Public Services > Central Government

Creating a world-leading digital platform

Published 27 April 2017

Greg Hands, Minister of State for International Trade and Investment, explains how DIT is leveraging technology to promote and support opportunities for export and investment

 

From the moment the Department for International Trade (DIT) was formed in July 2016, we made the creation of a world-beating digital platform a cornerstone of our plans for promoting and supporting opportunities for export and investment.

In a short period of time and working at considerable pace, we built the  great.gov.uk website which has set new standards for government services.

It gives UK businesses access to millions of pounds’ worth of potential overseas business to help them start or continue exporting and provides a new searchable export directory to match businesses according to the worldwide demand.

Why is this so important?  International trade is vital to the success of the UK economy and crucial to our prosperity, particularly as our role in the world evolves against the backdrop of Brexit.

Yet, only 11 per cent of registered British businesses currently export and one of our challenges is to increase that.

I believe it is incumbent on government to maximise the use of technology to make the best use of taxpayers’ money.

Building on work done by UK Trade and Investment, which was integrated into the new DIT, we recognised our existing digital offering didn’t just need upgrading– we wanted to revolutionise the service.

Working under the Government Digital Service guidelines, our digital experts went through a discovery phase to find out what users wanted, interviewing hundreds of UK businesses, talking to international buyers and consulting with our staff who have an enormous amount of knowledge in this field.

 It was clear that many British exporters did not know what opportunities were out there and overseas investors did not know how to find people in the UK.The solution was to build the best digital trade hub in the world and make it the home of doing business abroad.

When work first started in Summer 2016, we did not want to repeat the IT mistakes of the past by simply outsourcing everything and instead looked at small packages of work that could bring valuable changes quickly, developing a mixed economy of skills from inside and outside the department.

This approach enabled us to change things that were not working and it was also important that this project was interconnected with other work being done within the department and across government.

By November the great.gov.uk website was up and running, offering practical and simple to use services from the start.The platform presents thousands of live export opportunities for which UK businesses can apply.

One of the most important decisions we made was to provide users with a triage service based on their maturity as an exporter. The Help to Sell Abroad section is divided into three parts, each tailored to users needs: those new to exporting; those selling abroad occasionally; and experienced exporters.

There are over a hundred country guides, including six updated and detailed guides for key markets, with more due to be updated this year, giving valuable commercial and cultural insights.

We have also negotiated deals that give our exporters the ability to sell on the world’s biggest e-marketplaces at preferential rates.The site features a Find a Buyer section, a showcase where overseas companies can find British suppliers. Please do sign up if you have a business with goods or services ready to sell.

Foreign investors looking to set up in the UK can find detailed information about key sectors such as automotive, financial services and technology, with guidance on market opportunities and government assistance.

Furthermore, we know language can be a barrier to international trade, so we have done a lot of work to help with translation, for UK and overseas users. We are now in seven languages and  in January 2017 expanded with existing services translated to Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Arabic.

The response so far has been very strong and more than 2,000 UK businesses have already registered on the Find a Buyer service; and we’ve had over 1.6 millions visits.The website is still being developed and is labelled as beta. It will continue evolving and adding services to meet users’ needs.

Even at this relatively early stage, I believe the site is unprecedented and has put down a marker for how the UK government can harness digital technology to improve prosperity.

No other government in the world has done what we have done and I believe it gives Britain a real competitive edge.

Greg Hands is Minister of State for International Trade and Investment







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