Open data manual

February 2, 2012

Whilst I’ve blogged more than 40 times on the subject of open data, I don’t believe I’ve covered the Open Data Manual. A hat-tip to jacques.raybaut at europa-eu-audience.typepad.com! The manual outlines what one should expect of open data, either presenting or using it.

Coincidentally, the UK Government published the summary of the feedback on its open data consultation on the 30 January 2011. The consultees include Socitm which was rather critical of the proposals. A key point that was made in the response was that “Socitm believes that open data issues need to be treated within a broader approach to information management and evidence-based decision-making”, unfortunately this general (and very important) point does not appear to be captured in the report.

So, we’ll see what comes next…

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Austere academia

January 6, 2012

I somehow missed this publication being released in 2011 but fell over it when looking for something else! ‘Innovating out of Austerity in Local Government: A SWOT analysis’ is by Patrick Dunleavy, Paul Rainford & Jane Tinkler of the London School of Economics Public Policy Group and despite its inherent self-referencing, even of unpublished sources (Hasn’t anybody outside of the LSE written anything appropriate? – I’m sure they have), it is worth generating a discussion around.

The report starts off with the obvious but not often practiced wisdom that “Introducing changes in delivery-level public services critically depends on consulting with services users and achieving a deep understanding of citizens’ needs and expectations: a strategy of more intensive ‘customer engagement’that has already borne fruit in many different localities and NHS provider areas.” The document then goes on to confirm that innovation involves circumventing central government permissions and gaining buy-in from the professions. It is what it states, a SWOT analysis of what has been going on, although personally I feel that a number of these are assumptions by outsiders based upon limited experience rather than actual facts e.g. one local government weakness is identified as ‘weaker ICTs record in general’, whilst, as has been confirmed to me by several senior central government persons is the situation with central government, rather than local government! The paper does accept (p.6) that UK central government is “probably the most intrusive national government across Western Europe”.

Much is made of the Kent Gateway project which is a good example but had the blessing not only of a dynamic Chief Executive but similar political leadership. They were also lucky in gaining the involvement of the regional NHS, which isn’t the case in all areas. On page 7 there is some acclamation that “Despite the valiant efforts of SOCITM (sic)* and many thousands of staff working in council IT departments, the provision of online local government services remains at best patchy”. However, this fails to acknowledge that local government ICT departments provide e-services for many, many service units, whilst in central government this is likely to be a few related to that Department’s rather focused services e.g. driver licensing, taxation, etc. This criticism is unfairly grounded, presumably due to a lack of understanding. Similarly the statement on page 8 that “where most UK local authorities are currently lagging badly behind the next wave of important ICTs”, is unspecific in only picking on ebooks in libraries, which is hardly a ‘killer application’ when many library users are probably more concerned with real books and the use of free Internet access, rather than those who can buy such items as Kindles, Kobos and iPads.

I will agree, as stated on page 9, that “within local authorities themselves, complaints processes are often un-systematized, with little data being collected, no data publicly published and councils having little information available that would show whether they were doing a good job in terms of not generating complaints or in responding effectively to complaints received”, which is why I had developed the model I have for improving service delivery and suggested some applications to assist, which is all available on this blog. I also suggested to various people at the Government Data Service launch that this was the best way of handling feedback.

Unfortunately I don’t agree with the authors that citizens are put off complaining to councillors (page 9) about operational issues, since it is frequently one sure way of getting some sort of result, and would be interested in the authors’ evidence for this.

On page 19 the authors do accept that the ongoing disturbance to the NHS is impacting on innovation, which will probably become clearer as central government attempts to further transfer care responsibilities to local government.  The contradictions and imbalances within the NHS have already been identified in the struggle to get the Public Sector Network (PSN) off the ground. Attempts to make big savings, along with innovations, will require much improved cooperation across the public sector.

Whilst the conclusions of the paper would appear to be the authors’ expectations there needs to be a realization that in local government all things are not equal. Amongst the range of local authorities resistance to change, which is the major obstacle, comes from a variety of sources that are not consistent across councils. Sometimes its the Chief Executive, sometimes the Director of Finance (holder of the purse strings) or even the IT Director – it could be any one of the various services that blocks change, but this is normally different in every case. It is therefore difficult to make bold statements about how, where or when innovation will or should occur since it requires a combination of auspicious circumstance. In the best examples this is probably a bold Chief Executive, with political support.

As CIO’s/IT Managers are under increasing pressure to make savings, along with service managers it is difficult for all parties to find time to innovate with reduced staffing. If it were a single application (as per the aforementioned central government instance) this insight might be possible but when it requires multiple services to test, be trained and culture change on to a new way of working there will be foxholes of resistance all along the route. These will need multiple strong minds from the top to the bottom to successfully trace a path of successful innovation.

