Saturday, December 31, 2011

Drinking to 2012

The champagne is open already.  This wine is described by its maker as follows 

"On the nose, the wine is intense and incisive as well as complex. Fruit notes and roast, toasted and spicy aromas succeed each other and mingle, creating a bouquet evoking a certain restraint. On the palate the sensation is one of remarkable freshness, structured, full and powerful. The finish is impressive, reminiscent of elegance, persistent vigour, with nuances of smoked wood and peppery vanilla."

I'm not sure about all of that, but it's certainly lovely - definitely fresh and tasting of very lightly cooked apples. 

Happy New Year to all. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Government Gateway ... It's been a long time

Last week the NAO published a review of the Government Gateway, direct.gov and businesslink in terms of costs and, particularly, benefits.  They, sadly, didn't get very far with the latter and, indeed, there were some gaps with the former.  In OGC Gateway Review terms, this would be a Gate 5 - typically carried out about a year after project completion and focused on assessing whether the project had met its targets.

Well, better late than never - the Gateway will be 12 in a month, businesslink and direct.gov will be 11 and 9 respectively (though direct.gov's precursor, ukonline, was launched a little before the Gateway at the end of 2000).

I'm not surprised that pinning down benefits (and even costs) was so challenging.  I suspect if Jeff Bezos had been asked to give 5 year numbers for revenue and profits when Amazon IPOd in 1995, he wouldn't have had a clue.  A few years later, we didn't have a clue either - though we tried to get there at every stage of our evolution both because we initially had to bid for money from HMT, we needed to produce both cost and benefit numbers and because we really wanted to show that reuse of assets was an obvious and necessary step.

In the business plan for the e-Delivery team I laid out some of the expected benefits (of ukonline and the gateway), at least in words:


- Substantial savings in departmental running costs as more transactional services are delivered
- Reduction of fraud
- Savings from reduced print, production and postage costs
- Cost of delivery by leveraging central infrastructure likely to be 25-35% of silo-based implementation
- Aggregation of marketing budgets should result in faster pay-off on investment
- Joined up processes will reduce overhead throughout government
- Access to central and local government, and DA transactions using a single password making the citizen experience simpler
- Increased take-up of government information and services through ease of use
- Central architecture allows departments to focus on innovative and joined-up transactions 
- Increased responsiveness to meeting citizen and business needs – including personalising the relationship

And went on to say how we could save additional money

- Standard contract vehicles (One contract template for all projects)
- Single hosting environment
- Provide small number of framework contracts for all government
- Host multiple departmental websites within the UK online infrastructure
- Single managed call center service (Integrate and rationalise the existing help desks to create a single point of contact)
- Leverage IPR (Retain ownership and seek return on investment)
- Rationalise platforms, suppliers (Support fewer platforms, deal with a smaller range of suppliers to create economies of scale)
- Common processes: change, problem (Reduce cost of error and cost of change with a single process)
- Scale economies (Make the central infrastructure so attractive that there is no reason for it not to be used, saving money (through spend avoidance) throughout Government)
- Migrate to common Gateway services, like Payments, Outputs etc.

The challenges were many and varied, for instance, we had:

- No idea how many departments or other government entities would sign up to the Gateway
- No control over how much those departments spent to connect to the Gateway (though we controlled the costs that they would be exposed to as far as possible by stimulating a market for DIS boxes, creating simple SOAP interfaces for reuse/white labelling and so on)
- Little idea of what the take up of any of the services would be (At the time we were ridiculously bullish and only now are some of our wilder expectations being reached)
- To sell to each and every potential departmental customer the idea behind the Gateway, the way it worked and why it was important (often starting from the very essentials of authentication); in some cases we had to bid competitively for the work (some we won, some we lost); there was no "digital by default", "reuse what's there" etc agenda
- Trouble finding out what was already being spent (e.g. on websites) with a need, in the end, to resort to round robin parliamentary questions that were rarely answered fully (and often not at all)

I also included this slide (apologies for the hideous background, what was I thinking?)  that costed implementing a secure transaction with the Gateway versus doing it yourself (we worked out these numbers quite carefully I remember, but the detail is lost to time). So, in 2001 GBP:


