government’s “products”.

The “hackers” helped the Government Digital Service (GDS) look at a number of platforms and services, such as GOV.UK Pay, GOV.UK Notify, and Government PaaS.

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Teams from Companies House, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office joined others from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Ministry of Justice and NHS Business Services Authority at the event.

“The hack day was a chance for them to build their own mock services to integrate with GOV.UK Pay to take a test payment, then use GOV.UK Notify to send out an electronic payment confirmation automatically,” said GDS in a blog post. “Once they’d done that they could experiment with hosting their service with Government PaaS.”

Developers tested application program interfaces (APIs) to ensure GOV.UK Pay was as “good as possible”. There was also work on improving documentation. A range of programming languages were used in integrating with GOV.UK Pay and taking a test payment, such as Java, Node.js, Python, and Scala, according to the GDS. It added that this only took a few hours to sort out and was successful.

“It showed the low technical barrier to adoption of these new cross government components. It made clear just how much time will be saved by building reusable components that any public service can use, rather than expecting individual services to tackle payments or notifications on their own,” said Rory Smith, associate product manager at GDS.

He added that the day did not go perfectly but when things broke it was a chance to learn about how to improve “our account creation process, increase the robustness of our systems as we move closer to taking real payments later in the year, and identified a number of bugs that need fixing.”

Matt Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office, said the hack day was a “great example of government embracing ways of working we’d usually associate with innovative startups to make sure we deliver on the Government as a Platform vision. 

“Working together like this, across government, will help us recast the relationship between the citizen and the state,” he added.


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