Five for Friday (29/9/17)

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Five for Friday took a little break for a month or so while I settled into my new job(s). If I’m honest, I am still not completely settled – it takes time getting used to a little portfolio having concentrated on a single role for several years – but I am getting there.

Enjoy the links.

  • Mapping service design and policy design – terrific post by Andrea Siodmok on how service design and policy design meet. Quite a lot of the focus on digital transformation misses out the policy element, and understanding what an organisation’s approach to an issue, and why it has that approach, is vital to defining services that deliver the intended outcome.
  • Digital transformation, or digital fossilisation? – good stuff from Andrew Larner talking about the need to use the opportunity of digital transformation to address big strategic issues around the manner in which organisations operate – not just hard baking inefficient and user unfriendly processes using new technology.
  • Defining Aggregators – you are probably bored of me banging on about Ben Thompson and how good he is, but this is another great piece, pulling together his recent thinking on digital operating models, diving deep into the concept of the aggregator. Now, the aggregator model might not be a good fit for public services, but it’s a great way to get thinking about this operating model malarky.
  • Designing for democracyCatherine Howe applies the ladder of participation model to designing services in the digital age. Making this activity democratic involves the political, of courses, and also links up with Andrea’s post linked to above, where understanding the political and policy context is vital to achieving desired outcomes. There’s loads and loads in here (like does an iterative approach mean the big picture can get missed?) and it needs a good read and mull.
  • YC’s Essential Startup Advice – always take stuff like this with a pinch of salt (one shouldn’t ignore the pervasive Silicon Valley ideology that startups will save the world) but there’s some really good advice in here about launching new services. Much of it focuses on keeping things small and not worrying about scale until you know you have a thing that enough people like to require scale.

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

You can also sign up to get them delivered to you by email, if that’s your thing.

A digital journey

A tweet from Simon Wardley made me chuckle this week:

It stung a bit too – after all, I started out being someone promoting social media in government, and now here I am banging on about IT and transformation.

Of course, a bit of imposter syndrome is probably a good thing now and then – it never pays to be too confident, after all.

However, there is a bit of logic to my transition from hapless social media consultant to hapless digital transformation consultant, I think.

What I preached about social media was about getting on with things, making it easier and more convenient for residents and service users to access information, or make their views known. It was in a bit of a niche, around communications and engagement, but still.

However, as time went on, it became clear that this could only take you so far – you have to turn engagement into something actionable for a difference to be made. At this point I found myself in discussions with web teams and others around making websites more useful in delivering services (it was around this time that GDS started work on the single domain project).

Again, though, time passed and things didn’t move as quickly as I and others might have hoped. This was because, it turns out, that delivering great services online doesn’t just rely on a great website. It needs (at least) two other things: decent technology on the back end, and services fully designed to meet user need.

So it was at this point that, despite having started out in the social media days trying to work around IT, I realised it was necessary to fix IT in order to get even the simple things done properly. So here I am – modernising IT teams and helping organisations transform digitally.

Could I have started out at this point, ten years ago? Probably not. I needed to be hapless at social media so I could be hapless at websites so I could be hapless at IT and transformation.

Now I just need to work on being less hapless.

Language as an impediment to progress

Stefan pointed to an interesting blog post this morning on Twitter, that states that the word ‘digital’ is becoming increasingly less useful over time:

I haven’t yet come up with a better word to replace “digital”. I’ve tried a few, but they have their own problems. There’s simply too much meaning packed in for it to be captured in a single word.

This is true of the word digital, but also many other words. Transformation is another good example. And let’s not get started on ‘customer’.

The working definition of ‘digital’ that I carry around in my head is digital = change + the internet. It works for me, in my context, but of course others don’t always see things the same way.

I’ve tried other ways of breaking it down with people to understand their expectations. One was a three way split:

  1. Digital access – taking a paper or telephone based process and whacking it online with an e-form (quick to do, few benefits except a bit of convenience for web savvy users)
  2. Digital efficiency – taking that process and digitising it end to end, involving the replacement or integration with back office systems, removing unnecessary admin touch points an so on (takes longer, more difficult, but yields better results)
  3. Digital transformation – taking an entire service and rethinking it from the ground up, knowing what we know about networks and connectivity (really hard, but could ensure the relevance of that service for the next 20 years).

