GDS seeks more Verify developers in latest bid to get service working at scale

Written by Rebecca Hill on 9 May 2017 in News

Advert for team of six with a £600,000 budget comes as former privacy adviser calls for a total review and reset of the government’s identity assurance services

The new team will work at GDS' new offices from June - Photo credit: Derwent London

The Government Digital Service is looking to bring in a team of five or six senior developers to boost adoption of its flagship identity assurance programme GOV.UK Verify.

Verify, which went live in May 2016 - four years later than the initial date - aims to offer citizens a single log-in for a range of government service by allowing certified companies to check their identities using payment histories, such as mortgages, and photographic ID.

It has come under repeated fire for its slow progress, with the National Audit Office recently said GDS had “lost focus on the longer term strategic case” for Verify.

However, some commentators have argued that it was set over-ambitious targets from the outset, and the government has continued to back the service, with the Government Transformation Strategy pledging to have 25 million users signed up to Verify by 2020.

But, with just 1.3 million user accounts at the moment, GDS is making efforts to boost adoption of Verify - director general Kevin Cunnington said on taking up the role last year that “sorting out Verify to get it to scale” would be a main priority, while GDS has launched local government Verify pilots and various exercises to hire more Verify staff.

Yesterday (8 May), GDS posted an opportunity notice on the Digital Marketplace that asks for a team of developers to work on European identities, improving the way government services connect to the service and on the document checking service.

“We require additional development capability for a large number of projects on a flexible basis,” the notice said.

“The aim is to drive the adoption of Verify through delivering on the technical projects described and thereby making the project work better for citizens.”

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The work must start by 3 July and is expected to run for six months, with a budget between £550,000 and £650,000 for a team of five or six senior or lead developers.

It will include the design, installation, testing and maintenance of software systems and working in pair and mop programming, and the notice sets out four main areas of work, including frontend testing and continuous development on the document checking service.

The notice also indicates an interest in Europe, with another area of work being related to the European electronic identification services regulation eIDAS - which Verify is already aligned with.

This, it says, will be “working to consume identities from Europe, and potentially allow re-use of Verify identities in Europe”.

The final work strand will be on improving how government services onboard to use Verify - despite initial predictions that 100 services would be signed up by 2016, there are currently just 12 central government services signed up, and nine of these offer alternatives to Verify.

GDS is also working on reducing the level of assurance needed for people to register on the service - the existing, high level of assurance is necessary for some services, for instance ensuring benefits are paid to the right person, but is onerous when it comes to services like buying a parking permit.

Another issue that has faced the Verify team is the number of users that fail to complete the process - the completion rate currently stands at just over 50% - and among the milestones set out in the 8 May notice is that there should be a 5-10% improvement per quarter.

GDS has previously said it is trying to tackle drop-off by assessing error logs to identify problem areas and allowing users to pause the process and come back later.

The push for more developers comes a week after PublicTechnology revealed that more than half of the councils originally signed up to the local government pilot of Verify had dropped out, which commentators suggested was because of unrealistic expectations of the work involved in the project.

Former privacy adviser calls for complete review of Verify

Meanwhile, Verify has also come in for a scathing attack from technologist Jerry Fishenden - who last week quit his role as government privacy adviser - and called for a complete review of the service, with “credible leadership and a viable strategy” established.

Writing in ComputerWeekly, Fishenden said that Verify was “struggling” to meet user needs, even after they were simplified, and that slow progress suggests a “poor use” of agile processes.

Among his criticisms are the “apparent lack of focus” on how Verify can be used with application programming interfaces, a lack of clarity on how much the companies are charging government for using Verify services, poor user experience and competition from initiatives like HMRC’s Government Gateway.

“A significant amount of money, time and resource have been sunk into the Verify platform in particular, but without delivering the results desired or the success repeatedly promised,” Fishenden said.

“GDS needs to follow the principle of ‘physician, heal thyself’ and rigorously apply its own guidance to itself – from a fundamental and honest re-appraisal of user needs and a thorough (re)discovery process, through to a fundamental review of the original business case and the assumptions it made.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The Government Transformation Strategy, released earlier this year, is clear in terms of Verify - it continues to be a key priority for the Government Digital Service."

This article was updated on 9 May to add the Cabinet Office's statement.

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