Saturday, February 28, 2004

Gateway and Local Authorities

The Register picked up the first LA going live on the Government Gateway - Shepway. The first of many in the next few months in fact. It's good news for two reasons - (i) LA's handle perhaps 80% of government's interactions with the population and most of those are more regular than the annual central interations; the availability of more transactions that need to be done more often is one of things that I think will drive adoption of e-government and (ii) Shepway are the first people to use a SUN DIS box. I don't agree at all with Tim Holyoake's anti-Microsoft quote about a "bag of bits", but it's about par for the course. What is important is that the arrival of new vendors of DIS (and there are more to come) indicate a market that has mass - because if there were no takers, then there'd be no need for more companies to be in the space. With one company there were too many restrictions so I'm delighted that Sun have entered with Software AG as their partner and can't wait to see them deliver more instances. I'm behind on where I'd like to be with LA's and Shepway taking the plunge is a great sign. Over the next few months there should be both more services available and more and more LAs moving onto the platform.

The place for Central Infrastructure

A while ago I was playing around with a picture that would represent the right place for central infrastructure in government. It morphed into several related pictures that overlay. Once I had the pictures, I saw that there were some big challenges to face if CI was going to have a "place", let alone the "right place". I'm not sure that anyone has really solved those challenges, least of all in a way that makes sense in all situations. The challenges that stem, for me, from these pictures are: How to rapidly adopt new, innovative technologies that address current or near-term business issues, without disrupting the reliability and performance of what is already have in place - How to take new technology and make it stable enough for widespread deployment through big departments, whilst keeping fresh enough for the more fleet of foot government entities - How to remain speed-competitive at the low end, stable in the mid-range and scale-sufficient at the high end … using the same set of platforms - How to be price competitive throughout the maturity/adoption curve – at low and high volumes - How to anticipate longer term “might needs�, balance shorter term “must-do� and create architectures that are modular enough to adapt and evolve to meet all of these needs Trying to be "all things to all people" in every space is never going to work - but each "person" wants "many things" and if you try and serve all the people, then all the things is the result. So picking the things you're going to do and the people you're going to do them for seems to be the essence of the game. It means that "one thing" isn't going to happen for "all people", but that one thing could happen for many of them; likewise, some people will have a few things. In another paper, much earlier in the life of CI, I summed up the three issues as: - Control. Departments are used to working in isolation to deliver systems that meet their specific needs. This results in a large range of inconsistent and often contrary requirements meaning that little sharing (of technology, lessons learnt or business best practice) takes place between departments, each department takes as long as any other to deliver a project and costs increase directly in proportion to the number of departments. With central infrastructure, a core set of requirements is agreed up front and then implemented for all departments – subsequent implementations take less time, lessons are learnt with each new department and shared across the others and costs reduce as more departments sign-up. There is a tendency to see technology as a differentiator between departments but, in reality, it is the business process applied to the technology that really makes something happen. - Integration. Central infrastructure requires departments to do work to connect to it or to otherwise take advantage of it. This work may be outside of their current plans and may involve implementing new standards and processes, sometimes with vendors outside of their existing relationship. Such infrastructure allows third party portals and applications to provide government services more readily. With centrally-published standards, suppliers can develop programmes to connect faster and competition is introduced sooner. - Joining up. By definition, central infrastructure involves a range of stakeholders deciding on overall system scope and timing of delivery. Functions are introduced ahead of the needs of most, but may fall behind the needs of the most advanced department. Conversely, the bulk of departments will get more than they might otherwise be able to afford or have the capability and capacity to deliver – the change in practice here is an “all for one and one for all� stance versus “I must win so that the others lose�. This requires a complex juggling of stakeholder requirements, timetables and priorities. The consequence of not joining up is, however, dramatically inconsistent experiences for the customer as they traverse government. I noted that these three issues are the very reasons that CI makes sense - and, in the light of the PM's speech, this week, I'm very encouraged that we can make good progress against all of them.