This too is flawed, and by it’s nature most people would always opt for the middle one.

Of course, the current fad for digital transformation is just that – what we are talking about is technology enabled change, and the approach to doing that well really hasn’t changed much in a couple of decades. Understand your service in terms of where you add value and design an operating model to suit, re-engineer your processes to work well from a customer or user’s point of view, and then choose the best technology to run that process on.

The detail may change, and the tools and techniques might differ, but it’s basically the same thing, whatever we are calling it this week. Sometimes though you have to use the buzzwords to get people to listen to you – and perhaps that isn’t such a hardship, really.

Five for Friday (11/8/17)

I took a week off doing this last week – the shame! – so apologies for that*. A good crop this time round though. Enjoy!

  • Tom Steinberg asks Why even bother with a user centred, digital government? and it’s a very interesting question. We spend a lot of time wondering what such a thing might look like, but without understanding why you’re doing it life can  get very tricky. Tom’s answer is based around achieving compassion, fairness, the value of government itself, respect and transparency. Matt Jukes has posted his response to the question as well, in typically thoughtful style, adding empowerment to the list.
  • An update on Government as a Platform (GaaP) progress at GDS gives a chance to discuss some of this stuff, including the opening up of the Notify service to local government, and the additonal capability for Notify to allow for inbound text messaging and the sending out of postal letters. Now, I wrote about GaaP a little while ago, and having just reread it, I’m not entirely happy about it (bit too tech-focused). The general issue I have with this area of work is that it seems to have leapt straight into the tech capabilities part, without thinking through the platform operating model bit first. The more specific issue with the way this is being done is in the re-writing of what are pretty common, commodity components. These things already exist! Why does local government need another way to send people emails, text messages or (FFS!) letters? Surely it would have been quicker, easier and cheaper to curate a suite of existing, well supported, easily configurable and interoperable components that could be used lego block style to build out services? Maybe there’s something here I’m just not getting.
  • ‘Digital Transformation’ Is a Misnomer – is a great articulation about the problems of language and how they impede progress. I’ve a post in the process of percolation on this topic at the moment, however it’s worth saying that people’s understanding of terms is based as much on their own experience as it is commonly accepted definitions. In other words (ha!) no single expression is ever going to work as a shorthand that everybody gets first time. This whole thing is made harder by the efforts of vendor marketing departments who like to badge whatever they do with whatever the fashionable term is at the time. My approach is to choose the right language for your organisation and stick with it, and rather than focus on specific definitions, work on using them as symbols to represent the thing you’re trying to get across. Otherwise you are doomed to never get past the first slide of the deck you’re writing for that important meeting.
  • If I could tell you 3 things – notes from a brief career in the public service – really nice reflective piece from Leisa Reichelt. All three of her things come from being user focused in one’s work, which is telling. It’s very easy to talk the talk on user needs but actually doing it is hard and requires constant vigiliance.
  • GDS Isn’t Working – Part 5 (No Vision, No Ambition) – an excoriating post from Alan Mather, continuing his series analysing government transformation efforts of the last few years. It’s not perfect – I can’t help but get the feeling that Alan needs to let the Gateway go… – but it’s a great challenge to not just the current central government strategy but also for anybody working on this stuff in their own organisations.

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

* although nobody complained…

Five for Friday (28/7/17)

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While you wonder where on earth the sun has gone (and I don't mean from the accurate depiction of the solar system above) here are some interesting things to read.

