Category Archives: Reading List

[RL] The problem with local government software

Original post from Gavin Beckett

With a very small number of exceptions, the established local government technology market is populated by companies that fundamentally do not understand user research.

They do not start with user needs or design great user experiences. And they do not use the tools and techniques of the internet age to deliver working software rapidly, so that real users get value from it quickly and iteratively.

I wrote a little while ago that the software market for local government is one of the things holding back the success of transformation in the sector. Gavin argues the point well in this post – it’s a fairly long read but worth the effort.

Why is local government software bad? Let me count the ways…

  • It’s hard to maintain, taking up huge resources to keep systems patched and updated
  • It’s siloed, with data unable to be meaningfully analysed and shared with other systems
  • It’s user hostile, with manuals in lever arch ring binders and training needed to do the most basic of operations
  • It’s hard to access, often hosted in council data centres, requiring the use of council equipment and connecting technology like Citrix to get anything done

I’m a little glum on this topic. My fear is that there are a couple of things holding back progress. The first is that the market for local government software isn’t big enough to provide the necessary reward for the investment needed to fix it. Second is that the develop challenge isn’t particularly exciting and thus the vendors struggle to attract the talent needed to make really great software.

One solution is for government to write its own software, although that would mean organisations bringing resources together in a way that hasn’t been particularly productive in the past.

Alternatively, councils could make a shared commitment to bring budget together to pump prime an incumbent or a new supplier. This though would almost certainly mean paying twice for a while whilst the new system is developed.

I’m not convinced either of the above are going to happen soon though. In the meantime, we must try to procure as well as we can, and try to hold suppliers to the standards we set ourselves for our own services.

[RL] Accounts and portals

Original post from Salman Chaudhri, FutureGov

…a different, more nuanced approach to authentication can save councils money in the long run. By focusing on making the transactions that apply to most people as seamless as possible, it can help to reduce additional support i.e. the number of phone calls and face to face contact.

An interesting development on the original post by then FutureGover Carrie Bishop, who delightfully wrote “‘I really wish I had one place where I can see all my transactions with the council’, said nobody, ever.”

The idea of accounts for public services kind of makes sense in the abstract – people think of e-commerce and how logging into one place where all your stuff resides is a useful thing. Surely it would be great to have that for council services too?

As this post explains, that isn’t necessarily the case, not least because most people don’t interact with their council all that often, and when they do, creating an account seems like needless faff. In those cases, authenticating users in other ways makes much more sense, and there’s some great ideas shared here.

We’ve found that once you identify the information needed for different types of transactions it’s possible to strip back which services really need a ‘login’.

However when considering the user need, there are some cases where an account might make sense. Perhaps a business owner who has several interactions on a regular basis with different bits of the Council, like commercial waste and environmental health, for instance. Or a developer, who has several sites with planning applications ongoing, or building inspections.

It’s dangerous though to make assumptions about when an account might be needed, and this is certainly one of those areas where keeping that focus on meeting the needs of user can ensure a better experience for them, and creating a digital journey that’s more likely to succeed.


This is a post in the Reading List series, where I link to an interesting article and add some commentary. See here for more information, or find all the posts in the series here.

[RL] Starting the ‘Reading List’

Finding time to blog is tough, and while I enjoy putting together the Five for Friday posts, you may have noticed that even doing those is tricky.

To get myself back into the habit of regularly posting, I’m going to have a go at splitting the idea of Five for Friday up, posting the links and short commentary on them individually, as I come across them.

This hopefully will mean I don’t have the burden (!) of trying to find five every week, or having to edit a bunch of stuff in one go. Instead, I can do it piecemeal as I see things I find interesting.

I’ve always enjoyed the way John Gruber posts to his linked list and I guess this is a similar thing for me to do.

I’ll categorise all the posts as reading list, and also add the [RL] prefix to post titles to highlight what they are. I’ll also find a way to send a bunch out via email (which you can sign up for here) – which people have said they find useful in the past. As always, most stuff ends up on Pinboard and Twitter too.

Just in case that sort of thing floats your boat, I’ll recommend Stefan’s Strategic Reading blog here, as well as link infused newsletters such as leisa reichelt’s and Coté’s.