Critically acclaimed

August 2, 2011

The latest critique of government computing is hot off the press (27 July 2011), coming a day before the PASC report on Government and IT (28 July 2011). The report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is entitled “System reset – transforming public services through IT“, an 864Kb PDF. Much of the comment is similar to that which has been talked about at the Public Accounts Committee and Public Administration Committee and possibly every other similar report this century.

My favourites from the top ten –

Number 1 – customers should specify the outcome!

Number 2 – agree what to measure at the start and do it

Number 4 – standardise…

Number 5 – let staff design and get their buy-in

Number 8 – “More consideration  should be given to isolating IT projects from political and organizational change.”

Number 10 – “Don’t let security paranoia hinder effective working” –

All so true and so well-known, and all cultural!


PASC reporting

July 31, 2011

Having posted on what I thought was the Public Administration Select Committee report under Measure the Outcomes and their publication of ‘Public Accounts Committee – Fortieth Report: Information and Communications Technology in government‘, (which was as it says the Public Accounts Committee), more recently on the 12 July saw the Twelfth Report ‘Government and It – “A recipe for Rip-Offs”: Time for a New Approach‘ and this is the one I actually provided evidence for (being the Public Administration Select Committee)! For all that, there’s not much difference between these reports and any other probably produced in the past dozen years.

There are complaints about the “oligopoly” of suppliers, which I can’t disagree with, but this has been brought about not by the IT but the market created by the legislative body itself. Drafting complex legislation that is then expected to be delivered electronically is a dark art creating a limited field of suppliers, that gets smaller as the suppliers eat each other.

The recommendation for replacing legacy systems demonstrates the limited experience of the committee and its advisors. I’d like to know how many banks and building societies are still running ancient mainframe applications with sweet front-ends pretending to be MS Windows ones, there are quite a few I know of. Without Parliament generating the opportunity for complete rewrites of the archaic rules and regulations they expect civil government to operate under, this won’t happen. I recently berated one major government supplier for their pretend wizzo application that was in fact an old Unix-based one with some smarter screens – it’s requirement for shed-loads of computer power and the dreadfully archaic control of printing gave it all away.

Perhaps a key recommendation is number 13 – “Government should ensure that the IT implications of new initiatives are properly considered near the start of the policy process on a par with the legal and financial considerations. This should simply be an extension of thinking about how the policy will be implemented in practice. We recommend that analysis of these issues be included in all policy submissions to Ministers”.   Hear-hear! That should save a few train-wrecks of application development!

Similarly recommendation 31 – “It is self-evident that the people using systems, be they frontline officials or members of the public are best placed to provide suggestions on how to improve them. User feedback should be directly integrated into the design of new systems and the development of existing systems and processes to ensure continuous improvement. We recommend that Departments exploit the internet and other channels to enable users to provide direct online feedback both in the design of services and in their ongoing operation and improvement.” This again something that local government has started to do, but is as much a cultural change throughout the organization, as a technical one. It was also the main conclusion of my academic research.

Importantly, in this age of outsourcing, offshoring and partnerships, is the 33rd and final recommendation that “Government will need to address issues of liability for the external delivery of Government services. Moving to a model where third parties provide online Government services will require clarity about where citizens should turn for help when they encounter difficulties, as well as clarifying who is accountable for service delivery.” Let us hoped this warning is observered.

Measure the outcomes

July 15, 2011

The 22 June 2011 saw the publication of ‘Public Accounts Committee – Fortieth Report: Information and Communications Technology in government‘. The report is the result of the various examinations that were blogged upon earlier this year  including What more? PASC , More evidence to PASC , Presenting the evidence . My own evidence was published under ‘Avoiding past mistakes’.

I am pleased to say that the report concludes and recommends  amongst other things that “The [Government ICT] Strategy lacks a baseline or metrics to measure progress. Simply listing actions to be achieved within two years is not sufficient”. It also recognises that “approximately nine million people have never used the Internet, and they must not be excluded”.

Whether the report succeeds in changing the historic approach to ICT in government is yet to be seen, but it’s a start.

Government ICT Strategy

April 3, 2011

At long last, it’s here, they got it out just before the end of March, all 25 pages! As Francis Maude stated at the PASC, it is lapidary; employing some single long words when a much shorter one might do. Have a dictionary to hand!

The promise of ‘assisted digital services’ in section 45, fits in with my own, long argued, one of mediated service delivery. It may be interesting to see who will comprise the “network of ‘assisted digital’ service providers, such as Post Offices, UK online centres and other local service providers”, when many such places have closed or are on their way, due to the cuts?

Paragraph 47 is similarly intriguing when it states “the Government is committed to providing 21st-century identity assurance methods and is engaging with the private sector on this”, this is presumably a replacement for the DWP-managed Government Gateway?

Paragraph 49 also makes some big promises when stating “the Government will use technology to break down barriers and engage with citizens and businesses, bringing innovation to the way in which policy is formulated and delivered”.

The document ignores local delivery of service (of which local government is estimated to provide around 70%) with the exception of the diagram on page 25, the last one, where local government appears ‘beyond the pale’, which I hope isn’t the sentiment. If they can introduce paragraph 12 ” Government will ensure that technology requirements are considered earlier in the policy-making process”, this might finally stop the reoccurrence of those issues around ‘new conditionality‘ that have been discussed here before, and has expanded services so well.

There is a dependency within the document upon a number of other strategies awaiting publication, including the green one, one on capabilities and a Cloud Computing Strategy. Although the Public Sector Network appears to be a given, if a private sector one. How the government PSN will align with the local government ones being delivered and planned remains to be seen?

There is also a lot of talk of Skunkworks, which with its capital ‘S’, I thought was a registered trade mark? However, there still remain the siloed government departments that will have to be dragged into the new ways of delivering services.

As usual, a good in parts document, ignoring some important stuff that needs considering whilst stating in a few words matters that will require major cultural and technical upheaval. At least it was a short read!

More evidence to PASC

March 27, 2011

There is a further session of the House of Commons PASC hearing from Tuesday 22 March at 10.33am available for viewing, following the one reported earlier. On this occasion those appearing are :

  1. Mark Adams-Wright, Chief Information Officer, Suffolk County Council, David Wilde, Chief Information Officer, Westminster City Council, and Martin Ferguson, Head of Policy, Society of Information Technology Management
  2. Joe Harley, Director General and Chief Information Officer, and Malcolm Whitehouse, Group Applications Director, Department for Work and Pensions, Phil Pavitt, Director General and Chief Information Officer, and Mark Holden, Director Programmes and Projects IMS, HMRC

Unfortunately the video recording is missing the first ten minutes of the session, when Martin Ferguson covered a lot of ground about how we do things well in local public services. This will appear shortly in the transcript.

In addition, Martin admits when asked,  that local government has not been directly involved in the new government ICT strategy, although the local CIO Council was invited by the then Government CIO, John Suffolk, to prepare its own approach, which we are doing as was highlighted recently.

The interviews provide some idea of what is going on at Suffolk and Westminster councils in IT and service delivery terms, whilst a final message from David Wilde “Don’t look to IT to make government work better, it won’t. It can enable it”, strengthens the approach being taken in the routemap being drawn up.