Improved thinking

March 8, 2011

The new report from the Institute for Government entitled System error: fixing the flaws in government IT is a welcome approach to a long known issue, that of government IT project management. What is also welcome is that the report points to Canada and Australia, rather than the USA for best practice. I’ve frequently promoted the Canadian model on this blog, along with the occasional Australian example, but for far too long we have been taking our guide from the USA, the Canadian model has also had the benefit of being formed in an ‘age of austerity’.

Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer at the Cabinet Officer is one of those involved in this production, along with former Government CIO John Suffolk. Ian was reported by Computer Weekly welcoming the report at the launch event.

The word that reverberates through the report is ‘agile’, but also we are finally being expected to consult the user. The nature of agile is that it encourages ‘commoditisation’ of applications, and if the government were to follow the suggested Australian route of ‘opt-out’, there is more chance of not re-inventing wheels.

There appears to be a lot of buy-in across central government to the report, so perhaps we should wait and see what happens. However, I gather the ‘skunkworks‘ is in operation, so the fruits of their labours may soon be evident!


Where’s Watmore?

July 6, 2010

When the announcement came that Ian Watmore was returning to the Cabinet Office as Chief Operating Officer of the Efficiency & Reform Group it was interesting to look back at his last words. He’s only been gone a year so things won’t have changed much, apart from the Ministers, that is!

Intriguingly, Philip Virgo, considering the same matter in his Computer Weekly blog, announcing it as  “The return of the Jedi“, whilst he gets heavy and  considers it in the context of  Gibbons’ Decline of the Roman Empire. Philip then wonders whether Ian’s return brings us back to the ‘transformational government’ era or will we actually get the ‘new localism’ being promised.

I hope that  having John Suffolk and Ian Watmore back together may bring about an era of ICT-enabled change rather than the heavy-handed slash and burn expected, although some big savings will still need to happen. John Suffolk’s blog has remained remarkably silent since before the election (16 April 2010), I wonder what he’s thinking?

In any case, Ian’s move shows things must have been bad at the FA. But in my view, definitely a case of “out of the frying pan into the fire.”


Researching digital government

June 8, 2010

Since the UK elections things seem to have gone quiet in terms of detail about e-government and e-participation, although there is plenty of “big talk” going on about consultation and making government information more freely available. However, a number of bloggers including John Suffolk, haven’t stirred from the election purdah, so I thought I’d take a different direction this time and promote a tool for researchers internationally.

Just in case anybody out there is research e-government and hasn’t come across the contribution made by Jochen Scholl through the Digital Government Society of North America of a brilliant list of peer-reviewed references, here it is.

The Digital Government Society makes available to members and non-members version 6.5 (May 20, 2010) of the E-Government Master Library in EndNote TM (Version X2) XML format or a Package Version in ZIP format.

Version 6.5 of the e-Gov EndNote reference library now contains 3,690 references of predominantly English language, peer-reviewed work. The number of qualifying references in the library has increased by 171, or 4.9 % over version 6.0 (January 2010).

My own thesis contained nearly 600 references when I finished the literature review bu then I fell over this more recently! It’s an excellent resource for serious researchers.


The Final Edition?

January 27, 2010

The Government ICT Strategy having been incrementally revealed by both the Government CIO and the Opposition appears in its final form today, 27th January 2010! The full report is available on the CIO section of the Cabinet Office web site along with a video introduction by John Suffolk. The fact that the PDF is numbered ’4′ indicates it’s had a couple of updates since last year!

The report and two subsections are available on that wonderful web site writetoreply for those who want to comment on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis.

To start with a gripe, the document comes up with a new slant on exclusion (page 8) i.e. those who are excluded from traditional methods, such as the young people for whom ‘Frank’ was put in place for. How they are excluded from face-to-face and telephone is news to me, since they are able to use them, it’s just not fashionable when you are of a certain age, unlike those who are physically excluded by disability or lack of ability.

There are also plenty of mentions of ICT being used for service delivery, but this does not appear to be past the back office. At a local level we still have face-to-face and telephone customers and they aren’t converting to the web overnight. We still have to deliver a range of applications to mobile officers, elected members, home workers and those sharing premises with others, in and out of government.

There is also mention of security but the recent heightened security measures in local government, which were probably well needed, have still caused various issues with democracy and service delivery at the grass-roots.

With the recent launch of data.gov.uk I would also have expected some mention of making datasets public, and whilst there is mention of brands of XML, I didn’t spot topics like RDF in there, which is one current topic of conversation when talking open data. If data from local government is to be made public, data and metadata standards will need to be embedded in the developer community and time taken to implement them!

Overall I don’t think it’s vastly different from version 1 and I don’t imagine much different under any government. Central government makes heavy use of ICT, so it’s about time they started procuring, running and using it all with some central control, with the least cost-to-desktop possible. For local government and some government services things may be slightly different but singing from the same hymn sheet might lead to us singing the same song, even if not quite in tune.

