What I use 2016 edition

Here’s an update on the kit and software I’m using on a daily basis, just in case it’s of use.

My main computer is an 11” Macbook Air.

It has the i7 processor and 8gb of RAM and is the best computer I’ve ever used. I use it for home and at work, thanks to our Councils’ move to cloud based services.

I do have a work laptop, which I turn to when I need to access things like our HR and finance systems; and if I need to do some printing. It’s a Dell somethingorother.

In terms of software:

  • Chrome is running the whole time, hooked into my work Google account, where I access Gmail, Google Drive, my calendar and so on. Pretty much all the productivity work I do for my job is in Google’s suite of apps.
  • Trello and Tweetdeck are usually open too
  • Safari is often open, which hooks into my personal Google account
  • I have two other email addresses that I check regularly my desktop (I know…) which I host with Fastmail and pipe into Apple’s Mail app
  • Slack is usually open. I’m a member of about five teams that I access regularly via the desktop app
  • I use Reeder to keep up to date with RSS feeds (old skool, right?) – I use Feedly as the web service to keep it all in sync
  • I bookmark stuff in Pinboard, which then autoposts into Twitter for me via Zapier. Zapier also zaps bookmarked links into Pocket for me, so I can read them later at my leisure
  • Following a chat with Matt Jukes, I do most of my writing in Ulysses, whether taking notes, drafting blog posts or my email newsletter
  • Occasionally I’ll use Transmit for FTP, I have Microsoft Office installed but very rarely use it, do the odd mind map in MindnodePro, draw something with Omnigraffle, have a chat with someone in Skype, listen to music on Spotify, or screenshot something with Skitch.
  • I still have loads of different tools installed for editing text, most of which I don’t use very often or at all (Byword, Scrivener, BBedit, Atom, Writeroom, MarsEdit, probably others)
  • Utilities wise, I use Alfred as a Spotlight replacement and TextExpander is usually running
  • I store pretty much all my files in Dropbox
  • My blog uses WordPress.com and I pay to use my own domain and to not have adverts
  • My newsletter uses Mailchimp’s free tier

My phone is an iPhone 6, space grey with 64gb storage.

On my home screen I have the following things:

  • On the top row: photos; camera; app store; settings
  • Next row down: A folder with emails apps (Mail, Fastmail, Outlook, Inbox and CloudMagic – each app has a different email account feeding into it. I have too many email accounts); Natwest; Music; Google Maps
  • Next row: Spotify; Simplenote (for todo lists and quick notes, rather than ‘writing’); Overcast (easily the best podcast app); a folder with ‘reading’ apps (Medium, Buzzfeed, Nuzzle, Yahoo News Digest, Pushpin (an app for Pinboard), Kindle, NextDraft, iBooks)
  • Next row: Trello; HulloMail (provides a visual voicemail like tool, plus emails voicemail messages as MP3 files and transcribes them too); Wikipedia; Reeder (mobile version of the deskptop RSS reading app – again syncs with Feedly)
  • Next row: Slack; Pocket; folder with messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, iMessage); Safari
  • Bottom row: Facebook; LinkedIn; Ulysses – for bashing text in during idle moments; Twitter
  • Dock: Phone; Hangouts; Google Calendar; Gmail – the last three are all logged into my work Google account

The layout of apps regularly changes – I try and keep my most regularly used apps towards the right hand bottom corner – easily in thumb reach.

The second screen has other stuff on it, but I don’t use them on a regular basis really.

The main change over the last year or so is that Evernote has dropped out of this completely. It’s still there, but I hardly use it anymore – even to revisit notes previously made (which rather begs the question why I bothered making them in the first place).

Hope this has been useful and/or interesting!

Anti-patterns of behaviour in big organisations

Michael Coté has written an excellent post describing seven anti-patterns of behaviour in big organisations.

Number six is a particularly egregious crime, in my view:

Pay people to ignore them — BigCo’s love hiring new employees, paying them well, and then rarely listening to them. Instead, you hire outsiders and consultants who say similar things, but are listened to. In fact, the first task of any good management consultant team is to go interview all those bright, but ignored, employees you have and ask them what they’d do. The lesson is to track how many ideas come internally vs. externally and, rather than just blame your people for low internal idea generation, ask yourself if you’re just not listening.