  • There are many tech roles going at Guildford Borough Council – take a look and best of luck if you go for one. If you're on the lookout for a job, don't forget Jukesie's email list.
  • Eleven exercises for more efficient, productive, and creative meetings – a few years ago my son asked me what I did at work. I wittered on a bit about digital, strategy and running a service; but he interrupted me and asked what I actually physically did. I had to answer that I read and wrote emails, and that I went to meetings. The second thing would be much improved if I started making use of some of the ideas in this article.
  • Businesses are using 'digital transformation' purely for marketing purposes, says Co-Op CDO Mike Bracken – there's a nice summary in here on why transformation isn't about merely digitising existing processes but taking a harder look at operating models and culture. Bracken identifies three barriers – first that changing culture is really hard, second that leadership views digital just as better IT, and third (as it says in the headline) that some organisations just use the D word for meaningless marketing.
  • GDS wants IT suppliers to use its GaaP products – but won’t offer service guarantees – interesting take on the Governmant as a Platform programme at GDS and hints at some of the difficulties involved in creating new capabilities rather than consuming them from the market. Supporting products is really hard, particularly in the 'enterprise' environment where expectations are high.
  • The GDS Academy is here – a more positive GDS story. The DWP digital academy has been given a makeover and now is the GDS Academy. Having a consistent way of delivering good quality learning to folk on the important bits of what digital is all about is one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw for many organisations and this is one of the few attempts to get it done at scale.

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

Five for Friday (21/7/2017)

The end of the week and time to do some more linkery. Hope you enjoy them, and don’t forget to pass them along to anybody who might benefit.

  • Digital Delivery Manager – my old team at Adur & Worthing are recruiting for a delivery manger to whip the programme into shape there. A great opportunity to work on stuff at the cutting edge of local gov tech.
  • Things of the internet – a lovely post by Ben Holliday on what it means to ‘be’ digital rather than just ‘do’ digital. One bit stuck out for me: “In my 4 years in government the biggest challenge has been moving beyond the digitisation of existing analogue services.” Yup.
  • Writing ‘the missing chapter’ on local digital services for UK digital policyTheo Blackwell, Cabinet Member for Finance, Technology and Growth at Camden Council, writes persuasively about the challenges local government faces in terms of exploting the opportunity of digital thinking. His identification of a collaboration deficit is interesting – although my experience is that more often than not, councils collaborating slows things down and makes them worse. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done better – but there are deep cultural and structural reasons why it hasn’t yet. While you’re here, check out Matt Jukesthoughts on the local gov tech world.
  • The what not the how of Service Design – strikes me that there’s am emerging three way split for doing digital properly in an organisation: the corporate strategy operating models bit, the technology bit, and the service design bit. Actually describing what service design is tends to be pretty hard, and this post from Sarah Drummond is one that I will be pointing people towards in the future. Another articulation of the difference of ‘doing’ something compared to ‘being’ something, it emphasises the need for focus on the outcome for the service user, rather than on processes, tools and techniques (which it is very easy to get obsessed with).
  • Here’s a video of Catherine Howe talking about a model for digital maturity that she’s been working on at Capita. It’s a useful framework for thinking about where your organisation is at on this stuff – and it’s short, which means you might get one of the big cheeses to watch it all the way through.

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

Five for Friday (14/7/2017)

Another Friday, another fistful of linkitude.

  1. Digital Workplace Leader – a fun looking job going at Thanet District Council. “The digital workplace leader will be an experienced professional who leads the effort to create a work environment that exploits digital trends and encourages digital dexterity through the adroit use of technology. The goal is to improve employee agility and engagement so that Thanet District Council can profit from changing business models and improved workforce effectiveness in order to achieve its organisational goals.” If you get it, good luck in getting all that done in the year the job lasts for (!).
  2. ‘I don’t know how to use a computer!’: the stories of our most dangerous public servants – this story from Leah Lockhart got a lot of Twitter attention and rightly so. Hard not to laugh at this stuff at times, but of course it is in fact a complete disgrace. Wearing your ignorance as a badge of honour is never cool.
  3. Publishers and the pursuit of the past – there’s nowt so tedious than the future of journalism discussion, but Ben Thompson at least brings in some strategic thinking about business models and incentives that’s worth digging into.
  4. A networked organisation – Cassie Robinson is on fire at the moment – I feel like she should be given her own slot here every week. Here she articulates what it means to be a networked organisation  – and how that differs from the activity ‘networking’.
  5. Building a digital culture in DWP – another nice list of things that digital cultures look and feel like, this time by Jon Osborn. I do like “less process, more progress” and might start saying it on regular occasions, irregardless of context.

