Friday, August 11, 2017

GDS Isn't Working - Part 5 (No Vision, No Ambition)

Credit:  Roger Hooper

Efforts to transform government have been underway for more than 20 years.  Despite that, government has remained firmly as the catalyst - the part of the reaction that remains unchanged - throughout each iteration.    We need to understand that Government isn't the subject of the transformation, it's the object.   The citizen is the subject.  It's their experience, their life, that we want to improve.

Whilst I have a strong disliking for the word "transformation" - because it implies a sudden, dramatic shift from what we used to call "as is" to "to be" and because it means different things to different people (one person's transformation is another person's incremental change) - it's the word that is used to describe current change efforts in UK Government.

To get a sense of the level of ambition and vision for today's programme,  I looked at the Beyond 2020 Strategy. It contains a couple of extraordinary statements.

Here's the first:
"Nobody can predict what the world of 2020 will look like. Technology moves quickly and changes constantly. However we do expect what we call ‘digital’ currently to be largely mainstream by then"
This is both true and false.  More importantly, it's entirely irrelevant in this context.

It's true because we all know that there is a new iPhone coming out in a month or so and yet no one outside of Apple HQ knows how it's all going to come together.    We don't know what products will be released next year, let alone in 2019 and 2020.  So far so dull.

It's false because we know how technology is moving and what there will be more of and less of.  In 2001, one of our first demos of the Gateway to the then Minister of the Cabinet Office, Ian McCartney (the original sponsor of the Gateway), showed a VAT form being completed on a Compaq iPaq, sent over GPRS and acknowledged by HM Customs as being complete and valid.  We didn't know it would be 6 years before the iPhone would come along and that it would be longer still before mobile access to the Internet was common, but we could see it coming. We don't need to know which products are coming along to set a direction for how we want our online government experience to look for the citizen.  Technology in government, once deployed, can stick around for decades - ask HMRC how long the CHIEF system has been around, or the Home Office about the Police National Computer, or Cabinet Office, for that matter, about the Gateway.  We don't need to harness the latest and greatest product capability to make a difference.

And it's irrelevant because:
In these days of driverless cars, missions to Mars, rocket stages that no longer fall uselessly into the sea, artificial intelligence engines that get the maximum score on Ms Pacman, augmented reality and more ... 
... we are still talking about digital government as paving the cowpath, that is, putting forms online.

And here, in that context, is the second extraordinary statement:
"We want to make the best possible preparations for the post-2020 period. We will use current and emerging sources of data so that we can understand what is working well for the current transformation programmes and combine this learning with emerging macro-trends to make the best possible plans for the period after 2020."
I challenge you to tell me, in simple words, what that means.  I suspect you can't, so let me translate as best I can:

WE HAVE NO VISION


Instead, the so-called Transformation Plan for the period from 2017 to 2020 simply repeats the mistakes of the past, focusing on linear transactions, ticking them off one by one, without dates, ambition or any sense of rationale.  For instance, here are some of the "deliverables" picked at random from the document (I'd like to call it a "plan" but there are no dates or details):
  • continue to deliver world-class digital services and transform the way government operates, from front end to back office, in a modern and efficient way
  • make better use of data - not just for transparency, but to enable transformation across government and the private sector
  • broaden the definition of users, for example to reflect that some users will interact with government through third-party services that use government APIs (application programming interfaces
  • design and deliver joined-up, end-to-end services
  • we will build a framework for the best way to deliver transformation across government
  • building a national data infrastructure of registers (authoritative lists that are held once across government) and ensuring they are secured appropriately
  • building shared components and platforms, extending the use of the ones that we have and onboarding more services

Are you any the wiser?  Do you see the vision?  Do you see the ambition? Do you know what's coming and when and are you palpably excited for how it might change your life for the better?

I wasn't quite being honest when I declared that there is no vision.  The document does state one.  It says:
We will transform the relationship between citizens and the state - putting more power in the hands of citizens and being more responsive to their needs.
Which to me is a lot like saying "Our washing powder will wash even whiter than the last one that washed whiter."

We have forgotten about the citizen - the ones who we truly want to see changed for the better.  We have instead labelled them "users" and decided that if we work closely with them we will design better services.  That's backwards.

The citizen's interaction with government needs to be about them, not about government.  We need to think about what we want them to become, what power we truly want to put in their hands and how we will make that happen.  Going through the list, form by form, is not how that will come alive.

Here is an excerpt of the Transformation Programmes underway as of November 2016:


Those programmes, inevitably, translate into some online forms:



Transformation?  No.   Not even close.

All the way back when this began in the late 90s and early 00s, we declared that we wanted to harness the potential of the web, initially, to layer a veneer on top of government - to mask it's complexity from the citizen by presenting a joined up and citizen focused front end; we knew that the transactions underneath that would start off point to point.  We thought that would buy us time to engineer some truly joined up capability and we designed the Gateway to allow that - it could take in a single schema, split it up and send to different parts of government, get the responses, join it all up and send it out again.  That capability remains unused.

A slide from a 2003 conference

It's time to move away from the point to point nature of efforts so far and to imagine, instead, what we want our citizens to be able to do when we have delivered a successful digital capability.  For instance:

- We want to encourage new startups and make it easy to create a company with, say, 10 lines of information and 3 clicks?  Company registration, payroll, VAT, R&D credits etc. What will it take to achieve that?  How will we know we are doing it right? What will the impact be on accountants and other professionals as well as on potential startup founders?

- We want to make it so that there is no need for anyone to ever phone HMRC to resolve a problem?  How many people who could use the Internet make a phone call now?  How many problems could be moved to an Internet channel meaning a call wasn't necessary?  How many result from mistakes made by HMRC that we could correct before the citizen knew and how many can we prevent from occurring at all?    How would we make all of those changes?  How can we move the entire relationship a company has with HMRC to online interactions?  How can we do the same for a company employee?  For a retiree?  Not everyone wants to be online all the time, but if they want to be, we should give them a way.

- We want to make the administration post loss of a loved one simple and effect, cutting by 80% the amount of paperwork and the time it takes to handle all of the different pieces - inheritance tax, pensions, council tax and so on.  Can Tell Us Once help?  Why is Tell Us Once not available everywhere?  What else would we need to do?

We need to flip the thinking away from what do our departments do and how do we put that online to the problems that our citizens have and how we can solve them through smart use of technology.
This isn’t about user needs. It's about a vision of how we want our citizens to lead their lives in relation to government services.  This is Henry Ford territory, that is, it's not about faster horses.
As Paul Shetler says, "we can't kumbaya our way through this."  We need to get concrete.  Assumptions, plans, deadlines, delivery focus.

To make this happen, we'll want to lay out some assumptions

1) The shape of government isn't going to change materially in any way that would help our efforts.  Departments are still going to be departments.  We aren't going to split them into horizontal layers focused on citizens.  We aren't going to join up the machinery itself, we're going to have to do that through our own capabilities - we are going to have to pretend that it's joined up through use of technology.