We also tracked our usage data day to day, month to month and year to year (indeed, all of our data was available widely across government, to customers and non-customers, and then, later, to anyone on the web long before anyone else in government did the same)


And we tried to cater for a lot of different models, costing each of them from our own perspective as well as that of the department:




In late 2003, I produced this slide - not the easiest one to digest that I've ever produced - to try and explain more clearly the benefits:




After all of that, the number of public sector bodies using the Gateway is "only" 77 and there are just 227 services live.  My 2001 self would have been very disappointed in those figures - my 2011 self thinks that probably isn't so bad given how much work it took to get each and every one of those done.

The NAO's report, then, is timely.  Rather than a rear-mirror view of what wasn't done, it's a great prod for how things need to move from now on so that when Digital Britain Two is published, costs, benefits, risks and consequences are all understood.

The NAO recommend:

- Set take up targets for Gateway (and what follows it via the Identity Assurance Programme)

- Collect information on user satisfaction (and, better still, carry out comprehensive user research in the run up to designing the new solutions - the alpha/beta.gov team are plainly doing that and the IAP is looking for a market-led solution; those with a good (user-led) solution will get to stay in the market)

But let's not underestimate the challenge ahead.  We are still a long way short from the 2005 / 100% online goal set in the year 2000.

Friday, December 16, 2011

And a slide deck from 2000

While I'm uploading presentation decks, here's one from even further back.Inland Revenue Senior Management Conference - February 2000
View more presentations from Alan Mather.

e-Government 2001 ... Tokyo Version

I almost never write speaking notes for my conference presentations but, whilst looking for something else, I came across some slides and the notes to accompany them.They're from a conference in Japan that I attended a little over 10 years ago (no taxpayer money was spent on this trip).  I've pasted the notes in exactly as they were laid out, and embedded the slide deck via SlideShare.net.Japan slides 16.10.2001
View more presentations from Alan Mather.


E-Government
A UK Perspective


What have you done today to change dramatically the way your government deals with its people?

Over the last 20 years, the single largest change you have made was to computerise.  But since then, what has been achieved?  During this time we have seen corporations centralise and decentralise.  We have seen boom and bust several times over.  We have seen new technologies.   We have seen fashions come and go.  We have seen the rise of the PC, of the Internet and, especially here, the mobile phone.

The one thing that has not changed is government.

The Internet is not going away.  Those who do not capitalise on it, including governments may well go away.  Web sites alone are not enough, nor are transactions.

How will you capitalise on the Internet?  What barriers do you anticipate?  How will you overcome them?

The only agenda must be to transform the services offered to our citizens.  A new vision of Government is called for.

Are you doing enough?

The Importance of Vision

St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Designed by Christopher Wren, the vision that he had was for a landmark to be seen from all over London – capped by a magnificent dome.  During the years he spent designing and the 35 years it took to build, his vision never wavered.  Your vision must hold true in just the same way.  Because it is hard to realise great things, and there are many barriers to overcome.

Conjured up in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London more than 300 years ago St Paul’s is still unique.    There are many parallels with the building of St. Paul’s and today’s projects in government.

  • The project sponsor had other ideas. The design was rejected by the King several times.
  • Once he had a final design, he knew that he did not yet fully understand how to build it – there were no other great domes in the UK and, although he had toured France and Italy, he had not seen someone actually build such a dome.
  • Money was tight – new taxes were needed to pay for it
  • The clergy (his customers) were not supporting him (they wanted something smaller and much sooner)
Does this sound familiar? Projects in government are always hard to realise – many stakeholders with different ideas, problems over funding and issues with how you are going to make it happen.

Then there was the project itself.

