Quoting the obvious

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?

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Irish eyes on the USA?

October 24, 2012

Public Affairs Ireland in a post by Garrett Fennell entitled “Rolling out eGovernment US style – are there lessons for Ireland?” encourages the Irish government to look to examples in the USA for their approach to e-government. One expression that is used, and is new to me, is the opportunity for e-government to be everyday government rather than electronic government, this is also in contrast to the ‘digital be default’ regime in that users pay a ‘efficiency fee’ to use the faster, electronic services – it does introduce two tiers of service but is obviously better than making all citizens pay for digital, and apparently 27 states are using this self-funding model where the private sector do the work for the fee.

Fennell looks at a range of options from Code for America to some of the transparency initiatives that are going on. He does however conclude that “Of course one aspect that is common between Ireland and the US is the digital divide and the need to ensure that service provision is not focused only at sectors of society that have means or capacity to access and navigate the web, whether through Smartphones or otherwise”, along with acknowledging the need for high-speed broadband if they are to be universal.


G-cloud of unknowing

October 18, 2012

I’m pleased to announce that my paper “The ‘cloud’ of unknowing – what a government cloud may and may not offer: a practitioner perspective” has been accepted by the International Journal of Technoethics for publication in early 2013. Since this is a long while to wait here’s the abstract:

“Cloud computing is increasingly ubiquitous in the consumer and private sectors and with financial austerity there is pressure on governments to follow suit. However, the relationship between government and citizen is different to that of supplier and customer, despite the advocacy of New Public Management, particularly where the holding of sensitive data is concerned. The paper examines the potential issues of ‘cloud’ and how they may transfer to ‘government cloud’ (g-cloud), along with the potential problems pertinent to ‘g-cloud’ itself. There is an examination of the literature relating to security, legal and technical matters concluding with the considerations and principles that need to be observed prior to any major transfer of citizen data to a relatively new but still developing area of information systems.”

I do hope you enjoy…


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.


Simple things?

September 29, 2012

The new report by the Policy Exchange entitled “Simple Things, Done Well: Making practical progress on digital engagement and inclusion” offers no real new ideas apart from someone paying for a massed hoard of ‘digital advocates’ to convert those currently not using the internet to being users. A lot of the report focuses upon NEET’s or those over 65 but this still misses the point that many of those not doing it don’t want to do it, or are physically or intellectually constrained from being able to do so.

The recent interviews with government ministers over Universal Credit reported in Universal Chaos demonstrate that they are equally so far out-of-touch with the real world of ordinary people with disabilities, learning difficulties, age-related impairments, along with the poorly educated (for whatever reason) that they don’t understand that whilst some will have a sophisticated telephone or even a computer they are not going to use it to contact AUTHORITY, when they would rather have the trust of physical or verbal contact when dealing with IT (AUTHORITY not information technology).

In many cases, and I can speak from experience, people with learning difficulties or other disabilities have a wide range of challenges to deal with when using computers – sometimes its basic literacy, sometimes it’s the subtleties of meaning involved, that someone with Aspergers or on the autistic spectrum just won’t get. However simple Iain Duncan-Smith and his colleagues at the Government Digital Service think they can make these things, they’re going to have to cater for an awfully wide range of users.

On top of this, a lot of these advocates already exist, and do the work for free, or for little credit. Across the organisations working with people with disabilities I know this happens in many cases already, but it’s not a quick training course where people are self-reliant after a few hours, it’s sometimes long-term support – hence why I say there is nothing new in this document and to some extent it misses out on existing models of experience. The social model of disability is little appreciated by those in power, and in many cases they continue to reinforce it due to a lack of experience of real-life, this also applies to unemployment and poverty.

You may call these things simple if you have the benefit of a good education and physical and mental well-being, without those things and financial stability, ‘simple things’ can become very challenging. As to being ‘well done’ – if it’s all to save money that’s not going to be the case.


Universal Chaos

September 22, 2012

I would heartily recommend everyone to read the uncorrected House of Commons Oral Evidence taken before the Work and Pensions Committee on Universal Credit on Monday 17 September 2012 by Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud, if only to read how politicians can avoid giving a straight answer to some very straight questions (and get away with it)! Glenda Jackson can also be read playing a splendid role questionning the two aforementioned Tory apologists, along with Dame Anne Begg (who according to this week’s New Statesman had to put up with Iain Duncan Smith leaning obliviously on the back of her wheelchair in the Commons bar recently).

For local authorities there is no good news as the answers received by Ms Jackson reveal and they now appear to be ‘charitable organisations’:

“Q216 Glenda Jackson: Will the funding be there to assist local authorities?

Lord Freud: Clearly, it is premature to say exactly what kind of funding is required.

Q217 Glenda Jackson: We know the cuts they are having to carry.

Lord Freud: We have got funds to introduce Universal Credit.  We are not concerned about who undertakes particular endeavours, and we can pay that on a neutral basis, so, in the sense that, yes, we do have funding for it.

Q218 Chair: My understanding was that a large chunk of the £2 billion-or £3 billion; there seemed to be some argument in the debate last Tuesday-that was set aside to help introduce Universal Credit would go on transitional protection for those whose income would lose out, rather than in the mechanics of it.

Mr Duncan Smith: The mechanics are part of all of that.  The whole point that we have been talking about is getting people online.  All those processes are part of what we have to do.  We are discussing with local government about how that lies and where that sits.  There are other charitable organisations we are talking to.”

And then it gets worse –

“Lord Freud: No. Let me just go through that. What we are transferring to local authorities is a whole range of responsibilities, where they can make better judgments on their local requirements: elements of the Social Fund; the decisions on DHPs, which are very substantial-next year, when you add them all up, DHPs are £165 million; and decisions on direct payments.

Q227 Chair: That just confuses the landscape. The whole point of Universal Credit, and the reason that you get people like me saying that in principle this was a good idea was it was meant to be that single working-age benefit for those who were on means-tested benefit.

Lord Freud: And it is.

Chair: But it is not.

Lord Freud: It is.

Q228 Chair: It was going to be, but then council tax went off to the local authority and the Social Fund went off-”

And shortly after that they give up on that strand…but so it goes on, and on. I’m not sure I’m much clearer about what’s happening with UC, so I look forward to the edited (‘corrected’) highlights in due course from the Committee and congratulate the members of it again on some thorough questioning.


Open but closed

September 15, 2012

All those who harp upon the benefits of open data to participatory government need look no further than a recent piece in Gulf News – “eGoverment and information sector will be focused on ‘open data’“. Since the Emirates are hardly a democracy with seven Emirs wielding absolute authority so for anyone to claim participatory benefits ‘open data’ is ludicrous. The Emirs just release that data which they wish to be visible and in this case it’s probably of interest in the tourism sector but it makes not the slightest difference to government nor opens up the slightest opportunity for in involvement by the populace.

The article does admit that whist the UAE is rated respectively sixth and seventh for government use of social media, and eServices, it is 28th worldwide for eParticipation which obviously infers a very ‘open’ definition of participation.