2) We have all the technology that we need.  We don't need to wait for flying, driverless cars.  We don't need to see what's around the corner, or what's going to launch in 2020.  The technology that we launched in 2001 and that we have today is all that we need to pull this off.

3) We have all of the capability and capacity today.  If it's not already in the public sector, it's in the private sector.  We shouldn't bolster one at the expense of the other, in either direction.  It's all there today and we need only to focus it.

So what we have is what we need and vice versa.  It's time to lay out a true, specific vision and to back that up with plans.
We then need to be transparent - about those plans, about the financials and about our progress.  Delays will be forgiven if they are telegraphed early along with the true reason.  Whilst we have what we need, it won't be easy to create this level of change and so we need to bring people along for the ride, explaining what is and isn't happening and why. 
Rule #1 - No surprises

Rule #2 - See rule 1



Wednesday, August 02, 2017

GDS Isn't Working - Part 4 (Verify)

The conclusion to Part 3 (The Reboot) was:

  • Verify - It's time to be brave and ignore sunk costs (investment to date and contractual exit costs if any) and let this one go.  It hasn't achieved any of the plans that were set out for it and it isn't magically going to get to 20m users in the next couple of years, least of all if HMRC are going their own way.  The real reason for letting it go, though, is that it doesn't solve the real problem - identity is multi-faceted. I'm me, but I do my mother's tax return, but appoint my accountant to do mins, but I work for a company and I do their payroll, and I counter-sign the VAT return that is prepared by someone else, and I act as the power of attorney for my blind father.  Taking a slice of that isn't helping.  Having many systems that each do a piece of that is as far from handling user needs as you can get.  Driving take up by having a lower burden of proof isn't useful either - ask the Tax Credits folks.  HMRC are, by far, the biggest user of the Gateway.  They need citizen and business (big business, sole trader, small company) capability.  Let them take the lead - they did on the Gateway and that worked out well - and put support around them to help ensure it meets the wider needs.

Instead, GDS appear to be doubling down, based on this article in Computer Weekly:

  • GDS speakers at the event encouraged suppliers to use the GaaP tools in their own products, in the hope of widening their use. However, according to guests at the event that Computer Weekly talked to – who wished to remain anonymous due to their ongoing relationships with GDS – GDS was unable to give any guarantees around support or service levels.
  • GDS has now developed a new feature for Verify that allows “level of assurance 1” (LOA1) – a reduced level of verification that is effectively a straightforward user login and password system, which offers “minimal confidence in the asserted identity” of users for low-risk transactions. In effect, LOA1 means the government service trusts the user to verify their own identity.
  • The government has committed to having 25 million users of Verify by 2020, and offering LOA1 is seen as a key step in widening the adoption of the service to meet this target.
This is, though, to miss the point of "What is Verify for?":


  • The goal isn't to have 25 million users.  That's a metric from 1999 when eyeballs were all that mattered.  25 million users that don't access services, or that sign up for one and never use another service isn't a measure of relevancy
  • A government authentication platform is instead for:
    • Giving its users a secure, trusted way of accessing information that government holds about them and allowing them to update it, provide new items and interact with government processes
    • Allowing users to act as themselves as well as representatives of others (corporate and personal) with the assurance that there is proper authorisation in place from all necessary parties
    • Putting sufficient protection in the way so as to ensure that my data and interactions cannot be accessed or carried out by people who aren't me.  In other words, "I am who I say I am" and, by definition, no one else is
What then, if we took away the numbers and the arbitrary measures and said, instead, that the real purpose is to:
  • Create an environment where a first time user, someone who has had no meaningful interaction with government before, is able to transact online and need never use offline processes from that moment on
  • Sixteen year olds would begin their online interaction with government by getting their National Insurance numbers online
  • They would go on to apply for their student loan a couple of years later
  • With their first job they would receive their PAYE information and perhaps claim some benefits
  • Perhaps they would be handling PAYE, or VAT, or CT for their own employer
  • Health information and records would be available to the right people and would move them as they moved jobs and locations
  • Perhaps they would be looking at health information and records for others
  • They would see the impact of pension contributions and understand the impact of changes in taxation
  • Perhaps they would be helping other people figure out their pension contributions and entitlements
  • They might decide whether they can afford an ISA this year
  • In time some would pay their Self Assessment this way
  • Or maybe they would be completing Self Assessments for others
A 2002 Slide

Instead of spot creating some transactions that are nearby or easy, we would seek to change the entire experience that someone has who doesn't know about government - they would never know that it had been broken for years, that paper forms were the norm for many, or that in 2010 people had to go from department to department to get what they needed.  They would take to this the way a baby learns that you swipe an an iPad screen - it would never occur to them that a magazine doesn't work the same way.

Along the way, those who were at later stages of life would be encouraged to make the move online, joining at whatever stage of the journey made sense for them.

This wouldn't be about transformation - the bulk of the users wouldn't know what it was like before.  This would just be "the way government is", the way it's supposed to be.  Yes, in the background there would have been re-engineering (not, please, transformation), but all the user would see is the way it worked, fluidly, consistently and clearly, in their language, the language of the user.

Progress would no longer be about made up numbers, but about the richness of the interaction, the degree to which we were able to steer people away from paper and offline channels, and the success with which we met user needs.  The measure would be simply that they had no need, ever, to go offline.

Verify isn't the way into this journey.  Verify started out trying to solve a different problem.  It isn't seen, and wasn't conceived, as part of a cohesive whole where the real aim is to shift interaction from offline to online.  In its current form, it's on life support, being kept alive only because there's a reluctance to deal with the sunk costs - the undoubtedly huge effort (money and time from good people) it's taken to get here.  But it's a "you can't get there from here" problem. And when that's the case ... you have to be brave and stop digging.

If my original take on "What is GDS for" was:
GDS is for facilitating the re-engineering of the way government does business - changing from the traditional, departmentally-led silos and individual forms to joined-up, proactive, thought-through interactions that range widely across government.  It is not, in my view, about controlling, stopping, writing code or religious/philosophical debates about what's right. It's job is to remove the obstacles that stop government from championing the user cause.
Then what if GDS took the vanguard in moving government to cater for the user journey, from a user's first interaction to its last.  A focused programme of making an online government available to everyone.  A way of assessing that "I am who I say I am" is an essential part of that - and starting with a 16 year old with minimal footprint is going to be challenging but is surely an essential part of making this work.  This would be a visionary challenge - something that could be laid out step by step, month to month, in partnership with the key departments.


It can be dull to look backwards, but sometimes we have to, so that we move forward sensibly.  The picture above shows the approach we planned at the Inland Revenue a long time ago.  We would take on three parallel streams of work - (1) move forms online, (2) join up with some other departments to create something new and (3) put together a full vertical slice that was entirely online and extend that - we were going to start with a company because our thinking was that they would move online first (this was in 2000): register the company, apply for VAT and tax status, send in returns, add employees, create pensions etc.

It feels like we've lost that vision and, instead, are creating ad hoc transactions based on departmental readiness, budget and willingness to play.  That's about as far away from user needs as I can imagine being.

