Five for Friday (23/6/17)

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At some point I will post something other than links to this blog. But for now, this is it. Five more for you to enjoy this week:

  1. Standard Ebooks – There are lots of free and public domain ebooks about – try looking at Project Gutenberg for example. The problem is that they aren’t always of great quality – because they are often scanned in and OCRd, there are mistakes and janky formatting, amongst other issues. Standard Ebooks is taking these base metals and turning them into gold by checking them, cleaning them up and packaging them nicely – and they’re still free. What’s not to like?
  2. Strategic Reading – just in case five links a week aren’t enough for you, Stefan Czerniawski has started a new thing in the form of a link blog – lots of links to articles with a bit of commentary. Consumable on the website, via RSS or email and highly recommended.
  3. Amazon’s New Customer – I linked last week to rumours that Amazon might be interested in buying Slack. Not sure whether that was just a red herring or not, because it turned out that the big acquisition that Amazon made was Whole Foods, a chain of grocery stores in the US. This analysis by Ben Thompson of what is – on the face of it – an incomprehensible deal for an e-commerce company (clue: Amazon is not an e-commerce company) is excellent and very insightful when it comes to Amazon’s operating model and long term strategy.
  4. Background reading list for government policy people interested in digital – a useful collection of bits and pieces to read to get a good primer in what ‘digital’ means in the context of government services, curated by Paul Maltby. Am tempted to pull a list of my own together at some point.
  5. A great interview by John Markoff with various folk involved in the creation of the iPhone. Incidentally, Markoff’s book What the Doormouse Said would definitely be on any reading list I produce – it’s a fantastic and entertaining history of the birth of the personal computer.

These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Five for Friday (16/6/17)

Another week in which technology seems the least important thing in the world. Still, I’ve got nothing else to give, so here goes.

  1. Join the DH digital communities and channels team – two great jobs going on a great team at the Department of Health.
  2. Slack is raising another $500 million — and has attracted interest from a range of big buyers like Amazon – Slack is a really interesting tool. I swing wildly from thinking it’s not really that signficiant to considering it the harbinger of a new way of doing technology within organisations. As ever the truth is somewhere in the middle. The idea of Amazon buying it does not make a huge amount of sense to me. Amazon have inroads into big enterprise IT through their web services division of course, leading the way in the infrastructure as a service bit of cloud. They don’t have much (any?) of a footprint in software as a service – tools that actual users actually use. Do they want to get into that space? I’ve no idea but surely Google would be a better fit for Slack, and it would help out with the moribund and confusing state of the G Suite’s communications tools (Hangouts seems to have stagnated for years now).
  3. Survey points to digital skills gap in civil service and Public sector struggling with cloud due to skills shortage – to both of which my response is “yes, and?”. Seems to me that we see a lot of reporting of the problem with digital skills/confidence/mindset but very few examples or ideas around how to tackle it. If you’ve ideas to share, then please do so in the Digital Skills in the Workplace group on LinkedIn.
  4. History by lawsuit: After Gawker’s demise, the “inventor of e-mail” targets Techdirt – fascinating mixture of computer history combined with out and out oddness. The man who wrote a program called EMAIL claims this means he invested the generic tool e-mail.
  5. Minimum Viable Architecture – good enough is good enough in an enterprise – nice bit of myth-busting around the supposedly special requirements of IT in a larger organisation. The word ‘enterprise’ is used to justify all sorts of crap: higher prices, costly maintenance agreements, hard to use and complicated tools. The fact is that the only difference is one of time – bigger organisations have existed longer than most small ones and thus have built up baggage around infrastructure and process. Achieving change in such organisations means trying to reduce that cruft… as James notes in his post “If enterprises are going to drive a successful digital transformation, and develop a culture that supports agile development and devops, then they need less architecture, not more of it.”

 

These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Five for Friday (9/6/17)

Not sure anything in tech world can match politics right now for interestingness, but here goes…

  1. Tandridge Council are recruiting a Technology Implementation Manager. Details here.
  2. What a digital organisation looks like – smart stuff from Janet Hughes. Answer = responsive, open and efficient.
  3. We need a Minister for Digital Government – according to Dan Thornton at the Institute for Government. Quite a bit of commentary has been around the limitation of the word ‘digital’ – though that’s largely semantics – and I would argue that even if you (wrongly) take digital to mean just tech, there’s still enough that needs fixing to make it worthwhile.
  4. “Which third are you?” – asks James Governor from Redmonk. The thirds being change agents, persuadables or heel diggers. All about your attitude to change. Every organisation has every type, and you need them all onside – or at least enough of them – to make stuff happen.
  5. Coté shares some slides from a workshop he ran in the States on how Government can go cloud native. Also see this post for further ruminations.

