We read yesterday on Money Marketing that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), after taking over the Pensions Dashboards project from the Treasury in October, has continued to explore and question the direction the project will go. These explorations could result in a decision to take the dashboard in-house and provide a single, Government-run portal for customers.
One of the most exciting outcomes for the dashboard, from a consumer and technology perspective, is that “the dashboard” is in reality a multitude of dashboards appearing in products and services catering to different individuals. Here’s why this ecosystem approach is so important, and why the Pensions Dashboards project must continue to be built as an open platform.
AOL & CompuServe were media titans in the early days of the Internet. They assembled content and services into “walled gardens”, only accessible to their subscribers. As everyone who built a personal homepage or made a MySpace page knows, this model was overthrown by the open access and publishing model of the World Wide Web. Anyone could publish content accessible by anyone else around the world.
In technical terms, this is an example of putting innovation into the edge of the network - core capabilities are centralised (such as the DNS system and internet connectivity), whilst firms and inviduals are free to create products and services that make use of these core capabilities. Because consumers come in all shapes and sizes, firms are best able to cater to their needs by building as many products and services as necessary, each finding their own commercial niche.
It is a model that has stood the test of time, not only in the web as a content platform, but also in the trend towards large digital data platforms - Facebook, Google, Twitter and many other services offer APIs that allow ecosystems to flourish that build on their services.
Huge numbers of pages in the business press have been dedicated to the power of platforms and APIs. And the UK government has many times championed the value of innovative ecosystems to drive growth and productivity in our economy. Its own Government Digital Service has even been using the term “Government as a Platform” to describe its new standard approach to technology and public services.
It is into this 21st century climate of openness and ecosystem-building that the DWP is exploring its options with the Pensions Dashboards. As mentioned above, this could include centralising the service and limiting how the dashboard can be used.
This would be a mistake. As a participant in April’s Pensions Dashboards TechSprint, I could see first hand how much potential there is for myriad products and services to be built on, or incorporate, data about an individual’s pension arrangements. Without the open platform originally envisioned by the Treasury, the exciting ideas prototyped during the 48-hour event are dead in the water.
This is more than just an argument about exciting new services. Without the ability to build for specific niches that differentiate their firms, providers will have little to no commercial incentive to cooperate on the building of the Pensions Dashboards data set, beyond the threat of fines and legislation. This puts the whole project at risk.
The UK Government, in particular its Digital Service, has a great recent track record of genuine innovation - the DWP must listen to industry on this one and not risk killing the Pension Dashboards before it is even off the ground.