As a post-script, I was intrigued by this line in the Computer Weekly report:
GDS was unable to give any guarantees around support or service levels.
On the face of it, it's true.  GDS is part of the Cabinet Office and so can't issue contracts to third parties where it might incur penalties for non-delivery.  But if others are to invest and put their own customer relationships on the line, this is hardly a user needs led conversation.  Back in 2004 we spent some time looking at legal vehicles - trading funds, agencies, JVs, spin-offs - and there are lots of options, some that can be reached quite quickly.

My fundamental point, though, is that GDS should be facilitating the re-engineering of government, helping departments and holding them to account for their promises, not trying to replace the private sector, or step fully into the service delivery chain - least of all if the next step in the delivery promise is "you will have to take our word for it."

Friday, July 28, 2017

GDS Isn't working - Part 3 (The Reboot)


What is GDS for?  It's a question that should be asked at a fundamental level at least every year for an organisation that set out to be agile, iterative and user led.   It's easy to be superficial when asking such a seemingly simple question.  People inside the organisation are afraid to ask it, doubtless they're busy being busy at what they're doing.  They're afraid of the consequences.  They don't want to touch the question in case it bites - the electric fence that prevents introspection and, perhaps more importantly, outrospection.

There are several reasons why this question should be asked, but one that I would take as important, right now, is because GDS don't know themselves, as the NAO highlighted recently.
"GDS has found it difficult to redefine its role as it has grown ... initially, GDS supported exemplars of digital transformation ... major transformations have had only mixed success ... GDS has not sustained it's framework of standards and guidance ... roles and responsibilities are evolving ... it is not yet clear what role GDS will play [in relation to transformation]"
If there was ever a time to ask "What is GDS for?", it's now ... to help understand these numbers:
The budget is £150m in 16/17 and 17/18 (though it falls over coming years, to £77m in 19/20) and GDS has around 850 staff today (again, falling to 780 by 19/20).
Let me ask again, what is GDS for?

When those 850 staff bounce into work every morning, what is it that they are looking forward to doing?  What user needs are they going to address?  How will they know that they have been successful?  How will the rest of us know?
Given a budget, Parkinson's Law of Government, says the department will expand to absorb that budget.
GDS has demonstrated this law in action:
  • The exemplars have finished, with varying degrees of success.  There are no further exemplars planned.  The organisation has only grown.
  • Major digital projects have stumbled badly and, in some cases, failed entirely, for instance:
    • The RPA Common Agriculture Programme, specifically re-engineered by GDS early in its life and then directly overseen by senior staff, failed to deliver.  The lessons learned in the previous RPA project, 7 years earlier, were not learned and the result was the same - a system that was late, high disallowance costs and a poor experience for the real users, the farmers.
    • Digital Borders is progressing slowly at best, even allowing for the tuned and optimistic language in the IPA report.  Seven years after the last programme was terminated in difficult circumstances, the first, less aggressive than planned, rollout of new capability is starting now
  • Nearly 5 years after DWP were ready to complete their identity procurement and around three years since its replacement, Verify design to save millions, was about to enter public Beta, the Government Gateway is still there, 16 years old and looking not a day older than it did in 2006 when the UI was last refreshed.  Verify has garnered around 1.4m users,  a very small fraction of even Self Assessment users, let alone overall Gateway users.
    • The Government Gateway is slated for replacement soon, but Verify is clearly not going to replace it - it doesn't handle transaction throughput and validation, it doesn't handle nomination (e.g. please let my accountant handle my Self Assessment) and, most obviously, it doesn't handle business identity.  Given the vision that we laid down for the Gateway and all of the work that was done to lay the foundations for a long term programme that would support all aspects of identity management, Verify is nothing short of a fiasco, as demonstrated by the increasingly vocal war about its future, with HMRC seemingly building its own identity platform.  Others far more able than me, including Jerry Fishenden and David Moss have exposed its flaws, muddled thinking and the triumph of hope over ability.
    • Even now, instead of bringing departmental transactions on board, addressing true user needs and massively improving completion rate from its current low of less than 50%, the Verify team are talking up their prospects of getting 20m users by lowering identity standards and getting the private sector on board.  They blame lack of take up to date on slow delivery of digital services by departments, according to the IPA report.
  • Gov.uk, whilst a triumphal demonstration of political will to drive consolidation and a far greater achievement in presenting a joined up view of government to the citizen than achieved before, is still a patchy consolidation with formats and styles changing as you move from level to level, departmental websites still having their own separate space (compromising, as soon as you arrive in a departmental domain, the sense of consolidation), PDFs abound, and, of course, it lacks major transactions (and those that are available often have a very disjointed journey - follow the route to filing a VAT return for instance).  The enormous early progress seems to have lapsed into iterative tinkering.
  • Alongside all of that we have the latest in a long series of transformation strategies. For many months the strapline on this blog read "transforming government is like trying to relocate a cemetery, you can't expect the residents to help".  Since then I've revised my view and now believe, firmly, that in any effort to achieve transformation, government will remain the catalyst, in the true chemical sense of the word.  This strategy says that by 2020 "we will"
    • design and deliver joined-up, end-to-end services
    • deliver the major transformation programmes
    • establish a whole-government approach to transformation, laying the ground for broader transformation across the public sector
  • We all want to believe those words.  We know that these have been the goals for years, decades even.  We know that little has really been achieved.  And yet here we are, after 7 years of GDS, being asked to believe that transformation can be achieved in the next 3.  There is a Jerry Maguire feeling to this, not so much "show me the money" as "show me the plan"
  • And, lastly, we have Government as a Platform.  No one was ever quite sure what it was.  It might include the Notifications and Payments service - oddly, two services that were available on the Gateway in 2002/3, but that were turned off for some reason.
So why not ask "What is GDS for?" and use the thinking generated by that question to restructure and reboot GDS.  Any reboot requires a shutdown, of course, and some elements of GDS's current work will, as a result of the introspection, close down.

If I were asked to answer the question, I would suggest

GDS is for facilitating the re-engineering of the way government does business - changing from the traditional, departmentally-led silos and individual forms to joined-up, proactive, thought-through interactions that range widely across government.  It is not, in my view, about controlling, stopping, writing code or religious/philosophical debates about what's right. It's job is to remove the obstacles that stop government from championing the user cause.

