Police LogoWith the Government setting out potential revenue savings of £1.8bn a year through the adoption of their “Digital by Default” strategy I wonder how much thought has been given to how well the type of online services that are going to be introduced match with the likelihood that their prospective users are comfortable or even capable of using them. My experience within the Police and Criminal Justice area showed that the success or failure of online initiatives can vary enormously and can be very difficult to predict. For example when Charles Clarke, as Police Minister, launched a nationwide online service that allowed people to report non-emergency Crimes such as criminal damage or petty theft through a website the expectations were high. Much work was done around the design of the transaction, the security of the transmissions to individual forces and the need to interface with existing systems. So what happened when it went live …. nothing, no one used it, anywhere. Eventually we started to get the occasional transaction but typically these numbered no more than 1 or 2 a month. Some Police forces put terminals with the system into Police station reception areas in a kiosk type mode but this was not really what they were designed for and it merely served to boost the number of transactions slightly. No, the public, or at least those who were victims or crime either did not want to use it or would not use it. Unfortunately, as with many failures, the “post mortem”, such as there was one, was more about minimising the damage to credibility rather than trying to understand why a perfectly sound idea had been such a flop. Contrast this with the launch of the online Crime Mapping in 2009, by Vernon Coaker, another Labour Police Minister. This service was probably less well thought through than the online Crime recording in that it required each force to implement its own system, though most chose a common supplier. From its launch the service became an immediate success and is now the most frequently used Government online service with 400,000 visits a month being typical. So why the enormous variation? Was it the type of transaction that was the factor, are people uncomfortable about putting details of crimes into a computer or do they want someone to talk to, so that they can share their misfortune? Are the 18% of people who are not online much more likely to be victims of crime and so not in a position to use the service? Frankly we do not know, but before Government departments start to move their wide range of transactions online they need to make sure that those that they digitise first are truly going to be used, otherwise they will find the planned savings will not be realised in anything like the required timescale.