PM on reforming the civil service

Our PM, Tony Blair, spoke last week on the challenges facing the civil service: The principal challenge is to shift focus from policy advice to delivery. Delivery means outcomes. It means project management. It means adapting to new situations and altering rules and practice accordingly. It means working not in traditional departmental silos. It means working naturally with partners outside of Government. It's not that many individual civil servants aren't capable of this. It is that doing it requires a change of operation and of culture that goes to the core of the Civil Service. ... But too many of these lessons are learnt in crisis and too much of it is exceptional not the norm. For example, I learnt much from the ghastly crisis of Foot and Mouth ... But the blunt truth is that it was the Armed Forces' intervention that was critical to delivery. Why? Because they didn't take 'no' for an answer; they used rules as a means to an end, not an end in themselves; and as the situation changed, they changed. But essential to their being able to do that, was that people accepted that's how they were. The political contribution - other than to remove obstacles - was circumspect. They were allowed to take risks. If something failed, they didn't waste time with a Committee of Inquiry; they tried something else. They had a remorseless focus on delivering the outcome. What does it mean in practical terms? It means the following: a smaller, strategic centre; a Civil Service with professional and specialist skills; a Civil Service open to the public, private and voluntary sector and encouraging interchange among them; more rapid promotion within the Civil Service and an end to tenure for senior posts; a Civil Service equipped to lead, with proven leadership in management and project delivery; a more strategic and innovative approach to policy; government organised around problems, not problems around Government. Too often government's structures reflect vested interests and tradition. Departmentalism remains strong in Whitehall - usually too strong - and the allocation of ministerial portfolios sometimes unhelpfully reinforces these barriers. So this too is a challenge for politicians as well as officials. The IT projects now underway in the NHS are among the biggest and most complex in the world - that's why it was right, for example, to bring Richard Grainger in to oversee IT in the National Health Service. Similar arguments apply to finance and human resource management. The talented amateur, however talented, is simply not equipped for these complex, specialised tasks. In future the key roles in finance, IT and human resources will be filled by people with a demonstrable professional track record in tackling major organisational change, whether inside or outside the Service. Of course, I've been selective in the quotes I have lifted - and I'd encourage you to read the whole speech, it's a "line in the sand" speech that says we've come a long way (from 1854 when the first "reform the civil service" speech was given, as it says in this speech), but there's a lot more to do. The speech firmly endorses the Gershon review (see the articles in the FT from a couple of weeks ago that I quote below), looks to the power of technology and underlines the need to rationalise government around the problems it's seeking to solve - i.e. how to deliver services to the citizen the way the citizen needs them. I think this is an amazing speech. It's timely, forward thinking, ambitious and huge in scope. In just a few pages, the PM has laid down an enormous challenge for government - ministerial and civil service - to respond to.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Off the air

Going to be off the air for a couple of weeks getting a bit of mountain air again. Be back in mid-March. Be good all of you.

Is it me?

Is it me or does the new Nokia 9500 (planned for year end) look just like the old one (9210 etc) and seem to miss the trick that, say, Oqo has learned?

One trick pony?

It's funny how you sometimes get labelled early in a cycle. Long ago I think I picked up the "man from the centre" label - you know, the "one that's here to help you". At a session last week with a couple of senior IT people they wondered what was coming next from Central Infrastructure - and even had a couple of ideas that could do with some research. For the last 9 months or so I've been wondering how to fill in the missing piece of the puzzle in IT in government - whether that be UK government or any other government. Thinking about it, there are doubtless many corporations that have the same missing piece, although I've seen many that have fully nailed it. The bit I'm talking about is the "middle of the pyramid" - the part where entities come together to collaborate on development and then have just one of something between several of them. It might mean that there are 10 across the whole of government (rather than the one that central infrastructure implies) - which is way better than the 1000 that probably exist today (or the 3,000 in website terms). The slide below hopefully explains it: What I think is that the "centre" can facilitate the conversations that need to happen to make this a reality and can help foster the market with supplier partners who are going to do the heavy lifting. The key bit for this will also be some good, common and widely supported standards - so that, over time, convergence to fewer platforms or a swapin-swapout process could result, where aging (or failing) platforms are replaced by newer ones or stronger ones. The NHS procurement processs seems to have arrived at this as an ideal solution - with the option (I think) for entire consortia to be replaced just as easily as some components. A fascinating idea that I think has a chance at success across the wider public sector. If I'm right, then I think it plays out per the slide below:

Identity Crisis

Drawn to Mike Walsh's blog by a posting on Dave Winer's blog, I was fascinated to see his saga of trying to prove his identity to a credit agency, Equifax in this case. I went directly to the Equifax site to order an online version of my report. According to the info available on the site, I was entitled to one credit report per year at the Federally mandated price of $9. In order to get your report you type in your name, address and social security number. The system then issues you two multiple choice "challenge questions" to verify that you are who you say you are. So they hit me with... Question #1: You have a mortgage with: a. Acme Mortgage, b. Niagara Mortgage, c. Northland Savings and Loan, d. Screw the Homeowner Mortgage Company e. None of the above My answer is e. I never even heard of any of these companies. Question #2: Your monthly mortgage payment is: a. $865, b. $936, c. $1,184, d. $1,345 e. None of the above My answer is e. Whilst working on the Gateway, we've often contemplated the idea of "challenge questions" (or shared secrets) to make for a stronger proof of identity - but we know that, often, people will either forget the answer or we'll have bad data initially. In Mike's case it's either bad data or someone is using his identity - the latter obviously being far worse. When I tried the UK equivalent of this process, with experian, they didn't know who I was either - a legacy, I think, of having spent several years abroad and of having had a different address every year for about 7 years. We don't ask such challenge questions in the UK though - but maybe we should?

Sunday, February 22, 2004

More on offshore work

Scott Loftesness notes Morgan Stanley and HP views on offshoring. He quotes Carly Fiorina as saying "Yet spending our time building walls around [insert the name of your developed world country here] will do nothing to help us compete for the millions of new jobs being created" Tom Peters in his latest book, Re-Imagine!, says that Between 1980 and 1998 the US created 29,000,000 net new jobs. The key word there is "net", i.e. some were lost and more were gained. It's a Baldrick kind of quote. The real maths behind that number though is that 44 million jobs ere lost and 73,000,000 were created - jobs lost in manufacturing, in steel, in autos, in telecomms were replaced (x2) in software, hardware, banking, services, drug companies and whatnot. Like I said before. Been there before, what's new?

25 years on

My, how far we've come since space was first invaded.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Visual Government

I was just catching up with Jeff Minter's exploits, and found this link on his site - a visual thesaurus. Just type in a word and watch it conjure up a 3d universe of words. Beautifully done. It set me thinking about how we could use the same kind of interface in e-government, with a bit of work of course. I imagined typing in, say, "mother" or "parent" or "disabled" and it giving me a map of the things that linked to that. For instance, parent might come up with birth certificates, child tax credits, child trust funds, local schools and so on. Following one of the links would expand from that point - so child tax credits would give you claiming, changing circumstance and so on. There'd be some work to do to make the words less "government sounding", but I wondered if it would be more intuitive than the usual page of links - because the relationship between the words would be clearer and they'd all be visible at the same time - so going back where you just were (if you found the wrong one) would be more obvious. I mentioned it to someone in government though who then said that, despite it being a good idea, it would (of course) "be inaccessible". That was said strictly tongue in cheek, but it shows that some of the simplest ideas that might deliver for a good chunk of the population can be shot down by the good intentions of other policies. That's one of things that makes government such a difficult place to be.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Change is "critical"