Within that the main jobs are:
  • Standards and guidelines for IT across government.  This could get dangerously out of hand but, as the NAO note, GDS has, to date, not kept its standards up to date.  Some key areas:
    • Data formats - messaging standards to allow full interoperability between government services and out to third parties through APIs.  In 2000, we called this govtalk and it worked well
    • Architecture - eventually, government IT will want to converge on a common architecture.  We are likely decades away from that on the basis it's hardly started and replacing some of the existing systems will take more money than is available, let alone increased capacity across the user and technology community at a time when they have plenty going on.  New projects, though, should be set on a path to convergence wherever possible - that doesn't mean getting religious about open source, but it does mean being clear about what products work and what doesn't, how interactions should be managed and how we streamline the IT estate, improve resilience and reliability and reduce overall cost.  This team will show what the art of the possible is with small proofs of concept that can be developed by departments
    • Common component planning - all the way back in 2003 I published a first take on what that could look like.  It's not the answer, but it's a start.  I'm a strong believer in the underlying principles of Government as a Platform - there are some components that government doesn't need more than one of and some that it needs just a few of.  They need to be in place before anyone can intercept with them - promising to deliver and then having a queue of projects held up by their non-availability won't work.  And they don't have to be delivered centrally, but they do have to take into account wider requirements than just those of whoever built them
  • Gov.uk publishing team - joined up content will best come from the centre.  This team will control what to publish and how to publish and how to ensure consistency across Gov.uk.  They will rationalise the content is there, doing what Martha originally set out - kill or cure - to make sure that the user is getting what they need
  • Agile and user needs - perhaps the single largest achievement of GDS so far,  far beyond consolidating websites for me, is getting government to recognise that there are many ways to deliver IT and that taking a user-led approach is an essential part of any of them.  I'm not wedded to agile or any other methodology, but there's a strong argument for a central team who can coach departments through this and checkpoint with them to see how they are doing, refresh knowledge and transfer skills so that everyone isn't learning the same lessons over and over again
  • Spending controls - a team of elite people who know how to get inside the biggest projects, not waste time on the small ones, and understand what's being built and why and who can help design the solution at a lower cost than proposed, who can help create the hooks for current and/or future common components and who can help negotiate better deals.  These folks should be the best that can be found - a SWAT team sent to work on mission critical projects.  Their job will be to help drive delivery, not slow it down through interminable bureaucracy and arguments about the philosophy of open source.
  • Transactions team - people who go beyond the pure publishing role into understanding how to hook users into a transaction and drive completion through smart design, innate user understanding and the ability partner with departments, not preach to them from some remote ivory tower.  These folks won't make promises they can't keep, they will work closely with departments to move transactions that are offline today to the online world, designing them to foster high take up rates and better service for users.  This team is the future of government - they will be a mix of people who can help rethink policy and legislation, service designers, UI folks who know how to put something slick together and technologists who can understand how to manage load and resilience and integrate with third parties inside and outside of government.
  • Project managers - a mixed team who know how to deliver small and large projects, who are comfortable managing all aspects of delivery, can work with users as well as departments and suppliers and who understand the tension that is always there between waiting and shipping.
Lastly, two areas that I think are contentious; there may be others:
  • Gov.uk development - Personally, I'm in favour of using companies to do build work.  They can maintain a bench and keep their teams up to date with evolving technologies.  They can locate wherever it makes sense and call on disparate teams, around the globe if necessary.  They can call on experience from other clients and use relationships with partners and the big vendors to do the heavy lifting.    The in-house project managers will keep the suppliers in check and will manage scope, cost and time to bring projects home.  This is contentious I know - there's an increasing appetite for government to bring development in-house; some departments, such as HMRC, have had to locate far from the usual places to ensure that they can recruit and retain staff and I think, if you're going to do it, that's more sensible than trying to recruit in Holborn or Shoreditch. But, me, I would give it to an up and coming UK company that was passionate about growth, entirely aligned with the user led approach and looking to make a splash.  I'd then work closely with them to make an effective transition, assuming that the code stands up to such a transition.
  • Verify - It's time to be brave and ignore sunk costs (investment to date and contractual exit costs if any) and let this one go.  It hasn't achieved any of the plans that were set out for it and it isn't magically going to get to 20m users in the next couple of years, least of all if HMRC are going their own way.  The real reason for letting it go, though, is that it doesn't solve the real problem - identity is multi-faceted. I'm me, but I do my mother's tax return, but appoint my accountant to do mins, but I work for a company and I do their payroll, and I counter-sign the VAT return that is prepared by someone else, and I act as the power of attorney for my blind father.  Taking a slice of that isn't helping.  Having many systems that each do a piece of that is as far from handling user needs as you can get.  Driving take up by having a lower burden of proof isn't useful either - ask the Tax Credits folks.  HMRC are, by far, the biggest user of the Gateway.  They need citizen and business (big business, sole trader, small company) capability.  Let them take the lead - they did on the Gateway and that worked out well - and put support around them to help ensure it meets the wider needs.
How many people does that make? I'm very interested in views, disagreements, counter-points and omissions.






    Monday, July 03, 2017

    GDS Isn't Working (Part 2 - The Content Mystery)

    In Martha Lane Fox's 2010 report, that, in effect, led to the creation of GDS and that set out its mission, there were a series of recommendations.  These seem like a reasonable place to start in assessing GDS' delivery track record.  The recommendations were:

    1. Directgov should be the default platform for information and transactional services, enabling all government transactions to be carried out via digital channels by 2015 ... must focus on creating high-quality user-friendly transactions ... scaling back on non-core activities.

    2. Realign all Government Delivery under a single web domain name ... accelerate the move to shared web services.

    3. Learn from what has been proven to work well elsewhere on the web ... focus on user-driven and transparent ... implement a kill or cure policy to reduce poorly performing content.

    4. Mandate the creation of APIs to allow 3rd parties to present content and transactions.  Shift from "public services all in one place" to government services "wherever you are"

    5. Establish digital SWAT teams ... work on flagship channel shift transactions

    Not surprisingly, I agreed entirely with this list at the time - nearly a decade beforehand I'd produced the picture below to represent the e-Delivery team's (eDt) e-government vision - eDt was a part of the Office of the e-Envoy when the late Andrew Pinder was in charge.  I think it captures Martha's recommendations in a page:


    In slide format, the picture evolved to this:



    Now, nearly 7 years after Martha's report, we have a new flagship website (whilst Martha's report was strong on making use of the direct.gov brand name, given the investment in it over the previous 6 or so years, a decision was made to use a different brand - you'll see that we had suggested that as a possible name in the 2001 picture above; it's in the very top left).

    Here are 3 pictures showing the journey we have made over the last 13 years:

    1) Direct.gov's home page in May 2004


    2) The same site, in January 2007

    3) Gov.uk in June 2017



    Thirteen years of user needs, iteration, at least three different content management tools and, branding and size of search bar aside, do you notice any major difference?  Nope, me either. 

    Interestingly and both encouragingly (because admitting the problem is the first step to solving it) and depressingly (because it's not like there haven't been plenty of opportunities before)  GDS, after I'd written this post but before I'd published it, have noticed the problem too and seem, at last, to be taking recommendation 3, "kill or cure", to heart.

    When we envisaged the second iteration of UKonline.gov.uk (the first was run under a contract let to BT and was run by CITU, before OeE was really in existence, though it did go live on OeE's watch), we saw it as a way to join up important content across government, creating a veneer that would buy time for the real engineering join up to take place behind the scenes - something that would result in joined up transactions and a truly citizen-centered approach to government.  