  • As a project manager and the architect, Christopher Wren was held directly accountable for money spent, progress made, workers rights, accidents and so on
  • Half of his salary was to be deferred until completion (remember, no cathedral had ever been finished in the lifetime of the architect)
  • He tried to keep his final plan covered until the last minute so that it would be a surprise for all of London.  No beta testing for Wren.
  • He thought about problems ahead of time and tried to solve them, but still had to react to difficult day to day circumstances – knocking down the foundations of the old cathedral using gun powder, dealing with poor quality stone, workers strikes at the quarry and so on. 
Not much has changed – I can imagine that each of your projects faces the modern equivalents.  Are you facing up to the barriers and knocking them down?

This is the challenge before us:

  • To create a vision of what Government could look like
  • Compelling and far enough away to challenge us greatly
  • Deliver benefits soon, without compromising the greater goals.
  • Map out how we get there – the bridge to the vision

The UK e-Government Vision

100% online by 2005

Be citizen focused

Be Joined Up

Nearly two years ago Tony Blair, the UK PM, announced his vision for e-government.  Like all good visions, it’s far enough away to give you time, it’s highly challenging, it’s hard to think about what it might mean and initially, you have absolutely no idea how to start.  I think we can relate this to Kennedy’s vision back in the 60s – put a man on the moon, by the end of the decade, bring him back alive.  For the UK it means huge change, it means breaking down the walls between the different departments, it means changing more than 400 years of history.

There is no-one to copy in realising this vision, no-one who has already achieved it.  We must solve the big problems as they come and see what benefits can be realised.
e-UK Today

To start with, we have reasonable use of the Internet in the UK.  Some 55% of the country access it regularly; nearly all of our businesses have some presence on the Internet.  In Government terms, we have made some progress and see, in some cases, up to 5% of people using Internet services to, for instance, pay their tax or access local government services.

These graphs don’t tell the real story though.  Perhaps 35% of the population in the UK have no desire to use the Internet, they don’t know why they need to – because it doesn’t offer them benefit.

In the UK, there are 5 billion transactions per year with government.  Only a few hundred thousand of those are being carried out electronically.  Reaching the 35% that don’t use the Internet is a key goal that will help us increase this count, because it’s likely that these are the people who have the most need of a close, fast relationship with government. 

But before we can conduct billions of transactions via the Internet, we have a difficult journey ahead of us.

Stages of e-Government


There are four key stages that every country will go through towards realising the vision.    Moving between each stage brings a big increase in risk, technology usage and also, new barriers to overcome.  Now how big is your appetite for risk?

Most of us are somewhere between one and two now – we’ve all put up web sites full of the information that we used to publish on paper – in fact, very few of us have stopped publishing anything since the Internet came.  The overwhelming majority of interactions are via letter or telephone.

Some of us are already doing electronic transactions.  Tax forms, driving licenses, and so on.   The second stage. Limited one way transacting.

Few have moved as far as real two way interaction – a world where you can conduct an entire relationship online.  This is more than amazon.com – you can buy some music tracks or books online and use them without ever touching what you have bought. 

But by far the majority of transactions result in something being delivered through the post.  The interesting thing is that government can probably get here faster than corporations because we exchange mostly information with our population – vast quantities of it.   It’s really a lot of numbers and letters.

So, for example, a birth certificate need not be physical.  If you could look it up wherever you were and prove that you were the person listed, why would you need a copy?  If the tax people check with your employer, your bank and your broker how much you had made – why would you need to be involved?

Finally, at the limit of what we can see is transformation.  I think only a few companies are here- dell, maybe, who – thanks to the dynamism and thinking of their ceo – are at the forefront of business in the Internet world.  In the world of government this would be represented by simple rules, benefits in the hands of the people that need them, lower taxation, better investment in public services and so on.

The hardest part of this last stage, especially for Government, is how to get people to stop thinking about how it is (after all, it’s probably been that way for decades), but how it could be. 

And let’s be honest here. None of us know how this will turn out; our customers don’t know what it will look like either.  This piece of the vision will only become clear as we overcome the barriers and move between the stages.

Barriers To Realising The Vision

  Technical

Authentication

Scale

Accessibility

Robustness

Security

  Business

Track Record

Inertia

Privacy

Cost Management

Take-up


On the left of the screen should be the easy ones to solve.  We have had PCs now for 20 years; mainframes for longer.  We should be able to deal with scale, accessibility, robust service delivery and security.  Unfortunately we are not there yet.  There is much work to be done in all of these areas before we can rely on the technology we have to be there when it’s needed and be usable by anyone, protect itself from intrusion and deal with the massive volumes of information that it will need to. 