In fact, I wonder how the LSE’s IT service copes with innovation? If, like a number of university IT services that I’m aware of, they are treated with some disdain by their academic colleagues, academia will be just as austere in its approach to innovation as government!

* The conventional branding for the Society of Information Technology Management is ‘Socitm’


Parlour games

December 7, 2011

According to a report in UKAuthority dated 2 December 2011, Mike Bracken, the Head of the Government Digital Service in the UK (note – the website is on WordPress), speaking at the Socitm 2011 Conference in Birmingham, stated that e-government efforts in the past have been plagued by rivalry between local and central government. I would dispute that since it was primarily ruined by central government establishing unreachable targets at the outset and dabbling in local government business to the extent that the views of the citizen were largely ignored! The government also encouraged rivalry between councils by using targets and monitoring them annually and publicly.

I am pleased to report that, in contrast, he does announce the dawn of a new era of cooperation between local and central government, particularly to develop techniques for measuring the usability of online transactions. However,  few years ago, as a part of my academic research I concluded that one of the best mechanisms for doing this was to collate user feedback across all channels to direct changes in the way services are presented. The Company table V9 of commercial applications that use something along these lines to help web managers, customer service managers and others to focus on the customer has been available since then.

I know a number of councils, including my own that use such applications to improve their service delivery, not just online but face-to-face and over the ‘phone. So we have the applications, now all we need is the political will to use what is already available, without turning to the usual big suppliers to central government to re-invent them and put the prices up!


Less e-paper!

June 28, 2011

Within the new Singaporean eGov2015 masterplan is an interesting concept that I hope will catch on elsewhere – “the government will continue to streamline the number of transactions, reduce the steps required to complete them, and where possible, eliminate such transactions altogether”. Imagine that, eliminating an unnecessary transaction! How many of those must we all face?

At the same Egov Global Exchange conference Steve Bittinger, Gartner’s research director for government research, is reported to have identied the commoditization of IT infrastructure and services, and seamless socialization and collaboration, as being among the current key trends impacting the public sector and that with movement toward shared services and the cloud, government IT departments will also face changes, forecasting that within four years about half of government shared services and centralization initiatives will be supplemented by public or community clouds, resulting in job reductions for infrastructure and operational services of 20 percent. This is something accepted and trying to be planned for in the Socitm ‘Planting the Flag‘ strategy for the UK. What we must concentrate on is improving services during these massive changes.


How to

June 5, 2011

My thanks go to Rachel Flagg the Co-Chair, Federal Web Managers Council in the USA who posted on the W3C e-government Interest Group about Howto.gov.

HowTo.gov is managed by the U.S. General Services Administration and the Federal Web Managers Council. It has evolved from WebContent.gov (a site focused on managing US Government websites), and offers resources to help American government agencies manage not just websites, but ALL customer contact channels.

I’d posted, in response to the same question that Rachel was answering, the recent report from Socitm that focused on the good work at Councils like Surrey and Kirklees in the UK. Unfortunately,  Better served: customer access, efficiency and channel shift, isn’t free although I suspect anybody with enough nous will be able to find presentations from the above named councils on the WWW. The other alternative is to pay, or borrow a copy from a Socitm member!

We’re finally starting to see that channel shift can only be arrived at by managing all channels.


Channel manoeuvres

May 15, 2011

There are two two very recent publications that focus on service channel management in the UK public sector. One from Deloitte is publicly available – Choosing Fewer Channels, the other from Socitm* is available only to subscribers, but in fact is a 20 page compilation of their two other recent reports, Better Served and Better Connected 2011. Interestingly Deloitte are supporting the Local CIO Council*, which was set up through Socitm, and their report does mention Surrey CC as an exemplar, which is also done in the Socitm one. However, the Deloitte report largely focuses upon those processes in central government, but still manages to project some relevance for the whole of the public sector.

Socitm is now targeting the management of customer channels being brought together, which may be a cultural change too far for some councils. My personal belief is that while this can be desirable, it is not a pre-requisite for successful multi-channel delivery. What is necessary is the comparative measurement and subsequent improvement of all citizen-facing channels. The Deloitte report does no go as far as pushing for this, but by default has to be a requirement of their proposals.

Two proposals in the Deloitte report that come over strongly are from page 10 where it states:

“Put user centric design at the heart of any move online so that the service is built from the customer’s perspective to be intuitive and quick to use”, along with “invest effort in building consensus around transactions that cut across bodies, and particularly those that transect Local and Central Government, where political and social barriers to cooperation have historically been a barrier to transformation”.

Now I wonder if either of those were taken account in the development of the recently launched www.alpha.gov.uk?

*Interest declared, I’m a member of both.


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.