Go read the whole lot – it’s good stuff.

How much does your technology define what you do?

A fairly quick thought this, but one than keeps occurring to me. It feels like a self evident truth that the technology an organisation uses should follow that organisation’s purpose, and not the other way around, but I wonder how often that is actually the case?

I’d argue that for many organisations, with legacy infrastructure and applications that have been in use for many years, technology is defining the way they run.

This is because the technology locks in ways of working, the design of a service, perhaps even the entire operating model of the organisation.

I’ve been involved in many projects in the past where radical redesign of services was scuppered because the technology wasn’t flexible enough to deliver the new vision.

So while it is vital to rethink how services are delivered and how the organisation works, sometimes you need to fix the technology first to enable that change to happen.

Interesting publications on design, technology and change for ‘good’

I’m pulling together a list of interesting, thought-provoking reading on how design, technology and change (the three things that, for me, define ‘digital’) can help organisations that work in the community, voluntary, charity, non-profit, social enterprise type space.

Is there a less clumsy way of describing these organisations? I think under the last Labour government, ‘the third sector’ was adopted, but that seems to be used less these days. Have heard ‘civic sector’ and ‘civil society’ bandied around, but don’t know how well established those terms are. Any help on that one?

Anyway, I’ve found a few I will point to here:

Any others? Leave a note in the comments or on Twitter and I will add them.

Rehosting podcasts

Last year I recorded a bunch of podcasts that people seemed to enjoy. They were hosted on a service that needed paying for, and when I stopped paying, they dropped off the internet! Oh no!

So, have rehosted them on Soundcloud, which is free. I’ll go back over the original posts and update them when I get a chance, but in the meantime you can find them all at https://soundcloud.com/davebriggs, or you can use the embedded player below.

Eleven years a blogger

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According to the archive on this site, I’ve been writing this blog for eleven years today – since September 2004.

This is the 2,646th post and there have been 4,263 comments on them over the years.

Lots has changed in that time, personally and professionally. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without having started it.

It’s done three things, I think:

  • helped build my profile over the years, creating all sorts of opportunities
  • helped me develop my ideas, from the half baked to the barely lukewarm
  • helped me build my network of friends and collaborators

There’s a bunch of other bits too, in that I’m sure I must be a better writer now than I was when I started, and eleven years of fiddling with WordPress have taught me a load about technical stuff (mostly to leave well alone).

I’m so grateful for the folk who read this blog and respond, for the occasional kind words of encouragement I get.

On the very odd occasion that folk ask me for advice on getting on the world of digital and/or government, I almost always suggest people start blogging.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to continue for at least another eleven years.

What I’m talking about when I’m talking about government as a platform

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So, a little while ago I posted about government as a platform, and mentioned three main components that matter, particularly to us at Adur and Worthing with our approach.

However, I’ve been involved in various conversations where I’ve been confused about how other people define platform thinking, which I think goes to the root of the lot of the issues around the wider digital agenda – issues brought to prominence recently in the debate following several key folk from GDS deciding to leave recently.

For me, I defer to Mark Thompson‘s thinking on a lot of this stuff, which Sean Tubbs neatly summarised with the benefit of some of his practical experience.

This piece from Thompson is required reading on the two different approaches to platform thinking, and which he – and I, as it happens – think is the right one. He characterises GDS as a ‘web agency’ – which I think is a little harsh, but gets to the heart of the debate around whether digital is more front end design than fixing the back office line-of-business IT stack (hint: a great website is lovely, but real change can’t happen until the legacy is fixed, which itself can’t be achieved without thinking more widely about how your organisation works).

Effectively the proposition is this: that digital describes not a set of specific technologies or even approaches to technology, but rather the age in which we are currently living, and the appropriate operating models for that age. It also describes the way in which an ever increasing number of our customers want to interact with organisations.

Thus digital, and the strategy for delivering on the digital opportunity that is government as a platform, is not around technology but rather rethinking how organisations work.