    Life events - important interactions with government - were synthesized from across all departments and brought together, by skilled content writers, in a way that meant the user didn't need to traverse multiple government websites - the aim was to give them everything in one place.  We (OeE as a whole) continued that approach through successive iterations of UKonline and on into its successor, direct.gov.uk (which started life as the Online Government Store, or OGS - a shopfront where all of government content could be accessed).

    Thirteen years after the launch of direct.gov.uk, it looks like there have been successive iterations of that approach along with a wholesale migration of much of government's content to a single platform.  But there hasn't been any of the real heavy lifting done to join up the content and the transactions.  This is shown by the very existence of all of those other government websites, albeit as sub-domains on the same platform as gov.uk.  That wasn't the vision that we were after and, based on the recent GDS blog post, it seems not to be the one that GDS are after either.   But we had around 7 years before GDS and we've had nearly 7 years since.  So clearly something isn't working.

    My guess is that the lessons that we learned from 2002-2010 have been learned again from 2010-2017.  Sure, some new lessons will have been learned, but they will be largely the same - many of the new lessons will have been technology and methodology related I suspect. Despite everything, it all looks the same and that, when poking behind the front page, all that's revealed is more design changes - bigger fonts, simpler questions and cleaner lines.
    A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    and drinking largely sobers us again
    The creation of gov.uk has been a massive job - huge amounts of content have been moved, sorted, consolidated, re-written and, doubtless, re-written again.  It all feels like marginal change though - more of the same.  Heavy lifting, yes, but more of the same, incremental changes, with some big parts still to move, such as much of HMRC and still no real home or consistency for business-related content
    The real mystery, though, is where are the transactions?  The new ones I mean, not the ones that were online a decade ago.
    Looking back at Martha's recommendations:

    (1) Single platform and transactions - is at least partly done, but transactions have advanced little in a decade.

    (2) Single domain - looks initially to be a success (and one that I do not underestimate the huge effort it's taken and that it continues to take), but there isn't much else in the way of shared web services (I'll be coming on to Verify and other common platform technologies soon).

    (3) User driven and transparent / Kill or cure - I'm going to score as strong effort, but not nearly enough of an advance on what was done before.  We have a huge amount of content piled on a single technology platform.  Disentangling it and ensuring that there's only one place to find the most relevant content on any given topic is not well advanced.  If you're a business, things are even more confusing. And if you're a sole trader, for instance, who hops between individual and business content, you're likely more confused than ever.

    (4) APIs - beyond what was done years ago, I don't see much new.  I would love to be pointed at examples where I'm wrong here as I think this is a crucial part of the future mission and it would be good to see successes that I've missed.

    (5) Flagship transactions - I'm not seeing them. The tax disc is a great example of a transaction that was started years ago and that has been successively iterated, and I don't want to undersell the monumental shift that getting rid of the disc itself, but it's an outlier.  Where are the others, the ones that weren't there before 2010?

    The critical recommendations in Martha's report - the ones about flagship channel shift transactions, creating APIs (other than in HMRC, most of which was completed in 2000-2004) and "government services wherever you are" are still adrift. 
    Martha's goal of "enabling all government transactions to be carried out via digital channels by 2015" seems as far away as it was when, in 2001, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, exhorted us to put joined up, citizen-focused services online by the end of 2005.
    The real mystery is why we are tinkering with content instead of confronting the really hard stuff, the transactions.  As I said in 2012:
    GDS' most public delivery is "just another website” - those who know (and care) about these things think that it might be one of the sexiest and best websites ever developed, certainly in the government world.  But it isn't Facebook, it isn't iTunes, it isn't Pirate Bay.  It's a government website; perhaps “the” government website. Once you've packaged a lot of content, made wonderful navigation, transformed search, you end up with the place where government spends the real money - transactions (and I don't just mean in IT terms).
     
    And now we have a Transformation Strategy that promises it will all be done by 2020.  I'm not seeing it.  Not if we follow the current approach.  That sounds snarky and perhaps it is, but it's really the fundamental point of centre's digital efforts - joining up what hasn't been joined up before.  Content, as has been well proven for the last 15 years, is the easy bit.

    Transactions are definitely the difficult bit, and they're difficult in two ways - (1) the creation of an end to end service that goes all the way from citizen possibly through intermediary (everything from PAYE provider to accountant to Citizen's Advice Bureau to me doing my mother's tax return) and (2) the rethinking of traditional policy in a way that supports government's desired outcome, meets user needs and is also deliverable.  From 2001, we started putting transactions online and, for the most part, we put online what was offline.  At the time, a good start, but not one that fits with current thinking and capabilities.

    Saturday, June 24, 2017

    The Emperor And His Clothes Revisited - GDS Isn't Working (Part 1)


    In October 2012, I questioned whether the Emperor had any clothes on; somewhere in that piece I said:
    The question is really how to turn what GDS do into the way everyone else does it.  In parallel with GDS’ agile implementations, departments are out procuring their next "generation" of IT services - and when you consider that most are still running desktop operating systems released in 2000 and that many are working with big suppliers wrapped up in old contracts supporting applications that often saw the light of day in the 80s or, at best, the 90s, “generation” takes on a new meaning.  To those people, agile, iterative, user experience focused services are things they see when they go home and check Facebook, use Twitter or Dropbox or have their files automagically backed up into the cloud.  Splitting procurements into towers, bringing in new kinds of integrators, promising not to reward "bad" suppliers and landing new frameworks by the dozen is also different of course, but not enough to bridge the gap between legacy and no legacy.
    and then
    The question is whether the GDS model is the one that achieves scale transformation right across government, or whether it is another iteration in a series of waves of change that, in the end, only create local change, rather than truly structural change.
    My sense, now, is that it's the latter - another iteration, but one that hasn't created as much change as the inputs would suggest and that, today, is creating far less change than it did early on in its life when charismatic leadership, a brilliant team, an almost messianic zeal and bulletproof political support were in place.

    GDS has done some brilliant and world-leading stuff but has also failed to deliver on its mission.   Simply, GDS isn't working.  We need to think again about what it's going to take to deliver the vision; something that has been largely consistent for much of the last two decades but still seems far away.  This is tricky: we don't want to lose the good stuff and we clearly want to get the huge pile of missing stuff done.  The current approach is a dead end so we need to do something different; with the appointment of a new minister, now could be the time for the change.

    Every few years for at least the last two decades, HM Government has revised its approach to the co-ordination of all things IT. Throughout that time there’s always been a central function to e.g. set standards (govtalk for example), engage with industry to get the most done at the best price, co-ordinate services, do some direct delivery (ukonline.gov.uk, direct.gov.uk, gov.uk etc) and also teach government what to do and how to do it - the art of the possible.

    It started with the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), followed by Central Information Technology Unit (CITU), then the Office of the e-Envoy (OeE), the e-Government Unit (eGU), the Office of the Government CIO (OCIO) and, most recently, the Government Digital Service (GDS). Some of these - CCTA and CITU for instance - overlapped but had slightly different roles.

