Routemap to 2015

March 9, 2011

Whilst we all await the central government ICT strategy, Socitm is consulting on the draft ‘Routemap for Local Public Services reform – enabled by ICT‘, which we are now in the final stages of creating. This practical, ‘pan-local’ routemap to local public service reform enabled by ICT needs key stakeholders and anyone with an interest in local public services to refine the thinking and finalize it. There are questions throughout the document and Socitm are interested in both answers which address these questions and comments which address any part of the document (or somebody else’s comments).

Let’s try and answer the question ‘what will local government ICT look like in five years time?’ without too much cynicism or irony!

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Better served?

March 1, 2011

There is a new Socitm publication entitled “Better served: customer access, efficiency and channel shift”, launched on 15 February 2011, which is currently being promoted as the answer to the longer-term savings being expected, as a piece in e-Gov monitor declares.

Whilst I don’t have a problem with the concepts in the document, as both Vicky Sargent and Martin Greenwood know, I do have an issue with the savings and how they can be clawed back!

Putting the citizens’ top tasks online is one thing but getting the services to oil their machinery to provide the end-to-end efficiency is still another. Despite the ever increasing pressures on services, getting the majority of turkeys en-masse to vote for Christmas is idealistic!

I admit that’s an oversimplification and that the ideal way, as endorsed by Socitm is to use the type of Citizen Engagement System that has been promoted on here for a number of years and use the issues presented by citizens to oil the works. Once the processes of the ‘top tasks’ are improved, they can be best presented over the appropriate channels (not necessarily the web one) and slowly the savings will accumulate – but to where?

The problem with the costing model is that it’s not always viewed end-to end.  Many government software suppliers charge the earth for web interfaces, one example is where Oracle count the citizen as a user! By the time we have the cost of the servers, web servers, de-militarised zone etc etc., which all has to be paid for, the costs start to accumulate! If it’s a simple transaction with limited identification required it may be argued that’s not an issue, however, it still depends how far into your network that requires access.

Let’s stop oversimplifying the savings. I’ve just put in one standard application that requires EIGHT servers! It will have a web front end requiring three of them. Self-service will reduce some staffing costs but not to the level of pennies!


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?


Channelled thinking

December 2, 2010

A seminar/workshop on 26 November 2010, provided by the Yorkshire & Humber Transformation Support Framework (TSF) in conjunction with the same region’s Socitm, for local authorities in the region looked at “Self-service: unlocking the potential in Yorkshire & Humber”.

One of the presenters was Simon Pollock, Head of  Customer Services at Surrey County Council, who provided a very humorous and challenging look at how Surrey made a difference by managing to channel shift some of their citizens reducing the number of calls to the contact centre by increasing the use of the Internet channel. One of the many things he gave us to think about was how to develop a channel strategy, providing Surrey’s as a good start!

Some things a number of the presenters agreed upon were that:

  • more than 50% of the users of local government websites were after information (not transactions)
  • the Internet is not always the ideal channel for all services or transactions
  • one person in control of customer contact
  • use the public website in the contact centre
  • market it (the website)

and of course the need to measure usage and employ feedback from all the channels involved!

Now, how long have I been saying these things…


We are the CHAMPS

November 4, 2010

Whilst we were at the Local CIO Council meeting on the 3 November 2010, Glyn Evans of Birmingham City Council proudly announced the ‘official’ launch later that day of CHAMPS2.

In their own words “CHAMPS2 is a vision led, benefits driven business change method which is broad in scope and encompasses the whole business change journey. It helps you define your organisation’s strategic needs, and then provides a tailored route to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved”.

Even better, it’s free!

If that wasn’t enough, although the consultation is over for the moment, the guidelines for open data publication are available from the Socitm, CIPFA, LeGSB, LGA, CLG group that has been working on them. So if you are in the UK, or even if you are not, you may find the LG Group Transparency Programme of interest?

Even better, we had a brief but beneficial discussion with Andrea di Maio about Clouds, G-Clouds and related matters. Nice  to finally see him in the flesh!


The technicist manifesto

July 15, 2010

The 12 July 2010, with a bit of a fanfare at 10 Downing Street, saw the launch of  ‘Manifesto for a Networked Nation’, the current output of Martha Lane-Fox’s Race Online 2012.