The biggest barrier here is actually authentication – proving that the person interacting with you is who they say they are.  Digital certificates, smart cards, single identification numbers and so on are all part of this debate.  In the offline world, you are often asked for a secret word, perhaps your mother’s maiden name – but that is far from strong enough to work in the world of the Internet.

If we are to succeed though, we need to break down the barriers on the right.  We must overcome government’s history of poor delivery, improve the speed of delivery by overcoming the inertia that prevents change, resolve privacy issues that often prevent data being exchanged, do all this without increasing the cost of running our countries.  And finally, to make it all worthwhile, everyone has to actually use the services that we offer.  Few countries have made dramatic breakthroughs here – percentages of use are often less than 10%, even in the most advanced countries.  More people bank online and shop online than use government services online.

Wrapped up in all of this is the battle for great talent.  How do you find the people that will do this for you, how do you attract them to government and how do you keep them there.  Personally, there is nowhere else I would rather be.  Every challenge is bigger here.  Success redefines how a nation is governed.  What greater reward can there be than that.

Overcoming
(some of)
The Barriers

The early steps that you must take are:

  • Appoint a champion.  This must be someone reporting at the very top, surrounded by a team of capable people.  In the UK, our e-envoy reports directly to the Prime Minister.  Your champion must have ownership, either directly or through dual key, all of the funding that relates to internet projects.  If not, projects will be duplicated throughout government, you will all attempt to break through all of the barriers – yet you will do it in different ways, at high cost, and two or three years from now you will be unable to bring it all back together.
  • Preventing duplication can be eased by defining some simple standards.  In the UK, early on our technology strategy team defined some standards called e-GIF – these standards explain how government transactions will be made available.
  • Next up is picking your partners.  Much of what we are trying to do is new, few partners have done this before and even fewer with great success.  They will learn with you, so you must feel comfortable with them.  It cannot be a purely contractual relationship because these partners are going to shape how your people deal with you in the future.
  • Then, with your partners, you can build a plan.  The first few months can be detailed, later on will be less clear – but you need to be sure that everything you are doing lines up with the vision.  I’ll talk about two of the key components of our plan next.
 UK online


This is the UKonline web site.  UKonline is more than just a web site though, it’s our campaign to get the whole of the UK using the Internet.  Here though we have tried to present a simple environment that allows the user to search across government for specific items that they want – but we have also linked some important things together, as Life Episodes – for instance, Having a baby provides content from a variety of sources so that all aspects of such a major event can be researched and understood.

Government Gateway 

The gateway is the “intelligent router” of government.  It handles the authentication task – when someone sends an item (such as a tax form) to government or requests something (like a tax statement), it is the gateway that decides if the person is eligible to do that.  The Gateway, built on Microsoft products, such as Biztalk, takes in XML defined by the e-GIF standard that I talked about earlier. It translates the XML and sends it to the right department, providing a receipt to the person who sent it.

E-Government in Action
Putting both of the previous slides in context, here is the whole picture.  This also shows the major developments that we plan to make:

  • We will aggregate more and more government content into a single environment so that we can manage it and index it better.  We can then personalise the view of government that anyone looking at the site has – for instance, if a 16 year old boy visits he may be wondering about what he should do next at school, thinking about getting a job, perhaps he is wondering about travelling around the world and so on.  With a little data about the person, we can present a huge range of content to them along with the transactions that go with that.  So we are moving away from life episodes to “life styles” – not thinking about what we think someone will want to do at a certain point in their life, but letting who they are and what they are thinking about drive the content we show them.
  • One Size Never Fits All.  One size fits one. Only one. So you have to personalise the experience completely to really make a difference.
  • We will also partner with commercial companies, letting them use our content too so that they can wrap additional services around it, adding further value.  For instance, a bank may wrap a suite of financial services around a tax transaction offering ways to reduce the tax bill.
  • All of the transactions that we offer will route through the Government Gateway. Let me give a few examples.   Right now, we are doing single transactions to single departments.  So, a small business using their accountancy software can send in their end of year payroll data direct to government and get a receipt on delivery.  Many packages already support this facility.  Or a small trader can send in their quarterly VAT return, using a government web site or that from a 3rd party.
  • Where the real value comes, is when we join up services; something you cannot do with paper transactions.  So, if you wanted to know how much your pension would be when you retire, coupled with how much your private pension would give you, then someone, say the prudential, could offer that service, tapping into their own databases as well as those of the inland revenue and the DSS to get the right data.  Or if you were just coming back to the country from a spell abroad, then the transaction is “please update records to show that I am back” – tax, local doctor, electoral roll etc. 
Government is complicated.  Our job is to hide the complexity of government.
The Take-up Curve

All of these clever ideas must be set in the context of how government interacts with its citizens.  In truth, government is only an occasional partner of any one person – but to really add value and to realise the transformation that we want, we will have to move up this curve.  This will entail changes to how things work.  For instance, if we knew enough about someone, could we actually prompt transactions rather than wait for them to arrive?  For government to transform, the interactions must occur where the people are – where they are doing their banking online, buying books, using an internet café and so on.
 UK Delivery Timetable

Over the next 4 years, there is a lot of work to do.  We will re-work each of our main pieces of technology to improve the citizens experience.  At the same time, we will break down more of the barriers, increasing the number of people who can access our services.  We will bring in new functions such as voting.  Gradually, we will move through the remaining stages I talked about earlier and transform Government.
 UK future challenges

  Bring fragmented government together

  Drive real change within government

  Strengthen commercial partnerships

  Broadband roll-out nationwide

  One billion pounds committed

So the challenges that we face over the next four years as we realize our vision are around the problems of breaking down the silos of government departments so that we can drive real change and make a difference.  We will strengthen our existing commercial partnerships and add further. 


The single biggest challenge remaining and one that I know you are dealing with here in Japan is the roll-out across the nation of a broadband network.  For a long time now there has been a debate over broadband – why is there not more demand, why is no-one creating content for it.  This will be solved by creating the network.  We expect this to be a significant enabler for driving change in government – enabling fast exchange of data between us and citizens.

Lessons

  True partnerships (suppliers and customers)

  Wide experience for project boards

  Fast delivery needs fast decisions

  Start practicing now for hi-scale usage

  Expect failure – manage your portfolio

Ready. Aim. Miss. Reload.


True Partnerships –Put a team of the best and brightest on the project and make sure that the team had a clear requirement.  Include people on the team from the various departments acting as early adopters and from suppliers and customers.  Then set them loose to deliver. No more can the business lob a set of requirements over a wall to the IT department and wait for the explosion.  Everyone works together in a true team to address issues, confront problems and ensure successful delivery. 

For instance, The Government Gateway, was built to aggressive timescales – in this case to meet the end of year filing deadlines.  You and your partners need to work closer together than ever before; there needs to be mutual trust. The strength of your partner and the way you work with them is directly proportional to probability of success.

Project boards – draw on a variety of personalities to oversee your projects, from within and without the company. Put your suppliers on the project board so that they can be held accountable.   Open your books to them and share experiences.  Meet regularly and show them (and I mean show – with live demos) what you have done; get feedback and act on it.

Decisions – when you first join government in England, you’re issued with a new watch – it only has 4 times on it; and I don’t mean 3, 6, 9, 12 o’clock, I mean spring, summer, autumn and winter. In government Feasibility studies for instance were often to be completed by the autumn, project teams would be up to speed by the spring.  The process has changed now; decisions are taken based on information available; reviewed on a conference call, as often as every day at critical stages; and the decision is changed if it is not working.

High scale usage means, in the case of the UK, 5 billion transactions per year.  That’s 400 per second, every second of the day, week, month and year.  That will mark a big change in how your technology works.

