E-government disaster

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.


Local Government Data Service

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.


Hyperlocal encouragement

September 4, 2012

The bizarrely named Streetfight website has a great post on the 29 August 2012 by Stephanie Miles which I can see having relevance further than the hyperlocal web sites it is focused on. Entitled “6 Ways to Encourage User Contributions on Hyperlocal Sites” the advice echoed for me across many recent Internet experiences.

Tip one is give a dedicated phone number. In my personal case a recent need to make a doctor’s appointment had me Googling for the sake of ease their reception number and guess what? In all those lovely personal friendly personal words littering page after page I couldn’t see a telephone number. Luckily Google presented it elsewhere…

Tip two is to respond personally to inquiries. In my years of local government I had to repeat this time after time to service providers to respond usefully and quickly to inquiries – so this is not just hyperlocal!

The third tip is to take the conversation onto Facebook, which may be correct in some circumstances in the broader context but highly likely in hyperlocal.

As a fourth tip there is the need to draw in content, not just wait for it and for the fifth let your readers know that you are wanting material and finally show appreciation when you get it. This last one is for me an important one. As with consultation the recipient must publish what has been received with any necessary response within a reasonable time in order to create a full loop and the potential for a broader conversation. If you have no intention of holding that conversation stop before you create the site – it’s only window dressing  or brochureware of the sort favoured by traditional politicians.

Six useful tips for any website, but especially the hyperlocal.


Policing

September 2, 2012

Policing is a public service that doesn’t often get viewed as a system or as a system of parts in the same way that health or government are. That was until Simon Guilfoyle, John Seddon and others looked at it. Simon is a serving officer with an interest in systems thinking and I had the pleasure of seeing a presentation by him earlier this year at a NET2 meeting. Following the meeting he kindly forwarded me a recent paper he’d had published entitled “On target? – Public Sector Performance Management: Recurrent Themes, Consequences and Questions“, Policing (2012).

As the paper’s title infers it puts policing performance management into the same context as the rest of the public sector with all the bad practices that are frequently pointed out there. In line with the theme of this blog there is the notion that public satisfaction rates are a potential indicator, although some refining may be required to gain understanding in context i.e. cold feedback won’t do on its own. The paper also warns of the likely effect of  gaming when employing emotive targets, something that Simon went into some detail in during his presentation.

In this context John Seddon is just starting his “The Evidence Tour” and launching the second volume of “Delivering Public Services That Work”. The presentations are free and I recommend those involved in public services give him a listen and ask questions. With the introduction of elected police commissioners later this year the whole matter of police performance targets is likely to take on added weight as pre and post election gaming occurs.


Listen to customers not big data

August 28, 2012

A report from The Register  on 22 August 2012 covers one of the Directors of the dominant telco in Australia stating that “Insights won’t come from data, they’ll come from observation”, in other words which business processes the customers complain about offer more direction than sifting about in the data. Michael Ossipoff, the Director of Capability and Innovation [sic] at Telstra, does however not rule out big data, wanting to have his cake and eat it, but does also report that over 70% of their support calls are the result of customer expectations being incorrectly set.

Having read me quoting the mantra to listen to customers for many years, this approach will come as nothing new to readers of this blog but what it does provide is further evidence that the private sector has been doing it, so government needs to stopping flushing money down the drain on big data projects and instead ensure the mechanisms are in place to capture citizen feedback at the point of service delivery.