December 22, 2012
I’ve been a Virgin mobile phone customer for years. Not out of amazing loyalty but for the fact that for my basic usage they provide the service at a reasonable cost and when I’ve considered the alternatives there were no major benefits. What does annoy me is that when I want to use their online service to check on things I inevitably get the message “Oops! You weren’t expecting that? Neither were we.” but after some many times I am now expecting it. It crops up when I try to log in, when I want to look at other pages, but all I’m offered is ringing a call centre to carry out what should have taken a minute of my time and will now take ten!
This I believe is what will become of “digital by default” in many cases. One would expect that given the years I’ve been using the site, Virgin would have sorted out these glitches but currently it’s worse than ever. I presume they’re laying off staff like everyone else and by the time the next round of cuts by central government have really impacted on local government, IT support will be a nominal service with the few remaining techies rattling around the empty town halls. Central government has always been somewhat bloated, so it will take a bit longer to hit home there and really affect Ministers but eventually there will be no-one to fix the web site and when the number is rung, no-one there either…
On that cheerful note – Season’s greetings and best wishes for the New Year…
November 18, 2012
In September 2012 I wrote about the Local Government Data Service but since then we’ve seen the publication of the central government Government Digital Strategy, and yet again questions have been asked about why local government hasn’t one or doesn’t get a mention. My riposte is that local government was doing this before the GDS, and it was largely set out in the Socitm publication Planing the Flag. Meanwhile Socitm has published a briefing entitled “The new Government Digital Strategy: what should local public services take from it?”
Whilst the Socitm briefing is largely a promotion for its website take-up and channel benchmarking services, all that is required by any local authority is to actively gather feedback from its service users about the different channels on offer and to use this to improve them. If this makes possible a shift to channels that are truly cheaper to deliver by web or telephone all well and good. I am, of course, ignoring the ‘digital by default’ diktat within the central strategy. In national terms this means the sharing of best practice amongst local authorities and a lot of cooperation by suppliers in helping to improve delivery, not just raking in short-term profits. This is where open source and open data come in – if the commercial applications use apps that can be cross-fertilised with others and the data can be similarly exposed (securely) across applications the benefits to both councils and citizens will soon become general.
Whilst the Cabinet Office report admits that “most public services are provided by local organisations such as local councils and the NHS”, instead of ignoring local government and starving it of resources, central government needs to cooperate properly and assist in making these changes real. So whilst I congratulate the GDS on producing its strategy I will observe whether it gets the rest of central government to cooperate, and whether it actually cooperates with those areas where “most public services are provided”. I’d also appreciate it if there were fewer questions about why local government isn’t do the GDS thing, and a greater appreciation of the fact that it was there first, just with much less of a marketing team…
November 9, 2012
After the US Presidential election, which has occurred following some dreadful weather that side of the Atlantic, the hoary topic of doing something techie to make voting and counting easier has arisen again. The good old MIT Technology Review has published a piece by David Talbot entitled “Why You Can’t Vote Online – Fundamental security problems aren’t solved, computing experts warn“, where the comments make equally good reading as the article itself. Closely following this was the news in The Register that given the weather the State of New Jersey’s attempt to make life better by instituting a ‘vote by email’ route had collapsed when inboxes filled, and votes were directed to personal email accounts.
In the UK we are going to the polls shortly to elect Police & Crime Commissioners and although the weather will be better, we hope, than the north-eastern coast of the USA, getting some people to the polling station will be very hard. Even if a workable technical solution is produced we still have the lack of quality broadband throughout the UK to deliver it over. Estonia, one of the places where e-voting appears to work has both broadband and identity cards, so two of the difficulties are surmounted already. In the UK and the USA confirming ones identity can be a regular difficulty as has been already stated on this blog.
The trouble with both the UK and the USA is that we have hoary old ‘democratic’ systems that were developed when populations were smaller and less people had representation. There are a lot of wrinkles to be ironed out in the system, before we even bother with making it ‘easier’. One comment on the MIT article effectively states that the person concerned wouldn’t spend the price of a stamp on voting, wouldn’t go to a polling station, but might consider email – does anyone like that deserve a vote or isn’t it seen to be making enough of a difference?