Some fascinating stuff in today's FT ... Much of [goverment] "has developed for good individual reasons" ... But "over time it has become costly, frustrating and dysfunctional". Delivery is fragmented, effort is duplicated, central government monitoring is heavy handed, and there is "a growing burden of bureaucracy on the frontline". Meanwhile the government is "frustrated at the pace of change". This, he says, "is having a negative effect on delivery of the government's key priorities". Sir Peter Gershon's analysis of the billions of pounds that the government can save on the public services is - officially at least - an "interim" one. It carries the bureaucratically cautious caveat that "the evidence base is still subject to change". But the work that he presented to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at a Downing Street seminar in December amounts to much more than a few rough calculations on the back of a cigarette packet. In its scope and its grasp of detail, his assessment carries an authority that will be almost impossible to dismiss. On the e-government related front: Online transactions with government should be made compulsory for the "e-capable". This would affect business, intermediaries such as accountants, young people, students and higher rate taxpayers, and would cover itax-returns, benefit and student claims. For those who are not "e-capable", more work could be switched to call and contact centres and the revamped Jobcentre Plus offices. Voice-activated call-centres would handle routine account queries. Insurance companies could be used to collect vehicle-excise duty and there should be an increase in "self-service" - citizens using direct debit, online payment and credit cards to pay government. E-government has received an £8bn investment. But many of those consulted "believe the benefits from e-government have not been realised". There is a central government gateway, but individual departments and councils have their own "e" initiatives, with little joined up development or data sharing. Applicants are still asked the same questions for tax credits, income support, housing and council tax benefit, legal aid and court assessments of means. Despite the scale of e- investment there have been no commensurate savings. The government spends huge sums on an "external interface that is expensive and unable to meet customer expectations". And some terrific stats: 100m payable orders will still be issued by government in 2005 at a cost of £150m. Some 1.2bn forms are processed each year, 95 per cent of them received by post. The government posts 2.3bn documents at a cost of £1bn annually. Fifty-five per cent of the money people pay government comes by cheque, with only 30 per cent by direct debit. In addition, central government still has 1,800 local offices while local government has 3,000 to 4,000. Up to 60 per cent of inquiries to the more modern technology of call centres are simple account status queries that could be fully automated. Doubtless will be followed up in all the newspapers tomorrow.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Canada takes some lumps

I arrived late at a meeting the other day and walked in to see that the two people due to speak after me had already done their thing. I said that I felt a bit like a government IT project - late in arrival and even then of questionable benefit. It occurs to me that the word "government" is unncesssary in that sentence, it's just that the PR around government projects is usually more widespread than that around private sector projects. So it was with interest as I was scanning Google's e-government news last night that I saw several reports on some problems in Canada with their "Secure Channel" project. This is a kind of catchall project for Gateway-style authentication, civil service directories, email exchanges with citizens and what not. I've talked to folks from over there a couple of times to compare notes with how we do it in the UK and the approaches are similar in style but with a few major differences - one of which is that the Secure Channel would route transactions to the target department for authentication there, rather than hold it centrally. I'd always been told that this was up and running - so maybe that was a pilot version back then. The articles, like this one, refer to a recent report by Canada's Auditor General (who, by the sounds of it, is a particularly tough, but straight-forward, in-your-face kind of person) saying that: Canada's Government On-Line project is already missing deadlines, costs for completion are unknown and specific department plans are short on details there's no umbrella organization coordinating all efforts, which makes it difficult to manage GOL initiatives as an integrated program One key project, the Secure Channel – which the government considers critical to GOL because it gives citizens a secure, responsive system – is estimated to cost $604 million, yet implementation of some parts of this project are behind schedule and obstacles like long-term financing have emerged Of all the question marks surrounding the government's ambitious proposal, Fraser suggested one of the biggest unknowns is GOL's cost. She said by December 2001, $880 million of new funds was provided for GOL, but since then the government has announced no new direct financing. She predicted that delivering such an array of online services will cost much more, because goverment departments are spending large amounts of money on internal online projects. Moreover, Parliament needs more up-to-date reports on the status and funding of GOL. I have no idea about the detail of all this. One of the things that I do know about audits though is that they are usually very good at identifying the facts, but that the opinions expressed can sometimes be a little off the mark - sometimes nececssarily so because the audit process is a snapshot in time and doesn't cover the whole history of a project, but sometimes because there's a difference in opinion over what the real impact of data is. What's interesting about the points raised here though is that I imagine they're common to any and all government IT projects and probably just as many commercial IT projects. How much is it going to cost? How is it all going to be integrated? Who is joining it up? In an organisation where lines of control are tight to the top, these probably don't exist as issues, but in a distributed and complex organisation - i.e a global corporation or a set of government departments, they're every day problems. Interestingly, one of the harshest criticisms appears to be that the Secure Channel project was due to cost $57 million (Canadian dollars) and is now looking to come to over $600 million. That's quite a change - the missing facts though are, I imagine, has the scope changed, does it include departmental integration costs now? After all, I can't imagine an extra 1/2 billion sneaking up on people without anyone noticing! Canada has, pretty much since the beginning, been one of the leading lights of e-government and I'm hoping that it will stay that way. The ideas that they have fully realised - including consistent UIs for their websites (like this one and this one) - are on many people's agendae, and have resulted in good takeup so far. In the end, every government is struggling with authentication technology, aligning it with existing business processes and creating new, better business processes to support it. I don't think anyone has cracked it yet - and the more that people look at initiatives that might be said to have failed, probably the further we will get from actually cracking it. But likewise, the more people look at technology to be the solution - whether it's smart cards, retinal scans or whatever - the less likely we are to crack it too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Dooming MyDoom and DoomJuice