As well as ‘data.gov.uk’, I also searched on ‘democracy’, without success, so we are obviously not getting involved in the politics of it all! Similarly for ‘Web 2.0′ and ‘Social Media’.

Might we now see a ‘process strategy’ so that we sort them out before sticking greener and wizzier ICT all over the civil service?


Open strategy

December 3, 2009

So, the Conservative Party have leaked a leaked copy of the draft Government IT Strategy! I’d been privvy to an early draft through the Local CIO Council and hadn’t really thought anything was worth shouting about. In fact I’m not really sure that another government would do any much different, apart from branding and terminology. Whilst I am a strong believer in, and my dissertation relates to, “co-production”, I’m not a believer in crowdsourcing per se, it’s a bit like mob rule or, even worse, minority rule or oligarchy, which is apparently the Conservative Party rationale for leakage. I had wondered if it had been a deliberate leak on John Suffolk’s part but I gather from the Cabinet Office that this was not the case, however they do insist it was an early draft and that the feedback will be very useful!

This is the leakage is latest Conservative version of a Conservative ICT non-strategy and not some little way from their earlier rallying cries around “open source”,  “open gov” and “open data”. On the W3C group on e-government, someone recently posted a list of alternative “definitions” for such data and here they are with credit to Winchel “Todd” Vincent III of
<xmlLegal> http://www.xmllegal.org/ This may be developed as part of the groups work but the original is his.

“Unavailable: You simply cannot get the data.  Data is cost prohibitive to publish. There may be security or privacy reasons not to publish.  Or, simply, no one ever thought to publish the data.

Not Translated: Data is available, but exists in a different language than the end user’s language.

Paper: Data is available, but it is only available on paper.

Free: Data is available at no cost and without restrictions.

Fee Based: Data is available, but only for a fee.
— Public: Fee Based: Government provides data for a fee.
— Private: Fee Based: Private company provides data for a fee.

Copyright: Data is available (in some way) but there are copyright restrictions on republication or reuse.

Copyright with License: Data is available (in some way), there is a copyright, but also a license that allows some use (other than all rights reserved).

Public Domain: Data is available (in some way) and is in the public domain, so there are no restrictions on use of the data.

Electronic: Data is available electronically.

Electronic: Web Browser or Paper-Like Electronic Document Format: Data is available but only via a web browser or an electronic document format and not in an easily parsed format (where Images/Graphics, HTML, XHTML, PDF, Word, and Word Perfect do not count as easily parsed formats).

Electronic: Structured Format: Data is available electronically and in a structured format.  A structured format would include delimited text, spreadsheet, XML, and the like.

Electronic: Structured Format: Schema: Data is available electronically and in a structured format.  Additionally, there is a schema available that defines the structured format.

— Government Schema: A government promulgates the schema. The schema may or may not be in the public domain.

— Standards Body Schema: A recognized standards body promulgates the schema.  Schema is licensed under a “copyleft” (perpetual, free, but with restrictions not to modify) or similar license (typical of W3C, OASIS, but not all “recognized” standards bodies).

— Private Schema:  A private company promulgates the schema.  The schema may or may not have licensing restrictions associated with it.

Electronic: Browser/Viewer: Electronic data, whether structured or not, is available only via a web browser or other viewer for viewing.

Electronic: Download: Electronic data, whether structured or not, is available to download.  Here, download means a “manual” download. Some manual user input must be done to download the data (e.g., downloading a spreadsheet or structured text file via an HTTP link or FTP) to the user’s local machine.

Electronic: Web Service: Electronic data, typically structured, is available via a web service (meant in a generic way, not specific to a technology) for machine consumption.  There is some standard, specification, or documented publication rules, such that machines can reliably access the data on an ongoing basis.  The point here is not the format of the data, but the reliability and availability of the connection to the data, so that machines can get to the data feed without human intervention.

Each of these qualities makes the data more or less “open” or “accessible” as a practical matter.  There are  many combinations of these that one could put together.”

If anybody in UK wants to remember the recent history of the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG), they’ll remember the local property data expensively gathered with great efforts spent cleansing it. The authorities who have spent large sums of money are now likely to find this being given away. There is current effort on matching this data with that from the Electoral Register, this is the Coordinated Online Register of Electors (CORE) project. One of the issues around propert data in recent times has been resistance from the Royal Mail which produces the postcode file to allow any fee-free use of the PAF. So local authorities are expected to give away data that has been expensively cleansed in order that private organizations may profit – if that is the Conservative plan – to see it given it away like North Sea Oil, public transport, British Gas etc etc. The comment is that public money paid for it, so the public should have it – but what if they have to pay twice?


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