Local Government Digital Service

November 18, 2012

In September 2012 I wrote about the Local Government Data Service but since then we’ve seen the publication of the central government Government Digital Strategy, and yet again questions have been asked about why local government hasn’t one or doesn’t get a mention. My riposte is that local government was doing this before the GDS, and it was largely set out in the Socitm publication Planing the Flag. Meanwhile Socitm has published a briefing entitled “The new Government Digital Strategy: what should local public services take from it?”

Whilst the Socitm briefing is largely a promotion for its website take-up and channel benchmarking services, all that is required by any local authority is to actively gather feedback from its service users about the different channels on offer and to use this to improve them. If this makes possible a shift to channels that are truly cheaper to deliver by web or telephone all well and good. I am, of course, ignoring the ‘digital by default’ diktat within the central strategy. In national terms this means the sharing of best practice amongst local authorities and a lot of cooperation by suppliers in helping to improve delivery, not just raking in short-term profits. This is where open source and open data come in – if the commercial applications use apps that can be cross-fertilised with others and the data can be similarly exposed (securely) across applications the benefits to both councils and citizens will soon become general.

Whilst the Cabinet Office report admits that “most public services are provided by local organisations such as local councils and the NHS”, instead of ignoring local government and starving it of resources, central government needs to cooperate properly and assist in making these changes real. So whilst I congratulate the GDS on producing its strategy I will observe whether it gets the rest of central government to cooperate, and whether it actually cooperates with those areas where “most public services are provided”. I’d also appreciate it if there were fewer questions about why local government isn’t do the GDS thing, and a greater appreciation of the fact that it was there first, just with much less of a marketing team…

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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.


Open source cloud

October 12, 2011

I’ve written quite a few posts regarding the value of both ‘cloud’ and ‘open source’ computing in government service. However, a recent comment I saw elsewhere suggested that ‘cloud’ computing retained many of the issues of ‘proprietary’ software, and that whilst ‘open source’ should be welcomed, ‘cloud’ shouldn’t.

With the UK central government, being keen to save money whenever it can, it has made many supportive noises about ‘open source’, but there have been few examples of major use, although a recent piece in UKauthority reported that Bristol City Council had been informed that there were no security or accreditation issues with regards to such software, particularly for email. This is good news since having employed an excellent Linux-based email server at my own authority until the advent of Government Connect, at which point it had to be replaced by a proprietary one, I am keen that options remain. Bristol City are also famed for having employed Drupal as their web content management system, a route I would also like to follow.

I suspect this is where the definition of ‘cloud’ comes into play – does it become ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), where there is some contractual lock in or is it purely a method of hosting applications in a secure manner that takes the IT manager away from running their own data centre and network? I believe it can be both, and more – the contractual issues are there to satisfy both supplier and customer about their mutual obligations that may be more or less limiting, whilst in another approach it may be somewhere to store one’s data and applications in a secure and supported manner, without the additional cost of the ‘real estate’.

Am I miles off, or is it really a matter of contract?


In these hard times

September 16, 2009

A recent Computer Weekly (8 – 14 September 2009) contains a piece entitled “Hard Times for local government IT” written by Dr Simon Moores a Conservative district councillor and former advisor to Tony Blair! Strangely, it’s largely the content of an earlier posting from his blog. I tend to agree with his conclusions to the state we are likely to be in, but as one of advisors behind the e-government race, I think he should consider his role in bringing us to the current situation we’re in.

The rush to 100% targets with little process improvement brought us to a place where, in order to share services, we are trying to rationalise a vast range of systems without any standard architecture. He bemoans his own council’s situation for being on Groupwise and “fat” desktops – I moved my own towards “thin” some six years ago against some resistance and avoided Novell at the outset, however many neighbours still use Novell and still employ “fat” desktops, which can limit some of the “quick wins”.

Many authorities and government are forced down the Microsoft path by interfaces and joining up, open source won’t make things easier, if anything it will possibly make them harder.

IT is just the glue of service delivery, e-government is just a group of channels to deliver information and services. What is needed is standards for applications to enable them to be shared across boundaries.

Will a change in government bring that?