Microsoft has a tool available for download to kill off the various mydooms. I'm in the middle of advising my uncle, who recently got broadband, how to protect his PC better. Broadband should perhaps come with a health warning for the IT un-educated along with a set of tools (a first aid kit?) to repair damage caused already and a set of innoculations to prevent further damage. I would have thought that BT or any other provider would have insisted that appropriate technical contraception is in place before allowing a connection to their proxies - after all, if people using their services get infected, the load at their end is increased and therefore their costs are higher. So it should be in every providers interest to provide firewall and AV software for everyone, with the AV running at the server end eliminating viruses on the way through.

Making Enterprise Architectures work

I've been busy reading John G's blog, noting everything he's getting up to as he prepares to teach his EA course. That reading, coupled with a few things I have to present this week, sent me back to my files on making EA's work in governments. The slide below, I think, captures the main considerations. I'm not sure that they're anything other than obvious right now - and what's clearly missing is the "ok, so I buy that, what do I do about it?" set of slides. That's a whole new challenge that I ought to be putting some time into.

Oqo emerging?

A year ago I wrote about the Oqo device - a full-fledged PC shrunk down to Ipaq size. I speculated back then that they might be very late in releasing it - April 2003 was the plan. Their website now says Fall 2004 - but the pictures there are up to date with the latest version. My guess is that they had problems getting scale manufacturing for it, given the complexity. Specs look the same as before - transmeta processor, 256mb ram, wifi, bluetooth, firewire all built in. I want one. No more laptops, just a keyboard at the office and one at home and then everything else you need in your pocket. This could be great.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Voting security

Dan Gillmor points to the report on the security of voting machines and Internet voting more generally that helped prompt the Pentagon to pull their plans to allow servicemen posted overseas to vote online as I referred to the other day "... we reluctantly recommend shutting down the development of SERVE immediately and not attempting anything like it in the future until both the Internet and the world's home computer infrastructure have been fundamentally redesigned, or some other unforeseen security breakthroughs appear. We want to make clear that in recommending that SERVE be shut down, we mean no criticism of the FVAP, or of Accenture, or any of its personnel or subcontractors ..." Given that line "until ... fundamentally redesigned", I can see it being a while before these guys give a vote of confidence (so to speak) to online voting.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Moving Jobs Offshore

