The objective of the survey was to understand current activity across government in what might be termed new or emerging technologies that are related to digital or information technologies. Loosely defined, these are new technologies that do not currently have a critical mass, but which may have the potential to disrupt industries or generate significant savings.
Authoritative, yet simplistic assertions about reuse routinely bypass past experience of just how much work it takes to make something reusable.
But the real answer to the question depends on how IT is defined. If narrow definition is used and IT is taken to mean nothing more than base infrastructure, then Carr’s viewpoint remains correct. If, however, the definition of IT encompasses the entirety of an organization’s technology portfolio and strategy, however, the assertion that IT doesn’t matter could not be less accurate today.
“I think we have to accept that there’s going to be legacy stuff out there, and there’s going to be unsupported systems. So it would be better to accept that we’ve got that and come up with strategies for how we’re going to manage that.”
The endless noise emanating from Silicon Valley essentially has two complementary elements. One is all about dreams so unlikely that they beggar belief: the idea that the Tesla CEO Elon Musk will one day set up a colony on Mars; or that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg can successfully marshal an attempt to “cure, prevent and manage” all diseases in a single generation. Whatever its basis in fact, this stuff casts people and corporations as godlike visionaries, and then provides a puffed-up context for the stuff the big tech companies shout about week in, week out: stuff we either don’t need or, worse, which threatens some of the basic aspects of everyday civilisation.
Is it modernize or die? Or modernize and die? For banks updating their computer systems with secure mobile features it can be both. Many run mainframes on legacy code that’s gone dark — no one understands it anymore.
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.
Five more nourishing morsels I’ve spotted this week:
- LocalGovCamp is back this September in Bristol. Find out more and sign up for the ticket lottery here.
- The Disappearing Computer – Walt Mossberg’s last column is a great read on the future of computing
- Put employee experience at the heart of the digital workplace – interesting presentation on deploying communication and collaboration technology in your workplace
- 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.
- 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:
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:
- 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
- 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.
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.