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!

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Open source cloud

October 12, 2011

I’ve written quite a few posts regarding the value of both ‘cloud’ and ‘open source’ computing in government service. However, a recent comment I saw elsewhere suggested that ‘cloud’ computing retained many of the issues of ‘proprietary’ software, and that whilst ‘open source’ should be welcomed, ‘cloud’ shouldn’t.

With the UK central government, being keen to save money whenever it can, it has made many supportive noises about ‘open source’, but there have been few examples of major use, although a recent piece in UKauthority reported that Bristol City Council had been informed that there were no security or accreditation issues with regards to such software, particularly for email. This is good news since having employed an excellent Linux-based email server at my own authority until the advent of Government Connect, at which point it had to be replaced by a proprietary one, I am keen that options remain. Bristol City are also famed for having employed Drupal as their web content management system, a route I would also like to follow.

I suspect this is where the definition of ‘cloud’ comes into play – does it become ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), where there is some contractual lock in or is it purely a method of hosting applications in a secure manner that takes the IT manager away from running their own data centre and network? I believe it can be both, and more – the contractual issues are there to satisfy both supplier and customer about their mutual obligations that may be more or less limiting, whilst in another approach it may be somewhere to store one’s data and applications in a secure and supported manner, without the additional cost of the ‘real estate’.

Am I miles off, or is it really a matter of contract?