I'm intrigued by all the negative press the outsourcing of jobs is getting. Almost every article talks about outsourcing and then adds "offshore" somewhere in the main text whilst talking about India. Most of the stories so far refer to call centres. First up, we've (and by "we", I don't mean anyone in particular - just businesses and governments generally) been outsourcing jobs for years. Whether to India or not is not the point. Any outsource deal is constructed so as to reduce costs over time (and often from the first day) for the company giving away its non-core functions. That means ways are found to do the same work for less money - and that usually means fewer people. So, as companies grow and focus on the key areas for their business, they give away more and more and add people where it matters to them. Second, we've also been moving jobs offshore for years. In previous companies where I've worked, the "offshore location of choice" was Dublin. The population was young and well-educated (usually 1-2 foreign languages per head), salaries were comparatively low and the Irish government were giving tax incentives to encourage development. From the mid-90s to perhaps now, dozens of companies moved operations there from all over Europe. After the first few moved, of course, salaries moved up and - more to the point - staff jumped from one company to another for a small pay rise. Those who gave the best training to their staff probably lost them fastest. After all, a £2,000 pay rise to someone earning £14,000 can be pretty life changing. What could have been interesting with India is that, because the population is so large, it will take longer to reach the point where people are moving jobs for small salary increases - but I see no chance of that because the best people will always be more employable than others and with so much business opportunity they will be in high demand from both existing and new players. Third, emerging market economies have been picking up jobs for years too. Education is strong, infrastructure is improving and capability is maturing. How many silicon chip factories do we have in the UK now? None? Intel may build Pentiums in Ireland - but the real powerhouses of chips are Taiwan, Korea and doubtless Malaysia, Indonesia and maybe even India sometime soon. Can you buy a British designed, British built TV today? Not that I'm aware. But unemployment is at its lowest for as long as I can remember. Banks have been moving jobs offshore to emerging markets for a long time, but I expect that most of us have probably only just noticed. My guess is that many corporate bank reconciliation is done in India now - why do it in Europe? It's only balancing accounts and looking for money - the right skills make the place irrelevant. Banks also moved technology development offshore - one that I worked at created their first Indian dev centre in 1991 or 1992 - and they have a Level 5 SEI grade (and have done since 1995 I think). Call centres is another part of this trend. Just another part. Not something radical and new that we should worry about. My guess is that the call centres that remain will take on more and more "premium" jobs - and some people will even be prepared to pay extra for that service. If your bank call centre keeps messing up and not fixing things, you'll move banks. If you think that a bank with a call centre in the UK will do better, you'll go there. It's supply and demand, word of mouth, magazine recommendations and whatnot. Equilibrium will be reached for a while, and then the next trend will emerge without most of us noticing it; gain scale; become a topic in the press and then the cycle repeats. The problem, if there is one, is that we all want more for less all the time. The managers are beholden to their customers who want more services for less money and beholden to their shareholders who want more profit on more revenues for less risk. The staff want more money for the same work and perhaps a bit more holiday and a better chance at promotion. Who'd be a manager in a big company right now? Managing a company or a government business is always about balancing costs and revenues alongside risk. If the risk is high that your customers will leave if you offshore work, you probably won't do it (but you might offshore roles that don't touch the customer); if you are struggling to maintain costs in the absence of revenue growth, you'll look hard at the maths of moving offshore; if you need capacity but can't find it in the UK (because the right skills are not there in the volume that you need, you'll look elsewhere). If in 1995 Dublin was offshore and in 2004 India is offshore, where next?

