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.

Enabling government as a platform?

On Saturday at GovCamp 2015, Mike Bracken announced the enabling strategy, the approach GDS is developing to deliver something they call government as as platform.

Here’s the nice, short video that explains it:

Now, this is very sensible and it is hard to argue against it. The one quibble I have is whether this really is government as  platform.

There’s no doubt that what is being proposed is a platform. However, when one thinks of well known platform plays outside of government – Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, Google’s Cloud Platform, Salesforce and so on – the point is not that a platform has been developed, but that anyone can use it.

To me, what is being proposed by GDS is closer to a service oriented architecture – in itself a Good Thing and certainly not easy to achieve across as complex a system as government. Instead of building big end to end systems, we have a set of building blocks that can be assembled in different orders to create different systems. This saves time, and money, and creates more interoperable systems.

Perhaps, once all this is in place, the plan is to open it up to other organisations to make use of these service building blocks to develop their own tools. I hope so.

Imagine how good it would be if a supplier to government used the same financial platform that their customers were using? Could make life a hell of a lot more efficient.

Update: From GDS’s Deputy Director, Tom Loosemore:

A GDS approach to internal systems? Please?

it-fed-upThe Government Digital Service is the UK government’s solution to the issue of ensuring that government services are accessible and usable for citizens online. Quite rightly they have received plaudits for their approach to service design and delivery.

This is set out in the service standard, a list of 26 criteria that digital services should meet. It’s a great list.

Having worked at pretty much every level of government there is, I certainly appreciate the need for citizen facing services to be of high quality. But that experience also makes me wonder just how much could be achieved if a similarly robust standard were taken to the design of systems used internally by government departments, councils, and so on.

Actually, make that all large organisations, regardless of sector.

After all, how much in cashable savings could be achieved if it took a minute rather than half an hour to log a leave request, or book some travel?

Or how about the design of some of the big applications that people use to do their work – big lumbering databases with godawful user interfaces which give everybody their dim view of technology and what it can do in the workplace?

I was chatting to Meg Pickard about this yesterday and she confirmed the vital importance of the end user need. Part of the issue here, Meg felt, was that internal systems such as the ones we were talking about were invisible to the public, and so demonstrating value to citizens is difficult – it could be perceived by some negatively, as civil servants spending time and money designing pretty tools for themselves.

There is also a potential danger that this discussion – venturing into areas marked by signed saying “Danger! ERP!” – could be seen as ocean boiling territory.

However, how hard would it be for a simple, usable travel or leave booking system to be built as an agile prototype and shared amongst organisations, just to prove it could be done?

After all, the app-ification of IT demonstrates that having single use applications tends to work pretty well for most people, rather than vast monolithic systems that try and use the same process to achieve different tasks.

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