Technology is a convenient way to practically start delivering on government as a platform, but it is very much the start of the process. This is slightly unfortunate as it does provide the opportunity for people to put digital, and platforms, into the box marked IT project, which is a massive mistake. Platform technology without a platform operating model  will never deliver on the opportunity.

So, the key elements for me when it comes to platform thinking are:

  • capabilities not systems – instead of thinking about solving problems with a single ‘system’ (think of that word in the widest sense, not just as in an IT system) we break down requirements into generic capabilities, which can then be put together, building block style, to create the most appropriate solution to the problem at the time
  • making use of commoditised, utility-like computing – in government, we do not need to be using bespoke technology, but instead in many instances can use what the market can provide, at a much lower cost than traditional technology – which then frees up resource for the front line (which is the key bit)
  • solutions for now that don’t limit us in future – capabilities must be designed in such a way that they are not ‘hard coded’ (tech metaphor, sorry) for the way they run now, but so they can be flexible to meet future needs which may be very different
  • create and consume – the platform must be put together in such a way that both we and other organisations can make use of its capabilities, as both creators (building our own apps) and consumers (making use of what others have done)
  • disintermediation – or getting rid of the middle men. Catherine Howe spoke a lot about this a few years ago – showing her talent for prescience yet again. We’re only now really starting to see the effects of this with the likes of Uber and Airbnb cutting out bureaucracy and using the internet to directly connect people with needs with those who can meet those needs. These are true digital business models, not just slapping nicely designed front end lipstick onto legacy pigs.

This is what has been so frustrating about some recent discussions – rather than focusing on the big picture of rethinking operating models, folk go straight into IT mode and start discussing which booking system is best, or who has the payment engine everyone should be using. The concept of capabilities is grasped, but only at the level of technology, not any further.

So, at Adur and Worthing, we are at the very beginning of delivery of platform thinking and operating models. We starting, as is customary, within the domain of technology – but we are not limiting ourselves to that, and are constantly challenging our thinking to ensure we don’t continue to work in non-digital age ways outside of tech.

With technology, we build or buy capabilities that can then be used and re-used many times to deliver appropriate solutions to needs, both by us and by others, and we are also able to consume on the platform too – so if someone else has something neat we’d like to use, we can slot it into our systems. This way of working can happen with other assets, as well as tech, though – people, knowledge, skills, buildings, open spaces, vehicles – anything.

The key is to construct our organisation in such a way that all our assets are effectively capabilities that can be used in different ways by different people – and indeed so that we can bring in assets from elsewhere on the ‘platform’. Often this this supported by digital technology, but that isn’t the starting point, nor the outcome.

For example, I’ve recently been thinking about how ‘people as a platform’ might work in the local area. How can we make the most of the people who work at the Council – and their expertise and skills – as well as those who don’t work here but nonetheless might help us make things happen?

The capability here might be an effective time banking system, enabling people and organisations to trade knowledge, skills, time spent etc without the need for money to change hands  – borrowing in expertise as needed, paid for via hours donated to the wider system previously, without the need for costly administration to link people up, make the transactions and so forth.

(On a side note, how exciting would it be for such a time-trading system to work via some kind of blockchain technology, as Lloyd talks about in this post?)

Hopefully this example is useful – a non technology asset being shared across a system, (re-)usable in a number of different contexts, supported by a digital platform, built upon off-the shelf utility technology, which cuts out the need for central bureaucracy. That’s where we need to be with government as a platform.

So, to recap: digital is not about technology, and government as a platform is not about IT. It is instead a way of rethinking the operating model of an organisation to meet the current and future needs of its customers, in the digital age. The technology is an important enabler, but it is the means rather than the end.

It is not about fixing on a single solution for everything, but creating an ecosystem of innovation, where different solutions can compete to deliver the right capability needed by the people using the platform.

It is not about making everyone use computers to do everything, but instead is about making use of modern, internet enabled tech to run a sufficiently minimal back office that enables us to maintain, and potentially grow, front line delivery of what customers need (see Buurtzorg – and see if you can spot me and Mary McKenna in that video).

Hoping to have a chat about this at LocalGovCamp. Come along – it’ll be a blast.