Friday, April 30, 2004

Directly directgov

The "single entry point to government" has now moved to its intended address, direct.gov.uk, ahead of its proper launch. As noted below, feedback is positive for the most part.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

9 out of 10 cats ...

Kable laud the introduction of a DTV version of direct.gov - an awesome job, all built in-house by the KN team at the OeE - and note that 9 out of 10 people say they were likely to use it in the future. Sounds like a vote of confidence all round, with the exception of the poor folks who will have to use their 28.8kps modems in their set top boxes. I hope that broadband will come soon for Sky viewers (I don't have a TV but am assuming that Telewest and NTL folks get their "dtv" internet at normal speeds).

Monday, April 19, 2004

More on Norfolk

The folks in Norfolk have found their £1million in savings, but only £50,000 is coming from e-government. I hope that the work that they do in putting things online will generate more saves than it costs.

Depths of despair for Nokia

Much news in the last few days about Nokia getting its estimates wrong, not seeing the clamshell market as important and generally not selling enough phones. Their stock is down from getting on to $25 to as low as $14 (with a bounce to $15 and change today, in a generally up market). Back in February 2003 I wrote that Nokia had lost my custom for several reasons. My main problem was that it's too hard to move phones: Given that the UK market looks pretty saturated, the odds are that most people are either going through or are about to go through their first upgrade - colour screens, polyphonics, cameras etc are all beckoning. I imagine that few of them will have stored all of their contacts on the SIM (which is no use if you store more than one phone number per person), many will have figured out predictive text and so filled up their T9 dictionaries and they'll want to move phones easily and quickly. Good luck to all those who try Looking at the mis-steps Nokia has made, it seems clear that this is still part of the problem. Nokia used to keep people attached to their brand because they had the best interface - quite simply, it was just so good (especially compared to Motorola and Ericsson who I found unusable at the time). With new features on phones, people found that the interface was changing anyway, so there was nothing to hold them to Nokia - so they moved. Nokia failed, I believe, to give people a reason to stay. If you'd bought a new phone and when you first powered it on there was a green button that said "press this to take what was on your old phone and move it to this one", then you can believe me that I'd be interested. I think the clamshell argument is secondary - Nokia haven't introduced cool designs (I've seen people laughing out loud when they play with the new one in the store); they haven't kept up to date with proper smartphones (the Treo and the P900 are streaks ahead of the 6600); they've been slow with the sleek, silver (i.e. not plastic) lookin phones that companies like Samsung have filled the shelves with. In short, Nokia may well be the new Motorola - missing a key trend and failing to recover. I'm no fan of 3G but Nokia's entry there looks unworkable. If Sony Ericsson ship a P900 that works on 3G I may well make the move, but right now I love having one device that has my calendar, task list and all my contacts in it as well as being a workable MP3 player and not too bad at games - there's no need for me to move to two devices again. And Nokia don't seem to have anything in the pipeline that would tempt me to their way of thinking either.

England 2 - Denmark 1

I had to get this in before John Gotze. In a new survey, sponsored by IBM, and commented on today in the FT (page 4 - doubtless you still have to subscribe to get a proper link to the text, but included here just in case) ... The government's flagging campaign to drive Britain to the top of the internet-adoption league has received a boost from a survey that places the UK second in the world. I'd argue with the FT's use of the word "flagging". I don't see anything we've done so far as indicating that there's been any flagging at all; if anything there is ever more focus and effort being put in to it all. Their justification comes from the following statements: In 1998, it said it wanted the UK to be the best environment in the world to trade electronically by 2002. In 1999, it said all government services should be online by 2008, a year later bringing the target forward to 2005. It has also said it wants the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005. However, a Cap Gemini Ernst & Young study in January suggested only half of the government's services were online and placed the UK sixth out of 18 countries. At the same time, the Broadband Stakeholder Group said it was sixth out of seven in terms of broadband penetration in the G7. I guess that's the "survey says" view - how you count, who you count, what you count all shif the measures. Some people are ahead on vision, some ahead on execution. Some have coralled everyone down one route and some have let 1000 flowers bloom. Anyway, in this survey ... The UK comes second only to Denmark - so I guess my post title should say "British Lions" or UK United or something, but never mind. Funnily enough, the top 5 contains four Scandi countries and the UK. Remember, this is about e-readiness, not e-government - our placing in e-government isolated is around 11th or so (which is worse than usual I think, but I'm not sure of the methodology). What this is assessing is broadband take-up and availability, business capability, legislation, consumer usage etc. All necessary things. But, in the past I've commented on surveys that have pushed us down the table and questioned their methodology and, apparently, the way things are counted in this one has changed pushing us up a bit. Just shows that we need a survey of surveys or a poll of polls perhaps. The full report can be found at the EB EIU site - as far as I can tell it's available to download for free (who says content is worth only what you pay for it?).