Then get used to getting it wrong.  Because you will.  You will need to manage a portfolio of projects, nuture them, grow them, but when they go wrong, kill them off quickly

I’ll close today by asking you the same question I asked at the beginning:

What have you done today to change dramatically the way your government deals with its people?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

As Went Nokia ($NOK), So Goes $RIMM

It's about 7 months since I last wrote about Nokia.  Since then I've been transfixed by the total slamming that Research in Motion (aka RIMM aka the maker of Blackberries) has had.  The graph below compares Nokia and RIMM over the last 5 years.  Whilst RIMM largely outperformed NOK, the last year has been brutal for them.


Zooming in and Looking at year to date, NOK has outperformed RIMM (not that you'd have wanted money in either of them).  RIMM is down around 70% this year.  What a stunning fall from grace. The latest fall was triggered by a write-off of their planned iPad competitor, the Playbook. The write-off amount is staggering, at $485m, suggesting that RIMM had pre-bought many hundreds of thousands of units (it's probable that it was more than that, and that there are actually millions of the things sitting, gathering dust, in a warehouse or two), expecting them to sell by the truck load - that would seem to go against the long since in vogue "Just In Time" manufacturing process.  It's also possible, I suppose, that this isn't a write-off of just inventory but actually a write-off of the entire product.  RIMM's results are out soon and we'll perhaps find out then.


Nokia has new product with its Windows Phone-based Lumia range; new blackberries are on the horizon and RIMM, like Nokia, has also to execute an operating system shift (moving to QNX).  Such moves are fraught with risk, especially in a world where your corporate customers have already been hit by email outages.  Making QNX work - keeping old apps working, making the UI consistent enough (but allowing new capabilities to feature highly), zeroing in on the bugs and getting the security accreditation right (for the many government customers) will all be hugely challenging.  And remember, the Playbook is powered by QNX.  Uhoh.

My guess is that RIMM won't pull it off and further falls are on the way (although they will be interrupted by rallies as the market hopes that the tide has turned).  So where does that leave RIMM?  An acquisition target? It's hard to see an industry player stepping up, but private equity houses have plenty of money now.  Bankrupt?  That seems unlikely too - they are still selling millions of devices, and it's a long way to zero.  A CEO change?   That seems likely before either of the above - new CEO cleans house, reverses some wrongs and tries to get it all back together.

Rumour has it that RIMM will name their new operating system "X".  It might mark the spot.  But I think the spot is quite a lot lower than it is today.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The English As Tweakers


From "The Rate and Direction of Invention in the British Industrial Revolution: Incentives and Institutions" by Ralf R. Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr, August 2010:

A Swiss visitor, César de Saussure noticed in 1727 that “English workmen are everywhere renowned, and justly. They work to perfection, and though not inventive, are capable of improving and of finishing most admirably what the French and Germans have invented" (de Saussure, [c. 1727], 1902, p. 218, letter dated May 29, 1727). Josiah Tucker, a keen contemporary observer, pointed out in 1758 that “the Number of Workmen [in Britain] and their greater Experience excite the higher Emulation, and cause them to excel the Mechanics of other Countries in these Sorts of Manufactures” (Tucker, 1758, p. 26). The French political economist Jean-Baptiste Say noted in 1803 that “the enormous wealth of Britain is less owing to her own advances in scientific acquirements, high as she ranks in that department, as to the wonderful practical skills of her adventurers [entrepreneurs] in the useful application of knowledge and the superiority of her workmen” (Say [1803], 1821, Vol. 1, pp. 32–33). 

That's clear then ... only the Brits can fix the Euro.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Da Vinci Does Data

Standing before the Virgin of the Rock (well, actually, facing one with another behind), I was quite struck by how much data Leonardo left behind. We have his finished projects (in varying states of repair), prototypes, cartoons, unfinished work and numerous clones/copies or homages by students and followers. We have enough that when we see another painting that might be Leonardo, the experts can debate for ages whether it is or isn't, claiming various "facts" by reference to the existing body of data.

Two things flow from that for me.

