Digital Government GaaP Series

Government as a Platform: The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

This is the latest in a series of articles by Larry Larkin that looks at GaaP. Read them all.  

There’s a debate going on in the UK regarding what the Government Digital Service (GDS) is going to deliver – a true Government as a Platform (GaaP) service model that transforms the way government does business and blows up the monolithic siloed system mold or just a “platform-looking” variation of current systems based on updated technology – the latter being referred to as a “Platform for Government” or PfG.

In a very interesting article, Mark Thompson, a leading (and very vocal) proponent of GaaP in the UK, cautions that the British government may be heading down the PfG path, largely as a result of scant engagement by senior civil servants and politicians and strong lobbying by large system integrators – who have the most to lose from the implementation of a true GaaP service delivery model. In short, civil servants are sniffy about a model that many see as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Not all see it that way.

So what’s the difference between GaaP and PfG? According to Thompson, their contrasting characteristics are shown in the table below.

The differences between GaaP and PfG (Source: Adapted from Mark Thompson’s article: “Government as a platform, or a platform for government? Which are we getting? See link in post).
The differences between GaaP and PfG (Source: Adapted from Mark Thompson’s article: “Government as a platform, or a platform for government? Which are we getting?” See link in post).

So why is it important? As Thompson puts it: “The distinction here – and government’s choice – between a blueprint for GaaP that supports participation versus one that supports mere access, is critical. The former is about democratic re-invigoration, and the latter is about – well, just technology. Participation is much more disruptive to existing modes of organising within government.”

Stay tuned.

Digital Government GaaP Series Government Cloud

So What Exactly is “Government as a Platform?”

These days, “Government as a Platform” has become a very popular topic in the eGovernment community. It has been touted by some as the foundation that will enable citizen eParticipation on a scale that will finally realize the promise of eDemocracy. What I’ve also found is that there is widespread confusion as to what GaaP really means – which is probably caused by the myriad of definitions or, shall I say, interpretations, of what GaaP is.

Tim O’Reilly introduced the concept of GaaP in 2009. In its simplest form, GaaP is “…an open platform that enables anyone with a good idea to build innovative services that connect government to citizens, give citizens visibility into the actions of government and even allow citizens to participate directly in policy-making.”

Figure 1. The GaaP concept from an IT nuts and bolts perspective.
Figure 1. The GaaP concept from an IT nuts and bolts perspective.

At the IT architecture level, the basic idea here is that instead of each agency/department providing services through siloed enterprise applications, there is a common, government-wide IT platform through which all these services are delivered. Within this cloud-based platform, common functions such as communications, identity and access management, and web services are implemented as shared utilities (“shared capabilities” in GaaP parlance) – instead of replicating them in each silo.


The benefits are not only a simpler architecture but lower risk and costs. Functions unique to an agency/department would still be provided by that organization. Figure 1 depicts a simplistic example. A more detailed – and very humorous example – is provided in a video by change management consultant Mark Foden.

One of the first – and most successful – implementations of a digital government platform is Britain’s National Health Service’s NHS Jobs e-recruitment service.

Prior to 2003, recruiting for NHS jobs was done on a regional basis by 600+ providers, each of which ran their own recruiting program and facilities. TUK’s Department of Health and its consultants worked with all NHS providers to standardize on a single recruitment platform which, when implemented, opened job opportunities to workers nationwide. By eliminating duplication and inefficiencies due to redundancy, the platform-based e-recruiting system has saved over US$1.6B/£1B in its first nine years of operation.

Cost efficiencies are just the tip of the iceberg (or perhaps the icing on the cake) with regards to the benefits GaaP brings. In Part 2 of the series, we will examine how GaaP can transform government the way Web 2.0 transformed the Internet.

Read Larry’s full series of posts on GaaP.  

(You may also want to read this post by David Moody).