Thursday, April 15, 2004

What a day today

My day today starts with trying to take some money out of an ATM and finding I was £10,000 overdrawn (yes, 10 thousand) - surely that couldn't be me (I have no o/d limit). Someone's taken thousands of pounds out of my bank account and the bank has just let them. Irate call to bank, followed by another irate call. It will all be sorted tomorrow they say. Then a visit to the cinema to see Dawn of the Dead (don't ask). One hour into the film, the screen goes blank. A fire alarm can be heard in the distance but it's not clear if it's somewhere else. The film restarts a few minutes later and continues for 20 mins. The screen goes blank again, the curtains are drawn. Checking outside I see that the entire cinema has been evacuated - except the screen I am in. How can that be? The manager arrives 10 (count them - 10 - I stayed in a potentially burning cinema for 10 mins! How dumb is that?) and promises a voucher for a free movie. The voucher says can be used in any Warner cinema except the one that I'm in! Is that any use? Of course not, so a refund follows. If those were government IT projects, they'd be front page news. For days on end. Checking the ATM later having sorted it with my bank (don't ask) the ATM says it will be down for maintenance over the weekend for a day and a half. If those were government IT projects, they'd be front page news. For yet more days on end. Incompetence is rife - but don't for a second think that the public sector is an easy target and that everything else is fine. Your standards are different. The standards of the press are different. There is spin everywhere you look. What is in the paper is not true. Ask David Beckham (maybe) ;)

More on accessibility

Following my post yesterday, Ian Dunmore at Public Sector Forums passed on a link to some documentation that the folks in Medway put together with guidelines for how to build accessible sites. Whilst I was looking at their site, I found that they have over 100 online forms available - that's some total - and they're not online PDFs but interactive forms (they look like they're built using a common tool, perhaps x-forms based or similar). You know that the problem is cracked when you see that you can report, online, incidences of "dog fouling". Once you're at that level, you must have done all of the hard stuff. The Office of the e-Envoy also has guidelines for building sites, including taking care of accessibility.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Inaccessibility

The Disability Rights Commission got some good coverage today on publication of their report on the accessibility of websites. With the new laws coming into play later this year, this is about to be a big deal. In the past, the most referenced case (and mentioned in their report) was: the Australian case of Maguire v The Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games found that the Committee had been in breach of the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 by failing to provide a website to which Mr Maguire could have access From memory the argument went along the lines that it shouldn't be done because it would be too expensive - but the judge (correctly in my view) said something like "it would have been a lot cheaper if you'd taken care at the beginning, so you'll have to do it anyway". Case closed. The report covered people with the following disabilities: - blind people who use screen readers with synthetic speech or Braille output - partially sighted people who may use screen magnification - people who are profoundly deaf and hard of hearing - people with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia - physically impaired people whose use of the Web may be affected by their lack of control of arms and hands, by tremor and by lack of dexterity in hands and fingers That's a significant part of the population - particularly if you focus in on those with dyslexia (which is probably as hard a problem to cater for as any of the others because it's all about writing style versus colours, templates, style sheets and design/layout). The conclusions are not new - previous studies have reported much the same - but that does not mean they're not worrying: Most websites (81%) fail to satisfy the most basic Web Accessibility Initiative category. In addition, the results of the evaluations undertaken by disabled users show that they have characteristics that make it very difficult, if not impossible, for people with certain impairments, especially those who are blind, to make use of the services provided And one of the recommendations is that government should: - take steps towards establishing Web accessibility and usability as matters of genuine concern for service providers in the public and private sector, ensuring that its own sites are exemplars of best practice - sponsor a publicity campaign to make website owners and commissioners better aware of the Web accessibility and usability needs of disabled people, and of their own obligations under the DDA - take steps towards the systematic collection of data on the following: the extent to which disabled people experience problems with website accessibility in the public and private sectors; the extent to which private sector organisations are aware of their duties in this regard; and the extent to which private sector websites meet acceptable standards for use by disabled people - promote authoritative research into the costs and benefits of designing and testing websites for ease of use by the public in general and by disabled users in particular, and bring the findings to the attention of those with obligations under the DDA. There are many other recommendations but I am always worried when I see a "government should" sentence. Government should do lots of things and, of course, reports are published every day that say that this is what should happen. But translating the should into action and, better still, translating it from action at the government end into action at the other end (the business or citizen) is quite a challenge - after all, people don't pay tax, people drive too fast, people smoke, people do what they shouldn't do - no matter who tells them. The report does say that government sites are generally better than private sector sites Of the five sectors investigated, the Government and Information sector achieved much better results than the other sectors, with 32% of home pages achieving automated Level A compliance. For all other sectors, automated compliance levels were approximately 15%. (and that might be something that the folks in Norfolk want to look at in terms of where does the money go - setting up sites that work across a full range of browsers and that are fully accessible is not cheap!) They go on to say that only two sites are AA compliant (the minimum hurdle is "A") and that none were "AAA". Getting accessibility right at the front end is easier than the back end - so getting A or even AA on your public-facing pages is not a huge challenge, if you do it at the beginning rather than retro-fitting, but getting the same on your content management system will be hard unless it's done "out of the box" (and find me one system that truly is). Nowhere in the report can I find the list of sites sampled, or even the ones that are shining examples of the way things look. I'd like to think that DotP sites are, based on independent analysis we've already had done, but it doesn't say in the report. I'll have to hunt that info down separately and see whether I can gloat (momentarily) or if I have work to do so that the sites are better - after all, feedback is good, no matter whether it's positive or negative.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

