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…


New horizons

February 17, 2010

In my Internet wanderings, I  fell over a recent speech by the Rt Hon Jim Knight MP entitled “Future of Government in the Digital Space“, apparently given at the DotGov Live conference in London on 20 January 2010. In some ways I thought I’d fallen through a black hole since, despite talk of Twitter and Fix My Street in the eleventh paragraph he clearly states:

“The Prime Minister recently asked me to be the Ministerial lead for Government on meeting the target to get virtually all public services online by March 2014, following the publication last month of the Smarter Government White Paper.”

Now, as part of the introduction to my dissertation I have carefully prepared a timeline for e-government and I clearly remember writing that in the year 2000 the then Prime Minister set the target date, in line with the European Commission’s Lisbon agenda, for electronic service delivery as 2005 but unlike the other countries committed us to every possible transaction!

I also remember the celebrations and congratulations in Whitehall in 2005, or maybe early 2006, when the target was stated to have been reached and the unit responsible disbanded!

Now a key lesson I thought we had learned following the first ten years of e-government is the UK was that electronic service delivery is more than sticking a web front end on every service. To borrow an expression from my acquaintance Dan Champion, when he talks about the difficulty of true web accessibility – “it’s not a binary state.” In other words, it’s not black and white. The same can be applied to electronic service delivery (ESD). It is only truly ESD or e-government when the citizen completes the transaction end-to-end without humans fudging about in the middle.

If the web transaction creates an email that arrives on someone’s desk that involves rekeying data into an existing “old world” application, it’s a fudge. It may be a reasonable fudge if that particular transaction only occurs once in a blue moon and the cost of automation makes it not worthwhile, but in that case it’s not end-to-end ESD, its grey and not a nought or one!

As things currently stand there are a lot of grey transactions, which must remain until we restructure government and processes. To talk about getting virtually all public services online by March 2014, when I’ve no idea what he means by “virtually” or “public services”, especially after the billions spent in the run-up to 2006, is a strange statement. I thought Jim Knight was around in those years.

Most importantly someone’s forgotten that e-government may involve binary but of itself it isn’t, it’s a grey amorphous blob that needs resourcing end-to-end, and that includes rationality amongst the law-makers, to make it easier!

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!

Frontline first

December 7, 2009

Hot off the press from the Cabinet Office comes a pre-budget website. I’ve not absorbed the material but a lot of what has been suggested by all parties seems to have made its way into these plans. At first view it doesn’t appear to be the most accessible website I’ve seen, but I’m sure others can check that. Happy reading!

Visit the website Putting the frontline first or in PDF – putting the frontline first (PDF, 555K)