First:

Someone should write the Da Vinci guide to IT with chapters to include: practice lots first, prototype everything, freely licence your work, break projects into sensible chunks, reuse what others have done, careful with plaster, train youngsters in your work, don't be afraid of new methodologies ... And more

Second:

How much data will we leave behind, individually, for discovery 500 years from now? Much of my electronic data is already lost - on countless 5 1/4" and 3 1/2" discs, or on zipdrives or on machines long since destroyed at companies I've long since left.

But in the last few years, increasing amounts of data are stored in "free" repositories such as Facebook and Gmail. How long will they keep my data? Not so much as "on the Internet no one knows you're a dog" but "on the Internet no one knows you're dead"?

As data grows following an inexorable rise from petabytes through exabytes to zettabytes and whatever comes after that, what will these companies do with the data? Prune it every 20 years? Every 50? Every 100? Surely they have to at some point? Assuming they're still around anyway.

I was toying with the idea of writing a script that would activate when I'm gone (note to self ... On the Internet ....) and write a random weekly post to my blog, which is kindly hosted by google. Would they prune my data then?

Already I see the ghosts of friends who died tragically young follow me around the 'net - "people you used to know" perhaps. As I get older and assuming I stay sane, this will doubtless become more common.

In 200 years or more, the data we all leave behind will be an interesting archaeological source for how we lived our lives, our passions and fashions, our moods, tolerances and intolerances. If it's still there.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Apple and Pears

Several meetings in the last month have talked about how the new IT that will result from recently launched strategies will delete the need for training.

The conversation usually starts with someone saying that they didn't need to read the manual for their new digital camera, or someone pulls their iPhone out of their pocket and says "my 5 year old figured out how to use this with no manual". Inevitably someone says "we should do it the Apple way."

This is potentially dangerous. At one level it's right - "how" a system or, dare I say, App works should be obvious to anyone looking at the screen.

But what it does and why it does it will still need training or guidance. Taking a picture or making a call isn't nearly the same as assessing eligibility for benefits or figuring out the right dose of medicine to give a patient or evaluating the risk of an offender and probation viability.

The App can hide the complexity of much of what needs to be done but the App alone cannot remove the need for the user needing to know what happens when they press "commit."

Mind you, I had to read the manual for my new camera. And yet, still, for every 500 pictures I took, perhaps one or two were worth keeping. I need some training.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Disintermediating the Monopoly

... The Government Gateway is dead ... long live the distributed hub, the attribute providers and the identity providers ... 
Monday's "Ensuring Trusted Services with the new Identity Assurance Programme" or #ETSIAP as it became on Twitter was a useful catch up on where things have got to.  Disappointingly, for me at least, it didn't really say precisely where they were going - though there was a clear direction of travel - or, more importantly, when exactly.

HMRC's Joan Wood said that the business case for a "new hub" to be procured and to replace the GG in HMRC would go forward in April 2012 (Joan, who I worked with at the Inland Revenue and who was a key customer of the Gateway in its early days, is only 3 weeks into a new job, yet still had plenty of insight into the challenges ahead); and DWP's Steve Dover was firmly of the view that Universal Credits would be delivering in April 2013, complete with authentication provided by the IAP (or possibly by their own procurement that would operate in line with IAP). The Gateway's support contract has just, I gather, been extended through 2014 - something that may provide a useful contingency plan given that the original concept and design around the Gateway was to provide exactly this distributed capability.

The direction of travel, then, is that Government will now buy its identity verification (and perhaps  its mapping of that identity to the various government services) from (potentially) many providers. Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, announced that £10m had been earmarked to staff the IAP (and Mike Bracken went on to say later that this would cover 5 workstreams through to 2012/13 which I took to mean March 2013).

This is a change from current practice, though not actually new thinking. Professor Brian Collins, who chaired the event, said that he had worked on such thinking in 1992. I. in turn, ran the Government Gateway team from 2000 to 2004 when this thinking was at the centre of what we were trying to do.  We even got at least a little bit towards that with the digital certificates issued by 3rd parties, though that was an idea ahead of its time and its ability to be implemented.