These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Five for Friday (2/6/17)

Here’s five dollops of interestingness I’ve spotted this week:

  1. There’s a few interesting digital (and non-digital, for that matter) jobs going at London City Hall.
  2. Digital Transformation: Why Tech Alone Won’t Cut It – a useful reminder that digital and transformation are not necessarily technical terms. Human behaviour and culture are key.
  3. Where terrorists go to chat – thoughtful stuff from Hadley Beeman on security, encryption and the role of government
  4. Not even wrong – ways to dismiss technology – nice long read on technology adoption and why predictions around what will be the next big thing are often (not even) wrong
  5. Lessons from piloting the London Office of Data Analytics – Eddie Copeland talks about data issues at scale:

These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Publishing stuff

One of the things I love about the internet most is the fact that it puts the power to publish into the hands of pretty much anybody. There are many ways of doing it these days, whether by using a tool like WordPress like I do here – which can be pretty complicated – or perhaps by using Medium, which continues to interest and confuse me in equal measure.

So I was quite excited to come across a really simple thing called publishthis.email which allows anyone to create public webpages by just sending an email.

I immediately got in touch with my friend Lloyd about this, knowing that he shares my enthusiasm for publishing stuff, and also how he really enjoyed using Posterous which did something similar, albeit in a slightly more complicated fashion. Posterous was bought and shut down by Twitter a few years ago.

publishthis.email works in a ridiculously simple fashion. All you do is send an email to page@publishthis.email and a web page is created for you – the link to which sent by return to you. Any formatting in your email is preserved and any pictures you include are uploaded and added to your page.

Here’s my rather boring first effort at a page. Lloyd’s is a little more exciting.

And… that’s it. There’s nothing more to it and it really is that simple. Oh, except for collections. When you send your email, if you add a + and the name of a collection (basically a group of pages) after page and before the @ in the email address (so, for example, send to page+davescollection@publishthis.email) a dynamic list of those pages is then created, with its own URL, giving you a very rudimentary blog.

Here’s my rather boring first effort at a collection.

There’s loads missing, like human readable URLs, navigation links between pages and so forth. However, whether they come or not, publishthis.email is potentially really interesting as a way of very quickly getting text and images onto the web to share with others.

It’d be good to hear what folk think about tools like this, and what uses they could be put to.

Five for Friday (26/5/17)

Five more nourishing morsels I’ve spotted this week:

  1. LocalGovCamp is back this September in Bristol. Find out more and sign up for the ticket lottery here.
  2. The Disappearing Computer – Walt Mossberg’s last column is a great read on the future of computing
  3. Put employee experience at the heart of the digital workplace – interesting presentation on deploying communication and collaboration technology in your workplace
  4. Digital skills in the workplace – I’ve decided to give this rather dormant LinkedIn group a kick to see if there’s any life in it. If you’re interested in digital skills and confidence at your organisation, do jump in.
  5. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying HBO’s Silicon Valley recently. If you have Sky Atlantic, you can binge on it. Here’s the first season trailer to whet your appetite:

These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Five for Friday (19/5/17)

Five more nuggets of interest I’ve spotted this week:

  1. Jessica Lessin built a business to prove information doesn’t have to be free – great podcast about the different models emerging for journalism online. The Information is a great site, by the way (I’m a subscriber).
  2. The Department for Health’s fantastic digital team are hiring a Content Editor. You have until 28th May 2017 to apply.
  3. The Weird Thing About Today’s Internet – fantastic piece looking at the last ten years of the web.
  4. Making local authority data work for you – useful looking resource on open data delivered by the ODI and LGA in partnership (I think).
  5. James Governor summarises Microsoft’s Build conference for us in three minutes:

These have all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Five for Friday

Am going to try and get a quick link roundup post out every Friday if I can, pointing out some interesting stuff I’ve seen during the week.

  1. Management is not about asking people to do stuff – really interesting article on being a better manager. Something that’s really been brought home to me in the last few years is that being successful in stuff like digital transformation or modernising IT relies on your ability to manage well as much as being some kind of epic visionary.
  2. Enterprise-wide Agility: Doing versus Being – I love the “doing versus being” idea and want to explore it more in a future post here.
  3. Council frontline staff lack digital skills competence – not just frontline staff I’d say and a lack of basic understanding of the role of technology and digital operating models is holding back transformation work in lots of organisations, no matter what the sector. I’m tempted to dust down my digital passport work of yesteryear to see if it could be refreshed to help fill this gap.
  4. Head of Technology Services – I’m moving on from my interim job at Horsham soon, and this is the advert for my permanent replacement. It’s a great job.
  5. Mark Thompson on platforms and government:

These have all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Six principles for good local government technology

As part of the work putting together a Technology Strategy (think IT + digital) for my current employer, I came up with six principles of good technology. The idea is that each of these principles must be met by any piece of technology the organisation wishes to buy or to build.

(The purpose of the strategy is to develop what was a fairly traditional IT team into a rebranded ‘Technology Services’ team; and to bring them out of ‘maintenance mode’ and into more proactive space, where technology can be used to drive improvement and efficiency in the way that services are delivered. To my mind, IT in this sense cannot be worked around or ignored in a JFDI sense if you’re serious about transformation in your organisation – it must be tackled head on, otherwise you’re doomed to failure. More on this in a future post.)