£7

Strange things going on with blogger ... in place of quotation marks, I'm getting some control characters. I've tried a few different character formats in the settings and I've tried looking in a couple of different browsers but there doesn't seem to be a difference when I look at the site. Funnily enough though, if I edit the site in FireFox (Mozilla's new browser) and publish from there - check the first paragraph of the text below - then it works fine (I didn't edit the second paragraph). Rather than spend a lot of time fixing it, I'm going to leave it as it is for now. Instead, I want to hunt out a new blog tool - ages ago John Gotze convinced me that MovableType was worth a go, and now I'm looking at webcrossing too. One of them must be right, so I'll have a poke around.

Where did it all go? What do we get for it?

Two articles that came up whilst I was scanning e-government news intrigued me tonight. The first, from the Norfolk Evening News, asks the first question; the second is answered by the Canadian's own news site. Norfolk, the place where "ANGRY councillors demanded answers about where more than £7 million sunk into Norfolk County Council's electronic government scheme has gone?" - their CAPS, not mine. Some say it has gone into the website, into call centres and so on. The opposition leader though "said she was not convinced the scheme was improving the council's services." In the absence of being convinced the article notes “they could have knocked 0.4 per cent off the council tax by putting £1 million less into the e-Government budgetâ€? and goes on to say “We are not trying to say they should not be spending money on e-Government. I believe in e-Government and have seen what it can do elsewhere.â€? I believe and have seen what it can do … and that’s what brings me to Canada, where they say "Forty-five services are now fully on-line. The Government On-Line 2004 report highlights our achievements to date and addresses the remaining key challenges to put all 130 of the services most needed by citizens and businesses on the Internet by 2005." And The volume of on-line transactions, such as visiting Web sites and downloading information or forms, increased by 54% in 2003. The Jobs, Workers, Training and Career portal registered more than eight million user sessions in 2003, and the number of job banks offered via this portal has doubled Much of which could be because of the project to “improve services for individuals and businesses by redesigning its main Web site - the Canada Site (www.canada.gc.ca )â€? So that’s what you get in bald figures, but is it improving the services (to ask the Norfolk councillor’s question of the Canadians)? Canadians who submit on-line requests for Statements of Contribution (to the Canada Pension Plan) receive them within 10 days, while the same request sent by mail takes about one month to process and return. In addition, businesses that incorporate on-line pay $200 rather than the regular $250, and $20 to file an annual return on-line rather than $40 for a paper filing, a 50% savings. (These numbers sound pretty arbitrary to me ... just a little too round ... maybe it's just that government doesn't do consumer pricing? Get your incorporation here, only $199.99, today only. But the point is that Canada can say that costs to the end customer have fallen as a result of online service - the reductions may be artificially priced, but they're in real terms. For those cost reductions to have happened, Canada has had to make equivalent savings somewhere in the process - that means either headcount has fallen or capacity has increased, making the staff more productive). Human Resources and Skills Development's Web Record of Employment (ROE) service has processed nearly 73,000 transactions as of March 20, 2004, saving time and costs for payroll professionals. It is estimated that by 2006 at least 80% of businesses will submit their ROEs on-line. (Ah, Pareto ... 80% will be online ... not sure how far up from 73,000 that is. It doesn't sound like very many, but I don't have volumes of how many are done off line. Again though, there's some stressing here of the saves to payroll professionals) Similarly, HRSD's E-Payroll will link business and governments electronically and enable real-time access to and verification of payroll data, thus simplifying the delivery of social programs to Canadians and rendering cost savings for both business and governments. Intriguingly, the Candians make use of something called “The Secure Channelâ€? which is a common infrastructure connecting Canadians and businesses to the government with the highest standards in privacy, security, availability and reliability. Already in use by several GOL services, the Secure Channel will also be used by Canadians during the 2006 Census, enabling Canadians to fill out their surveys on-line.â€? In my language, the secure channel is a Government Gateway – and theirs operates in a broadly similar way to the one in the UK with some differences because of local administration. If 0.4% of council tax is to play for, could it be achieved with e-government? I think we'd all like to think the stakes are far higher than that. Is £7 million a lot? Hard to say, a lot would depend on how mcuh was split between "e-government" in its usual sense (websites and stuff) and call centres and other related (but not directly e-government) projects. Does saving £1 million cut down the return a lot? Does it cut it down just a million?

