What has happened to the United Kingdom's dominance as the world's leader in Government-to-Business digital service delivery? For years they were well in front of the pack, but in recent times they seem to have thrown in the towel. But why has this happened?

Bad policy ≠ good economics

Put simply the UK's policy direction is now firmly about removing government from helping businesses start and grow. Instead the free market is expected to deliver this function.

This no doubt saves Her Majesty’s Government a lot of cash when it comes to its austerity push - Business Link cost £35 million a year but delivered over ten times that amount in time and money savings to business and additional profit - £376 million in 2009. Subsequent changes in the UK fragmented digital service delivery to business. While Business Link was shut down, investment in multiple areas across government spurred on other costs. And without a single location for business to find what they needed to start, grow and comply with regulation they were given the run-around. Never a good customer experience for busy business owners!

With a multitude of private sector websites filling the UK's void, businesses aren’t getting the full picture about their corporate and industry regulatory responsibilities. That’s bad for business as they don’t know what they don’t know. But yet they are entirely accountable for it.

One example of this is the private sector site Donut. They structure their site to include industry sectors, but these are a thin veneer with little useful contextual information. When we checked Donut’s sector based offering it was promoting pig farming. But the information for pig farmers appears to be nothing more than generic business information. Not a single piece of contextual information, regulation or service except for the words “Pig farming”, a brief paragraph and a Shutterstock photograph of a farmer bizarrely on a laptop next to pigs.

Donut's limited approach to a customer centred view for pig farmers

What still sits with government, doesn't rest well with business customers

The UK Government still has some information about pig farming on .GOV.UK, the combined business and citizen replacement for Business Link and DirectGov. However it is far from customer centred. The closest they have is information for farming businesses. But from there it’s a laundry list with no focus on the types of farming businesses. Information for pig farmers is peppered across multiple locations and is often not linked up:

GOV.UK's laundry list of Farming business links


Industry information is scattered around .GOV.UK instead of taking a customer centric view

Not being nostalgic, but sometimes the old ways were better

While Business Link was far from perfect (we’ve mentioned its short-comings before) its customer centricity meant business owners got everything they needed to know. This included not just business related information but relevant industry content and services in one easy location. Compare the Donut and GOV.UK examples above with how the United Kingdom previously brought together information in one consolidated customer-centric view:

Business Link - pig farming content

As you can see  it is focused clearly around customer needs and intuitively groups related content. Sure its design and layout is now dated but you can’t be perfect. Why the UK chose to turn its back on customers for the sake of an ideologically driven policy stance astounds me.

Trust: throwing away Government's single biggest asset

The other big issue with the UK Government abandoning its business and industry information provision is the loss of trust for the business owner.

While business customers may not trust individual politicians they generally trust in the institutions of government. They trust the information supplied is accurate, up to date and impartial. When government hands over its responsibilities to the free market it immediately shifts the dynamic from trust to revenue. Private sector providers have one key focus: maximising the profit to their shareholders. As a result, information provided now upsells the customer to paid offerings, which may or may not be needed or aren't the right fit for business customers.  It loses the impartiality that a Government-to-Business website achieves. This can be overt with specific saleable products or more subtle as Donut does with links to sponsored authors’ websites and advertising:

Donut's upsell to saleable products erodes business customer trust

This summary should give your government a grounding in some of the significant flaws with the current UK model. Hopefully it will save you - and the businesses in your jurisdiction - a massive headache by avoiding the current UK approach.

Note: For full transparency Government2Business’ director and article author, Gavin Atkinson, advised and delivered projects for Business Link between 2007 and 2009.