    After each revision, there was a change of leader, a change of approach and a change of focus - some were for the better, some not so much. Nearly 7 years after the Martha Lane Fox report that brought GDS into being, it’s time for another one of those revisions.

    We should, of course, celebrate the successes of GDS, because there have been some big results, learn the lessons (of GDS and all of its predecessors) and shutter the failures. So let’s first laud the successes. GDS have, in my view, been responsible for four big changes at the heart of government.

    1) User focus and an agile approach. GDS has shown government that there is another way to deliver projects (not just web projects, but all projects), through focusing on user needs, building initial capability and then iterating to bring on successive functionality. Whilst this wasn’t new and still isn’t yet fully adopted, there isn’t anyone in government who doesn’t know about, and have a view on, the topic; and every department and agency across the board is at least experimenting with the approach and many have taken it completely to heart. The two dozen exemplars showed departments that the new approach was possible and how they might go about it, infecting a new generation of civil servants, and some of the old guard, with an incredible enthusiasm. Assess user needs, build some and ship, assess results, build a bit more and ship again (repeat until false) is understood as a viable approach by far more of government than it was even 5 years ago, let alone 15.

    2) Website consolidation. What was just an idea on some slides nearly 15 years ago, as seen in the picture below, is now close to reality. The vast bulk of government information sits on gov.uk, a site that didn’t exist in 2010. Gov.uk receives some12-14 million visitors in a typical week. We’ve gone from a couple of thousand websites to a handful (not quite to one, but near enough to make little difference).  Bringing together the content and giving the citizen the impression that government is all joined up is a necessary precursor to achieving lift off with transactions.


    3) Spend Controls. Before the Coalition Government came in, departments spent money however they wanted to, despite the best efforts of various bodies to impose at least some controls. There’s now a governance process in place that reviews projects at various stages and, whilst the saves are likely not as big as has been claimed, the additional review focuses departmental minds and encourages them to look at all options.  Controlling and, more specifically, directing spend is the mainstay of changing how government does IT and will support further re-use of platforms and technologies.

    4) Openness, transparency and championing issues. Government blogs were few and far between before 2010; official ones didn’t really exist. GDS staff (and, as a result, departmental people too) blog incessantly, to talk about what they are doing, to share best practice, to lay down gauntlets (e.g. championing the issue of necessary diversity on panels through the “GDS Parity Pledge”) and to help recruit new people from inside and outside of government to the cause.  Working in the open is a great way to show the outside, as well as the inside, world that things really have changed.

    Each of those is a significant achievement - and each has been sustained, to at least some degree, throughout the time GDS has been active which deserves additional celebration. Having an idea is the easy bit, it’s getting it done that’s the hard bit - the latter is where most people turn around and give up. Each of these achievements does, however, come with a succession of buts which I will explore in later posts.


    In the world of agile, failure is inevitable.  The point, though, is to fail fast and at a lower cost, correct the errors and get it right the next time.  Getting the next phase of the online agenda right requires some significant rethinking, an analysis of the failures and the setting of a new direction.

    This is not to say that what GDS has done to date isn't good - the successes outlined above should rightly be lauded.  It is, though, to say that it was not and is not enough to create the necessary change.  Transformation is an overused word and one that is rarely delivered on, least of all in an agile, iterative world; but a step change in the way citizens interact with government is still possible.

    So, to create that necessary level of change, we need to put in place a different approach, one that ratchets up the pace of delivery with departments, one that integrates tightly with the outside world and one that doesn't repeat the past but that embraces the future.
     
    I plan to publish a succession of posts looking at this with the aims of constructively challenging what's been done so far and providing a framework for setting things up successfully for that next phase.

    Thursday, February 09, 2017

    5 Years After 10 Years After - The Emperor's New Clothes

    With today's launch of the Government Transformation Strategy (not to be confused with this Government Transformation Strategy from 2006, or this one from 2005), my timing for taking a look at where we've been and what's left looks reasonably good.

    In October 2012, I took a look at GDS, just as their first delivery, gov.uk, was about to go live.  I called it "The Emperor's New Clothes." My aim was to compare and contrast with earlier efforts specifically from the e-Delivery team which ran from 2001 through 2005/6.  The piece generated a lot of feedback at the time including whole Twitter conversations as well as lots of questions to me offline.  I noted that, during my time running eDt, I was never sure whether it was me who had no clothes on or whether I was the little boy.

    Given my running theme that history might just be repeating, I've pulled out the main points from The Emperor's New Clothes here - and then, in future pieces, will catch up with where we are today and where we might go:
    Change needs new ideas, new people and new ways to execute. This kind of change is very hard to get rolling and many times harder than that to sustain.   I watch, then, with fascination wondering if this is change that will stick and, especially, if it is change that will pervade across government.  Or whether its half-life is actually quite short - that when the difficult stuff comes along (as well as the routine, mind-numbing stuff), things will stall.  Perhaps the departments will rebel, or the sponsors will move on, or delivery will be undermined by some cockups, or the team will tire of bureaucracy once they move into the transaction domain.
    The question is really how to turn what GDS do into the way everyone else does it.  In parallel with GDS’ agile implementations, departments are out procuring their next "generation" of IT services - and when you consider that most are still running desktop operating systems released in 2000 and that many are working with big suppliers wrapped up in old contracts supporting applications that often saw the light of day in the 80s or, at best, the 90s, “generation” takes on a new meaning.  To those people, agile, iterative, user experience focused services are things they see when they go home and check Facebook, use Twitter or Dropbox or have their files automagically backed up into the cloud.  Splitting procurements into towers, bringing in new kinds of integrators, promising not to reward "bad" suppliers and landing new frameworks by the dozen is also different of course, but not enough to bridge the gap between legacy and no legacy.
    One of the strengths of the approach that GDS is adopting is that the roadmap is weeks or maybe months long.  That means that as new things come along they can be embraced and adopted - think what would have happened if a contract for a new site had been let three months before the iPhone came out? Or a month before the iPad came out? 
    It is, though, also a significant weakness.  Departments plan their spending at least a year out and often further; they let contracts that run for longer than that.  If there is – as GDS are suggesting – to be a consolidation of central government websites by April 2013 and then all websites (including those belonging to Arm’s Length Bodies) by April 2014 then there needs to be a very clear plan for how that will be achieved so that everyone can line up the resource.  Likewise, if transactions are to be put online in new, re-engineered ways (from policy through to user interaction), that too will take extensive planning.
    During the time of the e-Envoy we had four Ministers and, if you add in eGU, nine.  I suspect that my experience of the Cabinet Office is more common than the current experience where there has been stability for the last 2 ½ years.  GDS will need a plan B if Mr Maude does move on to something new.  There will also need to be a 2015 plan B if power changes hands.  Of course, if your roadmap goes out only weeks or months, then no one is looking at 2015.  That’s a mistake.
    GDS have succeeded in being wildly transparent about their technology choices and thinking.  They are not, though, transparent about their finances.  That should change.  The close association with politicians seems to mean that GDS must champion everything that they do as a cost save – witness recent stories on identity procurement costs, website costs comparing direct.gov.uk and gov.uk and so on. Let’s see the numbers.
    Given the inhouse staffing model that GDS is operating, changes are really represented only by cost of opportunity.  That makes comparing options and, particularly, benefits difficult.  In a beta world, you make more changes than you do in a production world – once you’re in production, you’re likely to make incremental changes than major ones (because, as Marc Andreessen said long ago, interfaces freeze early – people get used to them and are confused by too big a change).
    Soon GDS will tell departments that their top transactions need to be re-engineered from policy through to service provision with a clear focus on the user.  At that point we move away from the technologists who are attracted to shiny new things and we hit the policy makers who are operating in a different world – they worry about local and EU legislation, about balancing the needs of vastly differing communities of stakeholders and, of course, they like to write long and complicated documents to explain their position having evaluated the range of possible options.
    Tackling transaction is both fundamentally necessary and incredibly hard, though most of that isn’t about the shiny front end – it’s about the policy, the process and the integration with existing back end systems (which absorb some 65% of the £12-16bn spent per year on IT in government).  There is a sense of “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”
    The question is whether the GDS model is the one that achieves scale transformation right across government, or whether it is another iteration in a series of waves of change that, in the end, only create local change, rather than truly structural change.
    It seems unlikely that GDS can scale to take on even a reasonable chunk of government service delivery.  It also seems unlikely that enough people in departments can be trained in the new approaches to the point where they can shoulder enough of the burden so as to allow GDS to only steer the ship. If we add in the commercial controls, the supply chain and the complexity of policy (and the lack of join up of those policies), the challenges look insurmountable.