Initial thoughts are that although the pdf is only 2Mb, the maps on its central pages may make many a printer unhappy, as may the variety of colours and sizes of fonts affect anybody lacking a taste for concrete poetry. I’m also concerned that a document claiming support for accessibility and inclusivity (sections 9.1 and 9.2) dares use such a mix colour and seriffed fonts as to be almost psychedelic. On top of the visual abuse, I could also challenge some of the English language abuse within the text, but I’m off to a bad start already…

OK, my sympathies are with the intent of the report and getting more people online. However, whilst getting them to use government services online may save government some money and buying  goods may save the user some money, along with demonstrating the skills they’ve developed, what are the benefits?

The Internet has massive benefits as a medium of communications, I rarely get a pen out and write a letter these day, when a quick email suffices. Information (of all sorts, including the bad, sad and dangerous to know) is at my fingertips. However, I would anticipate that it’s still may not be everybody’s garden of earthly delight and some will always need a mediated guide through some of its hazards. The dangers of phishing, viruses and incorrect information are probably far too advanced for many potential users, as can be seen by the numbers caught out in the assorted scams that plague netizens.

I would also question at a time of cuts, redundancies and uncertainty how MLF expects local authorities, charities and others to now launch out and support a government initiative when they are struggling with maintaining services? OK, we believe from Socitm research that 80% of councils restrict their employees’ access to the Internet but someone needs to convince them this is not risking the other pieces of government guidance such as child protection and access to the government secure intranet (the document has frequent mentions of the DWP – home of Government Connect!)

Now for another moan. In large print the report on page 14 states, talking about the Internet, that “it was an Oxford graduate who created this significant invention”. I presume this refers to Tim Berners-Lee inventor of the World Wide Web, whilst I was always under the impression that we could blame the Internet on Vint Cerf, a graduate of Stanford. I wonder if the information was sourced upon some of the dodgy data on the Internet?

To broaden the thinking and possibly add some robustness to the debate, I’d like to present a couple of quotations –

In an interview Oscar A. Ornati, Professor of Manpower Management at New York University (quoted in Deming 1986, p.198) states that:

“We have forgotten that the function of government is more equity oriented than efficiency oriented. The notion that we must be “efficient” in the same way in both sectors is fallacious. For government, efficiency must be subsumed to equity. If we do not keep equity in the forefront of the public sector, we will destroy our society. It is unfortunate that we tend to lavish so much praise on management specialists who laud the techniques of private sector management in the public sector.”

Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the Crisis, M.I.T. Press.

 In a joint Parliamentary and industry report, EURIM (2008, p.2) confirms this:

“It is too crude an approach to seek savings simply by replacing face-to-face services with Internet access to services that might engage more time-poor citizens. Many of those in most need (at least 20% of the overall population and a majority of the elderly) are physically unable to use a conventional screen and keyboard, even if they wished to.”

EURIM (2008) “How to Achieve Citizen-Centric Service Delivery: Let the People Speak.” EURIM Transformational Government Dialogues 8, http://www.eurim.org.uk/activities/dialogues/TGD_IntegratedReport.pdf.


Insight in place

July 1, 2010

I’m not quite sure where ‘customer insight’ fits into the new governments thinking, along with many other matters, but they seem to have taken a shine to Total Place, especially for the potential to save money. So, when a new publication pops out from the CLG, the Local Government Delivery Council and the IDeA it’s worth an investigation.

The twenty page publication entitled “Customer insight: through a Total Place lens” looks at some of the Total Place pilots and examines how they have employed customer insight. Personally I think ‘customer insight’ is an overplayed concept from marketing, that along with the term ‘customer’ for our citizens should be binned, with all that other neo-liberal NPM jargon! However, I believe we do need to know what our citizens want, expect and deserve and this does not require the semi-mystical ‘customer insight’.

In contrast, Total Place, with its focus on destroying silos cannot be a bad thing! I also believe that Local Information Systems may have their place in identifying the real communities that politics can’t.

The first thing that leaped out to me from the report was the costs of service delivery (Tameside’s) being used on page 7, where we have £1.34 for telephone, which is rather different to the £3.21 figure in Socitm’s Better Connected 2010. Similar contrasts occurred over the other channels.  I’ve discussed these before and suspect that whilst we can’t agree these, we should stop using them, particularly when there will be massive variations across services. Whilst we consider the drive to the web we should also consider another Insight from Socitm, where the web take-up service indicates two out of three visits to council web sites are simply for information finding purposes – this to me indicates the importance of making sure that information is clear, accessible and available and that the web is less about service delivery.

Isn’t the lesson from Total Place is that we should work with other public services to gain insight to our citizens and communities and to stop replication of each other’s work? Let’s have one shared insight.