Digital Government 2020 Deemed “A Huge Success” as Delegates Embrace Virtual

Piers Kelly

As the famous saying goes, “good things come to those who wait”, and whilst we would have preferred to come back together in person for the rearranged Digital Government 2020, delegates, speakers and sponsors alike all deemed the virtual conference “a huge success”. The event, which took place on Tuesday 22nd September, was our department’s first major online conference following the postponement of the physical event, which was due to take place on 12th May in the QEII Centre, London. 


Firstly, we are proud to report that there were 525 active attendees on the day, which represented a rise of 38% on last year’s physical event – but it wasn’t just visitor numbers that stood out. There were 1,131 connection requests sent via our platform in the lead-up to the event itself, as delegates looked to develop their own networks, whilst a total of 2,427 messages were also received, with a further 1,048 discussions created. This very much illustrates that people are still keen to engage and interact with their fellow delegates, even when attending a conference from behind a computer screen.


We were also pleased to see that 84% of attendees watched a seminar session LIVE, which suggests that the agenda, and the content delivered by our esteemed line-up of speakers, addressed key issues from across the sector.


For example, Jen Allum, Head of GOV.UK at Government Digital Services, delivered a thought-provoking keynote presentation that provided insight on how a single domain can transform a government. She explained that the process of moving nearly 2,000 government sites onto one single domain has led to ongoing cost savings of £66m per year, and that annual traffic to GOV.UK is the equivalent of each member of the public visiting the domain 22 times.


Jen also told delegates three of the ways in which GOV.UK was able to respond to COVID-19. Firstly, the team quickly designed and rolled-out a coronavirus landing page that brought together vital information and services across government - and within just 24 hours of launch it had received more than 750,000 page views.


“GOV.UK, as a whole, peaked at 138m page views in a week – and I should add those stats are just from users who consented to analytics tracking, so true volumes would be at least double,” she said. Jen added that these were “unprecedented volumes” and this resource “provided people with a better chance of finding what they needed at that critical time”.


Jen explained that lots of transactional services were built at pace too, with more than 100 new and iterated digital services being stood up by digital teams across government. She said: “We don’t normally run transactional services in GDS, they are usually delivered by the policy owning department, but the coronavirus presented an exception due to the cross-cutting nature of the need. We delivered the clinically extremely vulnerable people service in just four days, to help people who had to stay home for medical reasons, receiving food parcels. We had the first deliveries dispatched within a week, and as of early August, more than 4m boxes of essential food have been delivered to those at highest risk across England.”


Jen also flagged the role of GDS’s common component in allowing services to be developed rapidly and safely. GOV.UK Notify, which lets teams send out email, text and letter notifications cheaply and securely, was key to coronavirus communications. She said the team responded to a 700% increase in demand, adding that “Notify has sent over 1.5bn messages now, and appropriately its one billionth message was sent via a coronavirus service”.


Following Jen Allum, attendees also heard from a number of fascinating speakers during the course of the day, including: Sam Villis, Collaboration Lead, Local Digital Collaboration Unit, MHCLG, on championing digital transformation across local government; Simon King, Deputy Director of Design, Architecture and Strategic Planning, Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), who shared eight rules of innovation; and Matt Edgar, Associate Director for Design and User Research, NHS Digital, who provided an update on digital transformation across healthcare services.


In addition to the keynote presentations, delegates also enjoyed a number of sponsored sessions with leading names including Huawei (our platinum partner), Pure Storage and Rackspace, whilst Huawei and Cadence Innova delivered stimulating roundtable discussions focusing on Digital Technology & Transformation. In fact, more than 30% of attendees joined the Meet the Supplier session hosted by Huawei.


Reflecting on the day, Ashley Lumsden, Head of Government Relations at Huawei, said: “We were delighted to sponsor the conference and we had valuable discussions with attendees about the need to build digital skills and address both connectivity and accessibility, so that the UK can make the most of the opportunities of digital government.”


Laura Wigby, Digital Inclusion Project Co-ordinator at Norwich City Council, who spoke at the conference, added: “The day sparked some interesting debate and conversation around digital inclusion, and particularly around the many barriers that people face in order to engage with the online world. My take-away is that we are all recognising and thinking about how to address these barriers and sharing successes and failures across local and national government really might make the difference at a local level.”


As an event created for digitally minded people, it comes as no surprise that this passionate and driven community were able to virtually come together to share their expertise, whilst discussing and dissecting key issues with such enthusiasm. We were delighted to provide a virtual platform that encouraged such high levels of engagement – and we look forward to hosting our next online event - GovTech 2020 - 21st October.

To view the full agenda for GovTech 2020, click here.