Avoiding past mistakes

December 30, 2010

In a very recent post I mentioned that the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) had launched an inquiry on the 17th December, into the way in which government develops and implements technology policy ! The PASC has issued a call for written evidence!

Whilst I’ll be submitting evidence through the LCIO Council and Socitm, I’ve also drafted my own comments –

1. How well is technology policy co-ordinated across Government?

Historically, technology policy has been poorly coordinated across central government , with minimal consultation or involvement with local government. This had started to change over recent years with the Cabinet Office CIO successfully establishing communication between central and local government and a number of partners. The traditionally limited number of private sector partners involved had constrained government to expensive solutions that had limited ability to adapt in a quickly changing world, unlike the variety of options available to local government, – that was until the recent tendency for suppliers to start monopolising in that market, too. The relatively quick work in considering the Public Sector Network from a joint local-central view is an excellent example of what can be achieved, and the absence of a number of departments from these discussions should be highlighted and brought under some central control.

2. How effective are its governance arrangements?

Are there any governance arrangements? Each government department appears to do its own thing, which causes further confusion when these multiple approaches have to interface with local government – which traditionally has the majority of regular contacts with the majority of citizens. Any governance arrangements need to be considered from the view of the citizen and worked backwards, before being considered back-to-front.

3. Have past lessons from NAO and OGC reviews about unsuccessful IT programmes been learnt and applied?

It would appear not – are post implementation reviews ever carried out?

4. How well is IT used in the design, delivery and improvement of public services?

Public services should be designed and improved in cooperation with the users (citizens). Only then should ICT be considered as a method of delivery.

5. What role should IT play in a ‘post-bureaucratic age’?

PBA is political dogma. If this means returning to the likes of New Public Management and similar failed three-letter-acronyms, it should be kept well away from technology policy!

6. What skills does Government have and what are those it must develop in order to acquire IT capability?

Government has all the necessary intelligence. It needs to assist those with potential , to rise above the bureaucracy and develop and apply the necessary skills.

7. How well do current procurement policies and practices work?

In a complex manner, permitting largely only those major organizations with adequate resources to take part.

8. What infrastructure, data or other assets does government need to own, or to control directly, in order to make effective use of IT?

One Public Sector Network (PSN) of networks with access to a sufficient choice of data storage and provision to reduce costs and duplication for the whole of the public sector but assuring savings for all those partaking.

9. How will public sector IT adapt to the new ‘age of austerity’?

As it has done before. By being fed on by the private sector vultures already circling above. It will then have to be rebuilt again in a period when austerity is accepted as just a time of ‘lean thinking’. Perhaps we should examine the learning from Canada following their ‘age of austerity’ a few years ago?

10. How well does Government take advantage of new technological developments and external expertise?

Learning should be done by considering the model of ‘new conditionality’ proposed by Dr Paul Henman, where increasing policy system complexity is developed because it is technically possible, rather than due to the necessity of process. Simpler processes would allow understanding by citizens and policymakers whilst costing less to implement technically. Unless it can facilitate or reduce the costs of the services, or alternatively improve the democratic process, it is not the position of government to take advantage of new technological developments. As to external expertise, consultancy of any sort comes with a cost, which should be evaluated against any potential benefit before committing to it. If it’s just an opinion being sought, this should be achieved on a pro-bono basis where additional assistance may be forthcoming, dependent upon the quality of the initial expertise.

11. How appropriate is the Government’s existing approach to information security, information assurance and privacy?

It needs to balance the civil and the military without letting one control the other as it appears to do now under CESG’s control

12. How well does the UK compare to other countries with regard to government procurement and application of IT systems?

I’m not aware that any country, other than the likes of Singapore, has managed this well – on that model some central control of the implementation might be an idea?


Learning government

December 28, 2010

Philip Virgo’s excellent blog post in Computer Weekly of 21 December 2010 about how to suitably design the new Universal Credit system deserves reading by all who might influence the process of delivering such a service.

Whilst many of the of the comments should be injected into the PASC call for written evidence, Philip’s penultimate paragraph is suitably ‘systems thinking’  – “To really help those trying to help better themselves, we require systems that assume chaos and unpredictability. That will entail giving front-line staff responsibility for holistic support and the ability and authority to over-ride the “system”.”

A suitable ‘New Year’s revolution’ in government thinking…