Anyway, here are the principles, in case they are useful.

Cloud native – to ensure all the systems we use are designed for the internet age

Core to the Technology Strategy is for the Council to become a ‘cloud native’ organisation, making use of commoditised utility computing wherever possible. A district council has somewhat limited resources, and those resources are best spent where we can add most value, and to my mind, that isn’t in upgrading firmware or patching servers.

Our preferences when investing in systems is as follows:

  • Software as a Service – where possible, we prefer to use a SaaS solution to minimise the responsibility we have to support and maintain a system’s infrastructure
  • Platform as a Service – for bespoke workflows and requirements, we develop using a cloud-hosted, capability-based, off the shelf PaaS
  • Infrastructure as a Service – where the market is yet to deliver an acceptable SaaS solution and the requirement is too complex to deliver via PaaS, then a more traditional application will be hosted within a public cloud environment such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure

Mobile ready – to ensure all the systems we use can be accessed anywhere, from any device

Legacy software was built for desktop based computing and thus doesn’t work well with the new style of devices that have emerged in the last decade.

We want staff to be able to make use of easy to use devices such as smartphones and tablets while working away from the office.

Any software we purchase, renew or develop must be enabled for mobile working out of the box, without the requirement for middleware or extra investment in specialist hardware.

Interoperable – to ensure the data our systems use is easily shared between people and applications

Legacy software makes exchanging data between systems difficult and expensive.

Cloud native systems and software offer freely accessible and publicly document application programming interfaces (APIs) and web services, which can be used to link systems together very simply, often with very limited programming required and use of ‘drag and drop’ style interfaces.

We will insist that all technology we invest in offers this ability to share data across systems.

Flexible – to ensure we make good use of shared platforms and capabilities across our services

Many of the systems we use are made up of the same common capabilities – booking , reporting, managing cases, payments, assessments and so forth – however they are trapped in service specific silos.

We wish to tackle this inflexibility by investing in flexible, generic capabilities that give us the building blocks to design our services, and the systems they run on, in the way we want to, and not be beholden to system suppliers.

Enabling customers – to ensure all the technology we deploy helps our customers enjoy a consistent journey across our services

We want to put our customers at the centre of the way we do things. This means two things:

  1. Any system we purchase or develop must have online self service as a foundational part of its design, to ensure as many as possible choose to take this option
  2. Service and system design should be based upon evidence generated through user research and take a customer-centric approach

Proportionately secure – to ensure that the Council’s and our customer’s data is as safe as it needs to be to enable us to deliver our best work

Information security is extremely important and we must be vigilant in looking after the data we hold, particularly that which belongs to our customers.

However, with our move to internet based technology, we can follow best practice guidance from central government to classify our information assets to enable us to work flexibly when it is appropriate to do so.

We want to encourage colleagues to think for themselves around information security, rather than relying on one size fits all policies that often are not adhered to.

Maybe tomorrow I think I’ll settle down

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?

It’s hard when thinking about the things we do to scratch out a living not to recall Larkin’s words about the manner in which work can dominate our lives.

I’ve been thinking about work a lot in the last few months, to the point where I’m making a change in what I do and how I go about it. This Friday will be my last working at Adur & Worthing, and from the following Monday onwards, I will be shifting up the road to Horsham District Council.

The main reason for the change really is a temperamental one, I guess. I’m moving from a permament job to contracting. At Horsham I’ll be an interim with a defined period of time to work in. Having a go at a permament role has been an interesting experience, but it has become clear to me, and I suspect to one or two colleagues, that I am a sprinter rather than a marathon runner. I do my best work in short bursts, before momentum runs out and boredom sets in.

The other interesting thing to me is the new role itself – Head of Technology Services. That might sound to you like a fancy way of saying IT Manager, and to an extent you’re right. Somehow I’ve pivoted from being someone who knows a little bit about how the web works to being the bloke in charge of the infrastructure, the applications, the data, the security, and yes, the web. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I’m kind of pleased it has.

My role going into Horsham is to put a technology strategy together, get the programme of work lined up, and to ensure the structure of the team and the roles within it are the right ones for the future. You’ll notice that the ‘D’ word, digital, hasn’t been mentioned yet. It might be a semantical thing, but I’m trying to avoid it this time around.

There’s a thing about being able to talk about digital ways of doing things, without people automatically assuming that it is the digital team’s job to do it. It isn’t always, and I think having a team and a strategy that isn’t called digital means that one can talk about digital in a much more open way, without it being seen as a land grab, or a takeover by one particular group in an organisation.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge and getting stuck in at Horsham. And then in six or so month’s time, I’ll be moving on again.

So the answer I’ve found to the conundrum of work, I think, lies in words from another of Larkin’s poems: peculiarly for him (and perhaps for me to choose them) amongst his most uplifting:

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.