    None of that is an argument for not trying.  Direct.gov.uk is old and tired and needed a massive refresh; transactions are where the real potential can be unlocked and they need to be tackled in a new way.
    Much of this has been tried before, painful lessons have been learned and it would be more than a shame if the latest effort didn’t achieve its aims too.  The trick, then, is to pick the battles to fight and create the change in the right areas with the aim of infecting others.  Taking on too much at once will likely lead to failure.



    Friday, February 03, 2017

    10 Years After 10 Years After


    Strictly speaking, this is a little more than 10 years after the 10 year mark.  In late 2005,  Public Sector Forums asked me to do a review of the first 10 years of e-government; in May 2006, I published that same review on this blog.  It's now time, I think, to look at what has happened in the 10 years (or more) since that piece, reviewing, particularly, digital government as opposed to e-government.

    Here's a quick recap of the original "10 years of e-government" piece, pulling out the key points from each of the posts that made up the full piece:

    Part 1 - Let's get it all online

    At the Labour Party conference in 1997, the Prime Minister had announced his plans for 'simple government' with a short paragraph in his first conference speech since taking charge of the country: 
    “We will publish a White Paper in the new year for what we call Simple Government, to cut the bureaucracy of Government and improve its service. We are setting a target that within five years, one quarter of dealings with Government can be done by a member of the public electronically through their television, telephone or computer.”
    Some time later he went further:
    "I am determined that Government should play its part, so I am bringing forward our target for getting all Government services online, from 2008 to 2005"

    It’s easy to pick holes with a strategy (or perhaps the absence of one) that's resulted in more than 4,000 individual websites, dozens of inconsistent and incompatible services and a level of take-up that, for the most popular services, is perhaps 25% at best.

    After all, in a world where most people have 10-12 sites they visit regularly, it’s unlikely even one of those would be a government site – most interactions with government are, at best, annual and so there's little incentive to store a list of government sites you might visit. As the count of government websites rose inexorably – from 1,600 in mid-2002 to 2,500 a year later and nearly 4,000 by mid-2005 – citizen interest in all but a few moved in the opposite direction.

    Over 80% of the cost of any given website was spent on technology – content management tools, web server software, servers themselves – as technology buyers and their business unit partners became easy pickings for salesmen with 2 car families to support. Too often, design meant flashy graphics, complicated pages, too much information on a page and confusing navigation. 
    Accessibility meant, simply, the site wasn’t.
    In short, services were supply-led by the government, not demand-led by the consumer. But where was the demand? Was the demand even there? Should it be up to the citizen to scream for the services they want and, if they did, would they - as Henry Ford claimed before producing the Model T - just want 'faster horses', or more of the same they’d always had performed a little quicker? 
    We have government for government, not government for the citizen. With so many services available, you’d perhaps think that usage should be higher. Early on, the argument was often made (I believe I made it too) that it wasn’t worth going online just to do one service – the overhead was too high – and that we needed to have a full range of services on offer - ones that could be used weekly and monthly as well as annually. That way, people would get used to dealing online with government and we’d have a shot at passing the 'neighbour test' (i.e. no service will get truly high usage until people are willing to tell their neighbour that they used, say, 'that new tax credits service online' and got their money in 4 days flat, encouraging their friends to do likewise).

    A new plan

     • Rationalise massively the number of government websites. In a 2002 April Fool email sent widely around government, I announced the e-Envoy’s department had seized control of government’s domain name registry and routed all website URLs to UKonline.gov.uk and was in the process of moving all content to that same site. Many people reading the mail a few days later applauded the initiative. Something similar is needed. The only reason to have a website is if someone else isn’t already doing it. Even if someone isn’t, there’s rarely a need for a new site and a new brand for every new idea.

    • Engage forcefully with the private sector. The banks, building societies, pension and insurance companies need to tie their services into those offered by government. Want a pension forecast? Why go to government – what you really want to know is how much will you need to live on when you’re 65 (67?) and how you'll put that much money away in time. Government can’t and won’t tell you that. Similarly, authentication services need to be provided that can be used across both public and private sectors – speeding the registration process in either direction. With Tesco more trusted than government, why shouldn't it work this way? The Government Gateway, with over 7 million registered users, has much to offer the private sector – and they, in turn, could accelerate the usage of hardware tokens for authentication (to rid us of the problems of phishing) and so on.

    • Open up every service. The folks at my society, public whip and theyworkforyou.com have shown what can be done by a small, dedicated (in the sense of passionate) team. No-one should ever need to visit the absurdly difficult to use Hansard site when it’s much easier through the services these folks have created. Incentives for small third parties to offer services should be created.

    • Build services based on what people need to do. We know every year there are some 38 million tax discs issued for cars and that nearly everyone shows up at a post office with a tax disc, insurance form and MOT. For years, people in government have been talking about insurance companies issuing discs – but it still hasn’t happened. Bring together disparate services that have the same basic data requirements – tax credits and child benefit, housing benefit and council tax benefit etc.

    • Increase the use of intermediaries. For the 45% of people who aren’t using the Internet and aren’t likely to any time soon, web-enabled services are so much hocus pocus. There needs to be a drive to take services to where people use them. Andrew Pinder, the former e-Envoy, used to talk about kiosks in pubs. He may have been speaking half in jest, but he probably wasn’t wrong. If that’s where people in a small village in Shropshire are to be found (and with Post Offices diminishing, it's probably the only place to get access to the locals), that’s where the services need to be available. Government needs to be in the wholesale market if it's to be efficient – there are far smarter, more fleet of foot retail providers that can deliver the individual transactions.

