Semantic, semantics

May 11, 2010

Another report from Pew that has hit my inbox, courtesy of Rachel Flagg on the W3C egov Interest Group, is a study entitled “The Fate of the Semantic Web“. At 48 pdf’d pages it’s not a strenuous read and Pew have gone to great lengths to make this a challenging report about a concept the workings of which are really so little understood that the then Prime Minister dropped it into a speech without explaining what is expected to result from it, as I reported back in March in “A week in politics“.

However, if you’d like to know more about what might result in the world of the semantic web and whether some of the Internet’s most notable thinkers, all 895 of them,  consider it will happen when and how Tim Berners-Lee seems to think it will, look no further than the Pew Internet site.

One quotation from the report that sums it up for me is from Larry Masinter of Adobe who states “The ‘semantic web’ is a direction for technology development, not a ‘thing’ that can be ‘achieved,’ and whether average internet users notice not a particularly useful question.”

There was a similar problem with e-government, where we had the politicians wanting some of “it”, since “it” was obviously a good thing, and we then spent six or seven years trying to achieve “it”. The semantic web is happening and will continue to happen; what we need to do is make sure we have standards across government to help it happen in the best way for users along with trying to work sympathetically across government(s) to deliver it, in a manner that will benefit the citizens and the nations.

Everything is possible, it just helps to have some comprehension of standardization, or even standards, amongst those delivering it to produce a worthwhile outcome.


A week in politics…

March 28, 2010

A week in politics can be a long time and the once commencing 22nd March 2010 was no exception! Tuesday saw the PM’s speech about the semantic web and Mygov. Wednesday brought the budget with the cuts to jobs and spending afforded by the various efficiency savings. Thursday brought the Total Place report being published by the Treasury. Friday produced the updated Smarter Government report, announcing the demise of NI14, which came from the CLG.

So, apart from coming from different bits of Whitehall, what can we glean in common from these four? Not very much? Perhaps that’s a clue? Whilst the CLG have had to drop NI14 when it had barely started, the most hotly challenged and debated performance indicator on record, Total Place demonstrates that efficiencies, in this time and place, are less about channel shift and more about channel focus, along with being more about understanding citizen behaviour than recording how bad government services are at not doing what they expected.

What about the DGPSU (the Digital Public Services Unit!)? How will this differ from the previous incarnations (including Office of the E-Envoy and the E-Government Unit)? The E-Government Unit became the largest unit within the Cabinet Office. Will the DGPSU follow suite? Will this aid or contest the Government ICT Strategy’s aim to centralise at least a good chunk of government IT management?

I suspect we will have to wait and see, but at least this time I gather there is a local government presence there at the moment – let’s see if anyone listens…

Governing IT

December 8, 2009

On the same day, 7th December 2009, that Gordon Brown launched “Putting the frontline first: smarter government“, another report discretely appeared “Installing new drivers: How to improve government’s use of IT” from the Institute for Government, where the Prime minister was launching the first-named report. It is written by Michael Hallsworth, Gareth Nellis and Mike Brass.

My own academic research has had to delve into the history of government department and ministry responsibilities for IT, but this report looks at it from a slightly different angle, as to how the resulting collegiate control of government IT has resulted in a lack of overall control and the resulting high cost.

It’s probably no coincidence that this has appeared just before the probable launch of the Government IT Strategy which is available in an “early” draft courtesy of the Conservative Party on their make it better website.

It appears to argue, not for direct centralisation of government IT but to give the centre greater control and at least some power to prevent some of the abuse of gateway reviews evidenced by recent disasters.

One interesting fact (p.19) – the Cabinet Office is only directly responsible for only 0.068 per cent of total government spending on IT, which they’ve pulled in from John Suffolk’s blog!

One interesting statement (p.21) “Ministers frequently do not pay sufficient attention to the IT dimensions of policy announcements” – a bit like councillors!