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?


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…


How hard can it be?

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…


Lies, damned lies

October 10, 2012

In a blog that is loosely attributed to a former American president it’s about time I quoted one of his most famous attributions – “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time” – Abraham Lincoln, (attributed) 16th president of US (1809 – 1865). Any attempt to fool people by those with any responsibility for their governance should be treated promptly and publicly. In the UK we have seen the incidence of lies and untruths about the recent past that are currently being revealed increasing, whilst those in authority cringing at the delayed revelations, can only bring themselves to say that matters have changed since then.

Open data may have some of the answers but this requires a basic lack of trust on the citizen side for them to know and suspect which data they need to analyse. This may be compared to  Heather Brooke carrying out Freedom of Information requests to reveal the UK Members of Parliament expenses scandal. This is unlikely to have been revealed, even with open data, without a smell of corrupt practice. Her Majesty’s Members of Parliament and other elected or appointed officials need to treat Her Majesty’s subjects with less disdain and should be treated harshly for breaches of their trust.

Which would come cheapest and easiest – the provision of open data or principled behaviour by those we are expected to trust? This would be transparent and open government on the cheap, but government that we should be able to expect.


Ideas cannot digest reality

October 7, 2012

The title is a statement by Jean Paul Sartre that heads a section in Chapter 7 of James C. Scott’s wonderful book “Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed”, Yale University Press, 1998. One may ask what a book published as part of the Yale Agrarian Studies has to do with electronic government or even government but as Scott states on page 6 in the Introduction it is “a case against an imperial or hegemonic planning mentality that excludes the necessary role of local knowledge and know-how”. Despite all the promises to the contrary this is still the behaviour of most governments and a majority of politicians. The book looks at many and varied examples of central planning including the USSR, Brasilia along with providing an ecological view of agricultural methods that haven’t worked and explaining why, but is as appropriate to those working in ICT, policy or politics as directly in the environment.

If nothing else and even if they can’t be bothered to read the 357 pages of the book I would ask those considering any project to make a note of the four ‘rules of thumb’ stated in the Conclusion on page 345 – take small steps, favour reversibility, plan on surprises and plan on human inventiveness.