Open Sores

February 18, 2012

Whilst I have been an advocate of Open Source for many years (this is WordPress, isn’t it?), it has always been a case of banging one’s head against a brick wall in many cases. My Colleague David Henderson recently pointed me to GovFresh as a source of material to use when attempting to convert the so far unconverted, and the material on their whether about Joomla, Drupal or WordPress is really useful.

Whilst Liam Maxwell and the UK government make the right noises and visit some of the right places, beta.gov.uk itself is more of a mongrel, coded in Ruby with a load of Openish add ons – see Colophon for the GOV.UK beta. For good examples of the public sector use of Open Source in the UK one needs to examine Bristol City, Oxfordshire and the increasing number of others employing the likes of Drupal or Joomla.

In its own way this move away from commercial or hand-tooled CMS may cause a few problems in the private sector web businesses that have been slow to recognise that open source is the current trend, but that’s business isn’t it. The next trick will be getting those developing sites using open source to share the development pain and hosting.

My own council has never hosted its own website, I made sure of that. The next trick will be transferring the rest of the web applications that now feed into it into the ‘cloud’. After that it will be getting those application providers to develop their systems in Open Source and put them into the ‘cloud’ as well. Too many applications are reliant upon incredibly expensive Oracle, SQL or other licensing schemes that need to be switching to ‘software as a service’.

Anyway, GovFresh has lots of material to encourage the use of Open Source amongst even the most hardened advocates of paying through the nose, rather than paying by the seat.

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A facelift for the pig

September 12, 2010

E-government will now be accepted by many as having provided “lipstick on the pig” (a favourite expression of mine indicating that whist you can apply lipstick to the pig, it still remained a pig), in other words sticking a web front-end on many government services has still left the applications and processes limping along in a back-office somewhere, without process or regulatory improvement.

However, the new 69 page report from the so-called Network for the Post-Bureaucratic* Age (nPBA) entitled “Better for Less – How to make Government IT deliver savings” is much more of an encouragement for a face-lift for the pig, and a cheap one at that! I’d mentioned another paper from Liam Maxwell in July 2009,where I  supported some of the proposals and  suggested that it might indicate a future government’s policy and similarly this document, in my opinion, is just as good again (in parts).

The paper has many good points, but despite Mr Maxwell’s exposure to local government ICT, this strategy still falls down where e-government did 13 years ago. A pig is still a pig, despite lipstick or facelift and the nominal attack on bureaucracy is not necessarily a good idea, as McSweeney explains in the paper* on the post-bureaucratic age. It’s the wasteful parts of service processes that need sorting out, and they are frequently as a result of legislation or central government demands.

As described by Paul Henman in his analysis of “New Conditionality”, ICT has facilitated complex and frequent changes to legislation and regulation, these in turn add to the complexity of the ICT solutions and the cycle continues ad infinitum developing the complexity of government ICT. This is where the change needs to occur – simpler regulation and legislation.

Rather than auditing ICT, what we need in reality is a proposal, by some authors with an understanding of what makes good services delivered by central and local government, of how we audit end-to-end government services and in the process identify areas of true regulated bureaucracy that can be removed. Further, any attempts at rationalization should account for multi-channel service delivery. Many of the applications in the “new conditional” world link together and off onto web sites or corporate applications, this could provide some of the open data desirable for the commonweal, which whilst not of general interest will still have value to the local community.

Further, in a couple of instances, Mr Maxwell examines and compares the costs of ICT in local and central government, which can be a very misleading practice. Even with the amount of regulation, financial accounting in government is a dark art with the use of on-costs and recharges varying from authority to authority to the extent that costing for IT services is not straightforward and one can easily be comparing apples and oranges. Perhaps, another area to standardize?

*If anyone wants to know what “post-bureacracy” is,  there’s  an excellent critique of the Cameronesque “post-bureaucratic age” concept in a recent revision of an earlier academic paper by Brendan McSweeney entitled “Is a post-bureaucratic age possible?” As a summary, Mc Sweeney states “as a reaction against the authoritarianism of the previous UK government’s (New Labour’s) neo-conservatism, David Camerson’s sentiment is a welcome one, but as a programme for comprehensive transformation it is not achievable.” Which I’d say applies to the nPBA’s report also.


The Tory take

July 5, 2009

Published by the Centre for Policy Studies is a view from a Conservative councillor on the present government’s IT policy, particularly in the arena of personal data – It’s ours. The report by Liam Maxwell is a useful read for anybody working in government IT since it may be the approach subsequent to the next election!

For me it has an awful lot of sense, as can be found in earlier posts, I was never quite happy with the ‘deep truth’  that central government wanted us to seek, I never treated it as personal imformation, just a lot of mumbo-jumbo that would never help anybody. It also identifies the limited use being made of electronic government ‘services’.

In fact in terms of evaluating IT projects, one of the issues raised, Cabinet Office has already got its own rottweiler investigating – Stephen Jenner – who I met at ECEG2009, and whose book I bought, which is largely common sense and to save you the fifteen  quid here’s an interview from the CIPFA PinPoint magazine – CipfapinpointJune09 – he’s also looking for people to do a survey for him –ABRMsurveyv1.0eceg

Importantly for this researcher Maxwell does state that “Putting the citizen, and not the government, at the centre of IT design can have startling results.” (P.14)

One place I would argue with the report is on P.16, where it states that ” information acquired for one purpose in the public sector may be used for another entirely different purpose”, if that had been the case the delivery of electronic government would have been much easier and I’d argued with a senior civil servant about that being a barrier some years ago, and nothing eased.

The same applies to Service Oriented Architecture and Cloud Computing, both praised in the book and both being promoted at Cabinet Office, unfortunately the governmental monolith moves slowly and acceptance of these concepts will take time.

Having said that, I welcome a fresh political take on the frequently ignored (by politicos) area of government IT and don’t disagree with any of the conclusions, however implementing them through Whitehall may be a different matter…