Adieu a Concorde

So the first Concorde to take flight takes the last boat home. What a way to go. No tail and just the barest stubs for wings. That famous nose was intact though - despite some being auctioned tomorrow for as much as £300,000 a piece! It did Bahrain in 1976 and goes to Edinburgh next stop. I'm up there in a couple of weeks so maybe I'll look for it. This picture was taken from Southwark Bridge - which for a few minutes was a scene of chaos as tourists and locals rushed back and forth across the bridge, paying little attention to cars, buses and taxis - earlier this evening.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

ID?

John Lettice continues his series of articles on ID cards - with a very long but enormously worthwhile piece on the difficulties of pinning down someone's "identity". John correctly identifies many of the barriers - some of which can perhaps be solved soon with a few that will take quite a bit longer. It doesn't mean it shouldn't happen (well, John thinks it shouldn't) but it does mean it has to be an eyes open programme. Meanwhile it looks to me that The Register has gone, at last, to its new content management system. And, guess what? They've adopted tabs for navigation. UKonline vindicated by The Reg, imagine that!

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Attack of the mutant killer whatnots

Mi2g say things are getting uglier Following the breached Operating System (OS) trend established as a result of the January mi2g SIPS data, 19,038 successful overt digital attacks were analysed in March by the mi2g Intelligence Unit, and the most attacked server side OS remained Linux (14,635) at 77% up from 67% in March, followed by Windows (3,472) at 18% down from 22% and trailing significantly behind were Mac OS X and BSD (499) at 3% down from 4.5%. and DDoS attacks alone have caused between $3.4bn and $4.1bn of economic damage in Q1 2004, which exceeds the total damages from DDoS in 2003 estimated to lie between $1.3bn and $1.6bn. The volume of spam sent out in Q1 2004 has crossed 1.6 trillion unsolicited messages and now exceeds the 1.5 trillion sent throughout 2003. The economic damage from spam is now estimated to lie between $58bn and $71bn worldwide for Q1 2004. And if that wasn't enough With 95% off all digital attacks against home and small business computers, the Giga Flops of computing power, Giga Bytes of free memory and easily available 24/7 broadband connectivity are increasingly responsible for alluring criminal syndicates who seek zombies to send out spam, carry out phishing scams and spread malware infected email. Where large corporations are increasingly better prepared against digital risk, home and small business computer users are often unaware of the damage they cause by leaving their online computers unprotected. and then, if gets worse In Q1 2004, the economic damage from malware - virus, worm and Trojan - proliferation alone has reached an all time high of between $122bn and $150bn worldwide, dwarfing the impact from malware throughout 2003, when the damage was estimated to have been between $82bn and $100bn worldwide. The global proliferation of MyDoom, NetSky and Bagle malware families, has contributed to the heavy damage inflicted in over 215 countries across the world. When economic damage from malware proliferation, overt and covert digital hacker attacks, spam campaigns, phishing scams and reputation damaging DDoS attacks is taken together the estimated damage caused in Q1 2004 lies between $217bn and $265bn worldwide, the highest on record for any quarter and comparable to the entire damage estimated for 200 I'm not one for drawing conclusions about the %age of server types attacked - I imagine that profiles change on the back of vulnerabilities available and able to be scripted along with whatever looks most fun, rather than inline with any measure of "absolute security" of any operating system. They're probably all as insecure as each other. Interestingly though, if most attacks are occuring to homes and small businesses, it might mean that Linux is growing more popular in that space, thus increasing the number of targets. 1.6 trillion spam mails is quite some number. Since I moved to runbox and enabled outlook's inbuilt checking I'm getting 1 a day and seeing 200 stack up in the runbox trash can - very refreshing, although the mails are still being sent and doubtless the fact that I'm not responding means that the nasty folks have to send more to make up for me.