RIP Directgov

Just under nine years ago, I started work on a project that to this day stands out from the crowd. That project was the delivery of Directgov.

Previously, we had completed the arduous task of building a new website delivery system for government, from soup to nuts. Both the front-end and the back-end were highly bespoke, the vision being a single content repository and delivery mechanism for all UK government content. Its name was DotP.

Traction was slow. Without a mandate, we relied on selling the concept to other government departments, and had some success. First, ukonline.gov.uk was ported from its unwieldy and expensive HTML platform provided by BT Syntegra. I then project managed the migration of dh.gov.uk to the new platform. (More specifically, it involved the replacement of doh.gov.uk with dh.gov.uk, a stroke of genius that made the migration that bit simpler and the branding that bit clearer. But that’s another story.)

A couple of other small websites came to join the party before the concept of Directgov was introduced.

As I remember, the project kicked off in November 2003. We enlisted offshore support to allow us to hit some very aggressive content entry deadlines. We implemented a radical (and in my opinion confusing) information architecture at the behest of the business. And we went live in January 2004. As project manager, I gave a written status update on 25 December 2003, and a verbal one to Andrew Pinder, the e-Envoy, on Boxing Day. Yet again, we delivered on time.

The hard launch followed in May 2004, and on 9 July I left the Cabinet Office to venture to New York for new experiences. I looked back on the project very fondly. I even cried during my leaving speech, such was the importance of the project, and more importantly the team, to me personally. (It was probably also influenced by me being a rather emotional person. But that aside…)

In mid-2006, we headed back to London to start our next chapter. While I remembered Directgov, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind – until we hit London. It was on the back of buses, on billboards, and even had a TV campaign. Its URL and its distinctive orange branding adorned every government website, and it was a big deal. A very big deal. It had much, much greater prominence than its UK online predecessor had enjoyed.

The DotP platform was retired 40 days shy of its fourth birthday, on 14 March 2007, upon DH’s migration to Stellent. (Directgov moved off the platform two months prior to this.) Directgov the website will be retired tonight, making way for www.gov.uk, the new government offering.

I wish its successor well. A good number of my good friends are involved in the project, and I wish it every success: for them, for its audience (of 15 million visitors per month), and as the next instalment in the story of the single point of entry for government. Directgov has had a very good life, and I am proud to this day to have played a key role in its inception.

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