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

Five for Friday (7/7/17)

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It’s another Friday, so here are five links (and associated background reading!) that I have found interesting in the last week.

Before we dig into that, a personal note. I’m shortly to leave my current employer, and whilst my next major gig is almsot confirmed, I am going to have a day or so free from the middle of August onwards to do interesting things (preferably paid). If you’ve a tempory, short term Dave-shaped hole to fill, please do get in touch.

  1. Interesting series of posts by Alan Mather on progress on digital government, focusing on the hits and misses at GDS. It will be worth keeping an eye out for future updates.

    Funnily, Richard Pope has also just finished publishing some retrospective thoughts on GDS. Is anybody getting the sense of an ending? It might be immanent, rather than imminent.

  2. Why we made our platform product open-source – some useful thoughts here from Comic Relief on open sourcing the code they have used to create Drupal based campaign websites. The post outlines some of the issues involved and is well worth a read. There has been a long running (GDS related) discussion about the difference between open source and coding in the open (is just chucking source code online for others to use ‘open source’?) and whilst working in the open in whatever way is generally a good thing, nonetheless code is only useful when you have coders who can do stuff with it, so isn’t always a panacea.
  3. Matt Jukes is assessing whether there is interest in an event “about blogging. newsletters etc and why they are good for organisations and individuals”. Sounds good to me. More background on why he wants to do it here.
  4. Tech beyond the market and the state? – really interesting ruminations on ‘civic tech’ from Cassie Robinson, with some nice definitions – including a focus on ‘community tech’: “Where people on their own choose to work together towards a common goal.” Looks like this will be an enquiry well worth following.
  5. Why large technology programmes fail and what to do instead – of all the things I’ve been responsble for in recent times as a manager of technology teams, getting to grips with the programme of work has been one of the trickiest and I don’t think I’m yet to actually get it licked. However, following some of this advice from Dave Rogers would be a damn good start.

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

Five for Friday (30/6/17)

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Quite a mixture of stuff this week – plenty to dig into over the weekend.

  1. Interesting job at GDS, promoting the use of gov.uk Verify in local government. You have until the end of Sunday 2nd July to apply – so better get cracking if you fancy it. If you’re on the lookout for a digital-ish job, then I’d thoroughly recommend Matt Jukes’ weekly listing.
  2. Startup SaaS Stack – this is a nice way of looking at the small number of software as a service tools that a new organisation might need to have. Not just relevant to startups but any organisations – certainly community, voluntary and charity groups could look at this and get a cutting edge tech stack in place in minutes and almost no cash. It also is an effective introduction to thinking about capabilities rather than systems in planning what technology you need.
  3. User-centred digital strategy – a really nice set of slides from Sophie Dennis that explains why strategy is helpful and what good and bad strategy looks like. While you’re there, why not check out her other deck on ‘Adventures in policy land’ which looks at service design in government, and is equally excellent (both via Strategic Reading).
  4. Paul Maltby followed up the crowd sourced reading list that I shared last week with three posts on how digital teams and policy teams can work better together, titled ‘A short guide to policy for government digital professionals‘, ‘What digital and policy can learn from each other‘ and ‘Prototyping a One Team Government manifesto‘. All are worth reading and mulling over.
  5. Who is responsible for effective, efficient and secure digital government? – watch the video of a wide ranging discussion of the progress made in digitising government. There’s more on the Institute for Government’s work in this area in this blog post, including a link to their report on the topic. I think it’s pretty clear to most people that the wave of enthusiasm for the work of the GDS in particular seems to be waning, not least following the departure of a number of leaders from that team, but also as they start to get stuck into some of the more intractable problems around culture and the back office IT stack. I’d argue that what is needed is not so much management, or even leadership (whatever the hell that is) but authority – someone or some people with the mandate to make change happen and the ability to force it through when bureaucratic (on the government side) and kleptocratic (on the vendor side) intertia starts kicking in.

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

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.