    • Clean up the data. One of the reasons why government is probably afraid to join up services is that they know the data held on any given citizen is wildly out of date or just plain wrong. Joining up services would expose this. When I first took the business plan for the Government Gateway to a minister outside the Cabinet Office, this problem was quickly identified and seen as a huge impediment to progress
    More to come.

    Monday, January 18, 2016

    The Billion Pound G-Cloud

    Sometime in the next few weeks, spend through the G-Cloud framework will cross £1 billion.  Yep, a cool billion.  A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you're talking real money.

    Does that mean G-Cloud has been successful?  Has it achieved what it was set up for? Has it broken the mould?  I guess we could say this is a story in four lots.

    Well, that depends:

    1) The Trend

    Let's start with this chart showing the monthly spend since inception.



    It shows 400 fold growth since day one, but spend looks pretty flat over the last year or so, despite that peak 3 months ago. Given that this framework had a standing start, for both customers and suppliers, it looks pretty good.  It took time for potential customers (and suppliers) to get their heads round it.  Some still haven't. And perhaps that's why things seem to have stalled?

    Total spend to date is a little over £903m.  At roughly £40m a month (based on the November figures), £1bn should be reached before the end of February, maybe sooner. And then the bollard budget might swing into action and we'll see a year end boost (contrary to the principles of pay as you go cloud services though that would be).

    Government no longer publishes total IT spend figures but, in the past, it's been estimated to be somewhere between £10bn and £16bn per year.  G-Cloud's annual spend, then, is a tiny part of that overall spend.  G-Cloud fans have, though, suggested that £1 spent on G-Cloud is equivalent to £10 or even £50 spent the old way - that may be the case for hosting costs, it certainly isn't the case for Lot 4 costs (though I am quite sure there has been some reduction in rates simply from the real innovation that G-Cloud brought - transparency on prices).

    2) The Overall Composition

    Up until 18 months ago, I used to publish regular analysis showing where G-Cloud spend was going.  The headline observation then was that some 80% was being spent in Lot 4 - Specialist Cloud Services, or perhaps Specialist Counsultancy Services.  To date, of our £903m, some £715m, or 79%, has been spent through Lot 4 (the red bars on the chart above).  That's a lot of cloud consultancy.

     
    (post updated 19th Jan 2016 with the above graph to show more clearly the percentage that is spent on Lot 4).

    With all that spent on cloud consultancy, surely we would see an increase in spend in the other lots?  Lot 4 was created to give customers a vehicle to buy expertise that would explain to them how to migrate from their stale, high capital, high cost legacy services to sleek, shiny, pay as you go cloud services.

    Well, maybe.  Spend on IaaS (the blue bars), or Lot 1, is hovering around £4m-£5m a month, though has increased substantially from the early days.  Let's call it £60m/year at the current run rate (we're at £47m now) - if it hits that number it will be double the spend last year, good growth for sure, and that IaaS spend has helped created some new businesses from scratch.  But they probably aren't coining it just yet.

    Perhaps the Crown Hosting Service has, ummm, stolen the crown and taken all of the easy business.  Government apparently spends £1.6bn per year on hosting, with £700m of that on facilities and infrastructure, and the CHS was predicted to save some £530m of that once it was running (that looks to be a save through the end of 2017/18 rather than an annual save).  But CHS is not designed for cloud hosting, it's designed for legacy systems - call it the Marie Celeste, or the Ship of the Doomed.  You send your legacy apps there and never have to move them again - though, ideally, you migrate them to cloud at some point. We had a similar idea to CHS back in 2002, called True North, it ended badly.

    A more positive way to look at this is that Government's hosting costs would have increased if G-Cloud wasn't there - so the £47m spent this year would actually have been £470m or £2.5bn if the money had been spent the old way.  There is no way of knowing of course - it could be that much of this money is being spent on servers that are idling because people spin them up but don't spin them down, it could be that more projects are underway at the same than previously possible because the cost of hosting is so much lower.

    But really, G-Cloud is all about Lot 4.  A persistent and consistent 80% of the monthly spend is going on people, not on servers, software or platforms.  PaaS may well be People As A Service as far as Lot 4 is concerned.

    3) Lot 4 Specifically

    Let's narrow Lot 4 down to this year only, so that we are not looking at old data.  We have £356m of spend to look at, 80% of which is made by central government.  There's a roughly 50/50 split between small and large companies - though I suspect one or two previously small companies have now become very much larger since G-Cloud arrived (though on these revenues, they have not yet become "large").

    If we knew which projects that spend had been committed to - we would soon know what kind of cloud work government was doing if we could see that, right?

    Sadly, £160m is recorded as against "Project Null".  Let's hope it's successful, there's a lot of cash riding on it not becoming void too.

    Here are the Top 10 Lot 4 spenders (for this calendar year to date only):

     
     And the Top 10 suppliers:


    Cloud companies?  Well, possibly.  Or perhaps, more likely, companies with available (and, obviously, agile) resource for development projects that might, or might not, be deployed to the cloud.  It's also possible that all of these companies are breaking down the legacy systems into components that can be deployed into the cloud starting as soon as this new financial year; we will soon see if that's the case.

    To help understand what is most likely, here's another way of looking at the same data.  This plots the length of an engagement (along the X-axis) against the total spend (Y-axis) and shows a dot with the customer and supplier name.



    A cloud-related contract under G-Cloud might be expected to be short and sharp - a few months, perhaps, to understand the need, develop the strategy and then ready it for implementation.  With G-Cloud contracts lasting a maximum of two years, you might expect to see no relationship last longer than twenty four months.

    But there are some big contracts here that appear to have been running for far longer than twenty four months.  And, whilst it's very clear that G-Cloud has enabled far greater access to SME capability than any previous framework, there are some old familiar names here.

    4) Conclusions

    G-Cloud without Lot 4 would look far less impressive, even if the spend it is replacing was 10x higher.  It's clear that we need:

    - Transparency. What is the Lot 4 spend going to?

    - Telegraphing of need.  What will government entities come to market for over the next 6-12 months?

    -  Targets.  The old target was that 50% of new IT spend would be on cloud.  Little has been said about that in a long time.  Little has, in fact, been said about plans.  What are the new targets?

    Most of those points are not new - I've said them before, for instance in a previous post about G-Cloud as a Hobby and also here about how to take G-Cloud Further Forward.

    In short, Lot 4 needs to be looked at hard - and government needs to get serious about the opportunity that this framework (which broke new ground at inception but has been allowed to fester somewhat) presents for restructuring how IT is delivered.

    Acknowledgements

    I'm indebted, as ever, to Dan Harrison for taking the raw G-Cloud data and producing these far simpler to follow graphs and tables.  I maintain that GDS should long ago have hired him to do their data analysis.  I'm all for open data, but without presentation, the consequences of the data go unremarked.