HM Revenue & Customs Digital has said it is exploring new technologies such as blockchain to revolutionise how users interact with importing and exporting services.
Chief Digital and Information Officer Mike Potter advised the government take advantage of emerging technologies such as blockchain to improve life for its users, when speaking at Tech UK’s PS2030 conference last week.
He announced at the event: “We have now built a proof of concept based on blockchain that demonstrates that you can actually get all of the 28 organisations that act at the border to coordinate all of their risk and intervention, so we only do it once and we do it well.”
Potter claimed a common bugbear for those attempting to use official services was the disjointed nature of separate departments: “Users just simply don’t understand the machinery of government and how it works, and frankly, they don’t want to know, and they shouldn’t need to know either. So we have to change the way that government works.”
But some organisations, such as the Institute for Government (IfG), have voiced concerns that new tech may be distracting HMRC from delivery of a smooth Brexit. In a report titled Implementing Brexit: Customs published last Monday, the IfG said that the government had offered no clarity on what technology it was trialling, and what ICT changes it considered realistic before exit on 29th March 2019.
In a mixed update, HMRC Chief Executive Jon Thompson later told MPs on Thursday that that engineering teams had completed 50% of the development work behind the new framework. However, he also admitted that he could not make any guarantees as to whether it would be ready on time for ‘day one’.
An ‘API Economy’
HMRC is one of the government departments now free to transform itself after the conclusion of the Aspire contract in June – a multi-department outsourcing IT deal with giants Capgemini and Fujitsu which may have swallowed up to 84% of HMRC’s annual IT budget. With internal control restored, Potter noted that HMRC was working on other quality-of-life projects too, such as the implementation of application programming interfaces (APIs).
In April HMRC opened its APIs to third party software, meaning that government branches can now share information. Mr. Potter claimed that a ‘flourishing API economy’ would rid departments of siloed behaviour. He said: “We can expose information and share it more widely across government, which I think is going to be the most powerful catalyst for change over the coming years.”
He noted: “If you have a child, we will tell other people in government,” and continued with another example that once a business is registered, Companies House would also be informed.
He said: “This will fundamentally improve the experience. Why can we not do that across the whole of government? Where you tell us once, we transact as many times as we need to; but you only need to interact once.”