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The Government Digital Service (GDS): planning, delivering and measuring critical enhancements to GOV.UK

The Challenge

The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) is leading the digital transformation of government. It runs the high-profile GOV.UK website, the portal for UK government services and information.  It also builds services such as GOV.UK Verify, a way of confirming users are who they say they are.  GDS required additional digital engineering expertise to complement its multi-skilled teams, working on a range of public-facing projects. Following the success of our early involvement, the requirement in terms of numbers later grew significantly.

Our Solution

 We provided and then expanded a cohort of software specialists to plan, deliver and measure critical enhancements to GOV.UK and other flagship digital projects.

Improving site navigation

We initially provided digital engineers to play a key role in the team tasked with making it easier for the public to find information on GOV.UK. We were looking at the education area, which was the first part of the site to be improved in this manner.

We were involved in designing new ways of navigating the website, defining how best to display information and building new pages. We ran both one-to-one user tests and large-scale comparative A/B tests to ensure the changes were beneficial, and weren’t adversely impacting any user group. All this work followed agile approaches, meaning we were continually assessing analytics and user test data and making improvements.

Innovative A/B testing framework

To deliver the A/B testing, our engineers were key in creating a flexible new framework for performing such tests at scale. The aim was then for this to be used across the whole GOV.UK website in the future.

Search engine enhancements

We played a part in improving the GOV.UK search engine. Again, this was to help people find the right information more quickly. We proposed and delivered a number of changes, analysing A/B test data to ensure they made things better for users, making tweaks based on the results.

Growing the Softwire presence

The success of our involvement in these projects was one reason GDS selected Softwire again when it required assistance with GOV.UK Verify. We significantly grew the number of Softwire engineers at GDS to support this flagship delivery.

Audit system for sustainable content management

We’ve also been involved in building a new system to enable all government departments to review their GOV.UK content more easily. This is a key part of the measures being taken to ensure the site content continues to provide the greatest value to visitors, and can be managed sustainably as information volumes grow.

Supporting live availability of GOV.UK

As well as the project work, our engineers have spent time on the support team responsible for ensuring GOV.UK is available to users round-the-clock. At the time of writing, our people remain involved with GDS, contributing to a number of ongoing projects.

The Result

Data shows our work has helped make GOV.UK easier to navigate, manage and enhance

The new navigation approaches and improved site search engine were Next steps for GDS will be to develop and implement similar approaches across other parts of GOV.UK.  On the search side, exit rates from the search results pages have decreased by an estimated 200,000 per year, while the annual number of results clicked has gone up by around 1.17 million.

As planned, the innovative A/B testing framework we built has been used elsewhere on GOV.UK, enabling GDS to easily carry out large-scale testing of new features and improvements. The content audit tool is being beta tested by one department and is due to go into public beta, while GOV.UK Verify is in use and continues to be rolled out to support and transform more local and central public sector services.

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Ruby; JavaScript; jQuery; HTML; CSS; Elasticsearch; Microservices; A/B testing; Minitest; RSpec; Capybara; Cucumber

The project
Assist the UK government with key parts of its high-profile digital transformation, including GOV.UK.

The results
Our people have contributed to a variety of improvements, making GOV.UK easier to navigate, manage and enhance.