December 11, 2011

According to CivicSource the Commonweath of Virginia, in cooperation with Microsoft, have created an Advanced Health Care Directive Registry This appears to me to be an additional use for Mydex in the UK. Having discussed with William Heath on and offline for around two and a half years the case for a secure nest for personal data, away from the clutches of the state, this appears to be a perfect way of replicating what is happening in Virginia and providing a very useful social function. The Virginian database also holds records regarding organ donation wishes, which would put all such information in one place for the health professionals.

Too often people put their personal wishes regarding death and dying in their wills (which aren’t read until they’re dead and buried). If someone has no wish to end their life in a round of resucitation, who is to tell the doctors? If a simple way can be provided, and the health professionals can be made aware of it, why not hold it securely online?


A facelift for the pig

September 12, 2010

E-government will now be accepted by many as having provided “lipstick on the pig” (a favourite expression of mine indicating that whist you can apply lipstick to the pig, it still remained a pig), in other words sticking a web front-end on many government services has still left the applications and processes limping along in a back-office somewhere, without process or regulatory improvement.

However, the new 69 page report from the so-called Network for the Post-Bureaucratic* Age (nPBA) entitled “Better for Less – How to make Government IT deliver savings” is much more of an encouragement for a face-lift for the pig, and a cheap one at that! I’d mentioned another paper from Liam Maxwell in July 2009,where I  supported some of the proposals and  suggested that it might indicate a future government’s policy and similarly this document, in my opinion, is just as good again (in parts).

The paper has many good points, but despite Mr Maxwell’s exposure to local government ICT, this strategy still falls down where e-government did 13 years ago. A pig is still a pig, despite lipstick or facelift and the nominal attack on bureaucracy is not necessarily a good idea, as McSweeney explains in the paper* on the post-bureaucratic age. It’s the wasteful parts of service processes that need sorting out, and they are frequently as a result of legislation or central government demands.

As described by Paul Henman in his analysis of “New Conditionality”, ICT has facilitated complex and frequent changes to legislation and regulation, these in turn add to the complexity of the ICT solutions and the cycle continues ad infinitum developing the complexity of government ICT. This is where the change needs to occur – simpler regulation and legislation.

Rather than auditing ICT, what we need in reality is a proposal, by some authors with an understanding of what makes good services delivered by central and local government, of how we audit end-to-end government services and in the process identify areas of true regulated bureaucracy that can be removed. Further, any attempts at rationalization should account for multi-channel service delivery. Many of the applications in the “new conditional” world link together and off onto web sites or corporate applications, this could provide some of the open data desirable for the commonweal, which whilst not of general interest will still have value to the local community.

Further, in a couple of instances, Mr Maxwell examines and compares the costs of ICT in local and central government, which can be a very misleading practice. Even with the amount of regulation, financial accounting in government is a dark art with the use of on-costs and recharges varying from authority to authority to the extent that costing for IT services is not straightforward and one can easily be comparing apples and oranges. Perhaps, another area to standardize?

*If anyone wants to know what “post-bureacracy” is,  there’s  an excellent critique of the Cameronesque “post-bureaucratic age” concept in a recent revision of an earlier academic paper by Brendan McSweeney entitled “Is a post-bureaucratic age possible?” As a summary, Mc Sweeney states “as a reaction against the authoritarianism of the previous UK government’s (New Labour’s) neo-conservatism, David Camerson’s sentiment is a welcome one, but as a programme for comprehensive transformation it is not achievable.” Which I’d say applies to the nPBA’s report also.

Citizen engagement

August 3, 2010

I’d hate to fall out with William Heath but one of his latest posts about the private sector holding citizen data I found challenging from my situation as an experienced IT worker, government employee and representative on various local government IT bodies, plus a long association with the voluntary sector.

One of the conundrums of government is that is delivers a lot of different services, some of them of critical importance to the well-being of many people. The data it holds is frequently necessary for that service delivery. Every time there is an issue where one arm of government, perhaps the police, is not privy to something held by social services, there is uproar about the lack of data sharing. Every time someone, usually in central government and frequently detached from the person-in-the-street, loses some data there is also uproar.

