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…
October 28, 2012
It’s probably a decade since I first had anything to do with Agilisys but it was interesting to see that they are still around, and apparently thriving, although the management team seems to have largely changed. What was obvious was that even at the launch of their new platform, Agilisys Digital, the employment of a Google guru doesn’t always work when Joel Lohrey, Industry Head of Education, Government and Non-Profit at Google, comes along and states the obvious. The launch and presentation are picked up in Digital by Default News where Lohrey ‘reveals’ his hints to councils:
- Focus on the user
- Use analytics to determine what point online drops off to offline
- Make it mobile
- Innovate discretely
- Fix My Street (and a US equivalent) are good examples
I wasn’t present and Lohrey may have picked up on this but focusing on the user and the analytics are only of value if one acts upon what one learns and these actions become the discrete innovations. Why I am gobsmacked is because I wonder if this is all the great god Google can teach us? I do hope not. I realise councils cannot and should not carry out some of the optimizing and juggling that Google is apparently capable of and have to play a clean game, but there must be some real lessons?
October 17, 2012
I use nPower as the supplier of my electricity and gas at home, to try to reduce paper bills I use their electronic system so that they email me when they want readings and I submit them to their website. The trouble is it is such an awfully slow website – it really is like waiting for the pages to refresh can take minutes. Similarly, they promoted a beta feature that monitors your energy usage, or rather they used to – it’s still part there but you can’t find it through the search facility and there’s no reporting of energy usage that I can find.
The more I attempt to use private sector web sites I get annoyed about all the criticism that public sector webbies have had over the years. The nPower one is dreadful to navigate, full of their marketing terminology, which is meaningless to a customer. If nPower wish to reduce paper customers and the use of paid meter-readers, they’d better get their act together sharpish. So sad as it’s quite attractive, but it goes like a dog and has less intelligence than the said canine.
I did include a complaint about its performance when I was on there but that was over 48 hours ago, and still no response…
October 13, 2012
When developing plans in the event of an IT disaster one of the many aspects that needs to be covered is the situation when the web site itself or the applications feeding into it go down. One can have all sorts of contingencies around web services including muliple servers, resilient Internet feeds, backup power sources etc but what about that one day when it’s all under water or hit by space debris?
A cheap and dirty, but very good solution is demonstrated by the city of Naperville near Chicago, USA, where they have established an emergency page, as described in their local online journal – Positively Naperville. Now I may be teaching all you IT and Web Managers out there to suck eggs but do you have such a thing ready for a nasty disaster. A quick and temporary pointer change and your citizens will know which number to ring or where to visit if your main site goes down – just remember to maintain it, too.
The trouble with all this wizzy IT equipment is that without spending an awful lot more cash upon it one is open to all sorts of potential issues, and what can go wrong will go wrong and at a time when you least want it. Prepare for the unexpected – it’s inneviatble at some time.
September 7, 2012
There have been a couple of blog posts and a lot of Tweets recently from well-known characters in the local government web scene regarding establishing/creating/facilitating a Government Data Service (GDS)* but this time for local government. The only concern I voiced was that we had trod this ground before in various formats, including some of the early e-government projects/programmes.
Some of the posts/Tweets were by Carl Haggerty – The Local GDS question – again… and Stuart Harrison – Local GDS: A Skunkworks for Local Government , along with Dominic Campbell and probably others I’ve failed to mention (apologies!). Whilst I no longer have any real involvement in this, not being an IT manager, member of Socitm committees, member of the Local CIO Council (LCIOC) etc anymore I have been party to related conversations over the years including a discussion with the GDS team themselves at their launch who had obviously seen the reality that a lot of the contact with the citizen is at a local government level so were busily (or should I say agilely) developing at least one app for a local government service – I did offer to trial it in a large rural area since it was obviously based upon a city-dweller’s personal experience, and have no idea what happened to it in the end. A Local GDS would have taken this into account (hopefully) whilst the GDS could have focused on the ‘big data’ at their end.
Carl gave a good lead on the LGDS concept by saying it exists already, which it does in many ways, if informally as far as the local government hierarchy is concerned – but there are too many in government interested in controlling things, so it may need to avoid strangulation. Carl mentions talking to the LGA and since they have been in involved in various meetings with Socitm and the LCIOC, they should (in theory) help with the joining up? One of the ‘bodies’ mentioned was LeGSB which has been on the scene for years and been quietly productive – thank you Paul Davidson – which is quietly doing some related work, since one of the fundamentals is getting some STANDARDS in place if this is to work across 400+ LA’s.
I agree with Carl in that it needs some clear thinking, we’ve been here before and there is a tendency for great ideas to be strangled by bureaucracy and people wanting to make a name/well-paid-job for themselves. I don’t think the GDS team is a great example for local government, they’ve been spoiled with the central government budget, although they have learned to consult the end-user, which is ultimately what it’s all about.
Don’t let it get too southern-centric, there are citizens past Birmingham. Some good work has been going on in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so don’t ignore them either. A quick audit of what is happening and has happened is probably worth doing (LGA?) and then decide what quick wins can be made from some agile working across multiple boundaries. But please, please, please don’t reinvent wheels.
* References to ‘data’ should of course be ‘digital’ – brain operating on another planet that day – reminded when making cup of tea in GDS mug.