Friday, February 06, 2004

Online Voting Takes A Knock

This year was supposed to see 100,000 US servicemen posted overseas using the 'net to vote, in a programme known as SERVE. But, despite $22 million to spend on it and a deal with Accenture, the US military have canned it. They say that "unless and until voters' PCs and the Internet itself are made secure". Coupled with the story in Wired this month on voting machines (not specifically 'net voting, but electronic voting) made by Diebold that are, by the sounds of it, wide open to abuse, things don't look good in the world of getting rid of paper voting. Several states in the US including, I think, California and now Maryland (who looked to be the biggest spenders and the biggest proponents of voting machines), have now forced a paper trail to be kept of every vote. Up until now I've had reasonably pro views on the idea of voting by 'net. I've always found voting to be a pain so anything that made it easier was good for me. The idea that, despite the serious money thrown at it in the US, it's inherently badly done so far doesn't fill me with glee of course. I wonder though whether an "open source" solution could make it happen any differently - the code may be secure, but there are still all kinds of things to go through to ID the citizen voting and then disconnect their ID from the vote record that they actually cast. And if the software is all open, who is going to get in the business of deploying the machines - because the value may be in the IP, not in the logistics of shipping machines. But in the end, making voting easier may be a narrow benefit - people have to want to vote before they'll do it and the way turn out looks, it's getting harder to get people to have that desire. Work has to go on with the online and machine-based systems but, alongside that, the debate about engaging people more in the democratic process has to take a bigger and bigger role. People have to know that their one vote makes a difference and can create a change - for better, or even for worse. Target setting has taken a lot of flak over the last few years, but the establishment of metrics that everyone trusts that are then reported on in public places could go a long way to showing people the difference that can be made. If I walked down the street every day and saw a figure counting the burglaries in my area that month, versus the prior year, I might start to take a lot of notice about what was being done about crime in my area. If it was going up and I was sufficiently worried, maybe I would change my vote. But to change my vote, I'd need to know who had a credible plan that would address the issue, and that's what's hard to me. You need to know who has a view on each issue, what their credibility is and whether they have a chance to make the change happen; once you know that you need to know the metrics to allow the comparisons to be made - and you have to care enough to take the time to find out. Reading the paper that you always read doesn't count. I always try and read two "opposite" papers so that I see what each end of the spectrum says about the other end. The difficulty in engaging people in this space seems to mirror the difficulty of getting people to use online government services. I wonder if many people just don't connect government with the online world, so don't even go looking for services that might be useful. I also wonder whether it's just a question of the right "basket of services" not being available yet that would entice people to move online. Having completed self assessment online this year, but not being eligible for either tax credits or child benefit, there isn't much else for me to do yet. I've looked at the 1901 census (and found it a great service), I don't live anywhere that could be flooded (it helps to be high up in an apartment block) and I rarely worry about what the government has announced today. But I check Yahoo news daily, read the Register, check the market, buy a book a week from Amazon and a gadget a month from expansys; I haven't booked a flight through a travel agent since about 1998 nor have I rented a car any other way than online. When my interactions with government look like that, I'll do it online all the time because the overhead of not doing it that way would be painful.

Reasons to use online government services

Never stand behind the devil in a post office. For the devil takes many forms. (From my friend and colleague, Bill)

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Conference Season

I can tell it's a New Year because I'm getting lots of requests to speak at conferences. Many of these sound exciting and entertaining, but I'm saying no to all of them. Why? I already spend most of my weekends in front of a keyboard catching up with what I couldn't do during the week and the extra time needed for presentation slides was just killing me. I wanted to make sure I was saying something fresh and interesting every time and that's pretty hard work. That coupled with overly onerous rules on what can and can't be said means that it was increasingly taxing. I hope that I'll get back into conferences later in the year - I genuinely enjoy the experience and the fact that you get in front of a lot of people who care about e-government (why else would they be at a conference?) who often ask intelligent and well-thought out questions that help shape my own thinking. After all, the best questions are ones that you don't know the answer to that force you to think hard about what you really mean and how you can do it. So, to all those who'd like me to speak, sorry - not this time. Try again in 6 months or so.

Truth at no price

Funny how a non-story can run and run, like this one on an Egyptian Gateway. This last saw the light of day (or maybe it was the dark of day in this case) in March 2003, right here on this site (and linking to, oh golly, Kable). Ta-da!