William’s solution appears to be to give citizens control  of that data. Can anyone in their right mind see a child abuser or someone with mental health issues maintaining their data correctly? I’m not saying the state is any better at holding the data than the private sector, but they do not have the same interests. The private sector has to make a profit. How will it do this but by charging potential users of the data for access to it?

With the approaching G-Cloud and Public Sector Network there is a big debate about who holds what data where. The ‘blue light’ services are emphatic about the need to have data at their finger-tips, they also know from many recent cases that this has to be shared relatively easily and quickly with others, as does child protection data, mental health records and much other data from other sources.

If the concensus answer is not to share data then don’t come out with screams of outrage when children die from neglect, abuse or attack. This is an extreme example of data sharing, but there are a lot more less critcal ones where data sharing is beneficial to the data subject.

Let’s try and view this in the round, rather than constructing some sort of shoddy data edifice that will crumble at the first push!

Good government

May 20, 2010

Lagan Technologies, suppliers of CRM to various local government bodies, have sponsored an interesting little study carried out for them by Vision Critical. I can’t find the source data but the revealing press release provides most of the information.

When asked to rate ease of access to a range of service providers from banks to insurance companies, those asked rated local councils at number five, whilst central government came in at eleven. Perhaps not a surprise, but I believe this identifies an issue when central government frequently tars local government with its own brush. Local government is frequently nearer the citizen and has to be responsive and is being, central government is the slower partner, in many cases.

Another statement from the press release is “A clear majority (77%) of the UK population approve of government investment in IT to improve access to services, with approval marginally higher amongst the 55+ age group.” An encouraging response given the many millions spent in the last ten years, let us hope we can make it worth it.

This call for improved access coincides with the launch of a report by the Centre for Technology Policy Research (CTPR), which the Computer Weekly places at the door of the London School of Economics, but which describes itself as an “independent non-partisan organisation that aims to ensure IT is better understood across public, private and voluntary sector boundaries…”. the report is entitled “Open government, some next steps” and is the output of various conversations with, amongst others, the Idealgits, a by-product of William Heath‘s explorations into an alternative government I.T. strategy (“gits”, get it?) through his Ideal Government site. In fact the report promotes a number of Mr Heath’s initiatives.

Unfortunately I personally found the report quite heavy going, which is sad when the organisation publishing it has the intent of make I.T. better understood! I do, however, appreciate their aims, which as with many of the central government initiatives it both praises and decries, originate in the USA. Unfortunately, I’d always prefer it if people looked to Canada first, which has a similar political structure and is a much better model if we are to try and “lift and stick” onto the UK.

My own personal view is the structures and cultures that they would modify are incredibly entrenched and complex, which I think they accept, and we will need that written constitution as a starting point. Too much of the stuff to be changed is seen as “information technology (I.T.)”, which it isn’t, but whilst I think the authors recognise that, the report coming as it does from the CTPR, the subject matter is already labeled as having a plug on the end (i.e. I.T.’s responsibility!)

Reasons to be cheerful

November 11, 2009

The latest Computer Weekly (10 November 2009) pointed me to a review of a presentation at the G2010 conference. Not having an enormous budget and being situated in rural North Yorkshire, I’m loath to spend my limited time and equally limited budget on lengthy rail journeys to conferences “down south” and so frequently miss out. However, on this occasion William Heath has been videorecorded and I actually spent 15 minutes watching the 24 minutes and 39 seconds of it!

Incidentally, Paul Canning was also one of the speakers and I noticed Martin Greenwood of Socitm Insight twiddling his thumbs during William’s presentation.

Whilst the core of William’s presentation was about personalising web services in order to improve data quality and services, he did build a little history of the failure of egovernment and transformational government in the UK. I agree with his conclusion of hubris for the vast waste of money over the last ten years, but focusing on the Internet or social media as so many people at the conference were will not improve services for a large minority of citizens, the digitally excluded.

One of his claims was that the government promise of 100% government services being delivered electronically by 2005 was withdrawn in 2004, something I don’t recall, having had to keep my nose to the grindstone well into 2006! Anybody remember such a recall?