We expect to start sending our first text messages, emails and letters through GOV.UK Notify in late February or early March 2016. The first people to receive notifications through the platform will be those applying for a lasting power of attorney or getting an MOT. There are a few more services hot on their heels and finally, in the summer, we plan to open it up to all of government.
So what will GOV.UK Notify do?
Government receives millions of calls every year, from people anxious to find out where their thing is at. People have to spend time on hold, and running call centres costs a lot of money.
GOV.UK Notify is going to make it easy to keep people informed, by allowing service teams across government to send text messages, emails or letters to their users, before they get anxious enough to call.
There are two ways services will be able to send notifications. They can do a simple integration with their web applications or back office systems, or they can use our interface, to upload batches of messages they’ve built or extracted from other systems.
The platform will provide flexibility and resilience through having a number of SMS, email and post providers. It’ll be straightforward for us to swap these providers in and out, based on price, performance etc, with no effort or impact to the service teams using the platform.
We’ll also manage the procurement of these providers, so service teams don’t have to do any of that for themselves.
What’s the cost?
We intend that each service using GOV.UK Notify will receive an allowance of email, text messages and letters, which, in addition to the running costs for the platform, GDS will pay for as part of central funding. The time, effort and cost of cross charging for relatively small sums of money just don’t add up.
We’re hopeful that many services won’t need more than the free allowance – in which case, GOV.UK Notify will be completely free. We’re working out the allowances and rates, and we’ll provide a clear and transparent model for any costs we’ll need to pass on to service teams.
What are we doing to make this easy?
We want to make it easy to keep users informed, and that extends to making it easy for service teams to use GOV.UK Notify. It’ll be possible to create an account for your service team, or even just to have a play with the platform, without first speaking to anyone. As long as you’re in central government and have an email address ending in ‘gov.uk’, you’ll be able to to sign up, access API keys, build templates and start sending yourself messages.
We’ll restrict it so you can only send notifications to yourself, but you’ll be free to get in and start using the platform. The first time you’ll ever need to talk to us is when you want to ‘go live’ and start sending real notifications to your service users. At that point there will be some quick checks to make sure you are who you say you are, and you’re away.
We’re going one step further to make it easy: as well as the high quality documentation you’d expect with an API, we’ll be providing a number of small integration libraries in various programming languages. So, a few lines of code on the service side, and you have an integration. We’ll build that integration library and hopefully services that build their own in other languages can contribute.
And the future?
The focus as we build the beta is around sending out status updates. Beyond that, there’s a whole world of opportunity where someone could potentially reply to a message to automatically book, change or cancel an appointment, confirm they’d like to renew something, provide additional information - there’s a lot to explore, particularly around the rapidly evolving world of mobile phones.
But that’s for later. For now, we’re busy building the platform and we’ll be sharing shortly how we’re tackling the challenges of phishing and spoofing, the guidance we’re developing with service teams around what (and when) good notifications look like.
If you work in central government are interested in using GOV.UK Notify in your service, let us know.