The current practice is largely that government has a monopoly on both your identity and how you match your identity to a government service.  Whilst it's a monopoly, it isn't actually done through a single route - the Government Gateway certainly handles a lot of transactions but it doesn't, for instance, handle tax disc renewals, much of what DWP offers online or the bulk of local authority transactions.  The change, then, is that private sector entities will be able to offer an identity service (and perhaps a hub that will match identity to service) and offer that to government.

Right now there isn't a commercial model defined that would allow anyone to assess the value of that market.  That is, there isn't a known pipeline of transactions that will require authentication (or a commitment that only this route will be used in the future) or an assessment of the price that government would be willing to pay for such identity mapping (which would, somewhere along the line, have to address the risk of a false identity being guaranteed).

Mike Bracken went on to talk about a network of trust - using a series of low value transactions to build up a trusted identity.  He used the example of the fishing licence - something that doubtless still raises the hackles of those who were around for the first iteration of online services.  This is another transaction that has its own identity engine - especially if you set up an account so that you can easily renew your licence each season.

When we first floated the network of trust concept, we called it the "Green Shield Stamps" theory of identity - you carry out progressively more significant transactions by working up a pyramid of trust; over time your online persona is highly trusted. We had two theories on this - one was that there was a pyramid of trust between relying parties, and two that there was a pyramid of transactions that themselves generated trust (so to use Mike's example, if you have bought a fishing licence and sent your self assessment return in, then maybe you can claim some benefits, and if that works, you claim tax credits)  There was much resistance then, in 2003, but no reason why that resistance should still be there (there wasn't really good reason for it to be there in the first place).


With the Cabinet Office getting behind the IAP - and, by the sounds of it, resourcing it for the first time in its current incarnation - there is great potential, provided things move fast.  One of the first deliverables, then, should be the timetable for the completion of the standards, the required design and, very importantly, the proposed commercial model.

The important thing about the timetable is that if HMRC and DWP are going ahead with implementation as soon as 2013, IAP needs to have provided all of the framework and information long before that date  - perhaps a year ahead of it - so that providers have time to put together the necessary capability/platform.  The alternative is that DWP or HMRC do what they need to do and the result is either a solution where the first one or two solutions are subsidised by the two largest departments or, worse, a solution that works for those departments but not for anyone else.

The thinking behind the Cabinet Office approach is that private sector companies - perhaps the banks, the credit agencies, maybe BSkyB, Tesco or the Post Office will provide these identity services not just for government transactions but for any and all transactions - whether that be Facebook login, checking your Tesco ClubCard points or seeing if your pay check has hit your account.  Francis Maude, to wry laughter, noted at the event that he had two dongles for accessing his two bank accounts within the same bank (HSBC if you're interested).  I wasn't sure if he was suggesting a future where we might have a single dongle for everything (he was certainly not suggesting that was the only route - the slides from Dave Rennie were clear that it would be an individual choice regarding how much joining up was allowed, with the ultimate sanction being to use multiple identity agents for multiple services).

Whilst plenty of hard work has doubtless been done, the real hard work is in the next few months.  There were many people in the room who were around when I was running the Gateway - the denizens of the Liberty Alliance, BT URU and so on were all there - and, whilst their thinking will be important, new thinking will also be needed to get this off the ground, get it widely used and get it delivered at a price point that makes sense for all of the players.  Again, the commercial model by which this will work is a critical early deliverable.

I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out and to playing a role, again, in the development of the route to secure identity within UK government and perhaps more widely.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I'll see you your 50 year storm ...

... and raise you a Perfect Storm says Mike Bracken.  I do like the continuity of analogy around storms.  GDS is certainly operating within a favourable environment with a wide range of factors aligned.  Now is the time.

He goes on to say:
as one of our new recruits Mike Beaven, who is running our transformation programme put it more succinctly: “How often do you get the chance to digitise a G7 economy?”
The answer to that depends on whether this effort succeeds, building on the progress made by all previous efforts.  If it does, the team may get hired to do the other 6.  If not, it might be "How often do you get to balkanise the digitals?"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Government IT - 180 Degree Turn - Chris Chant


This is the text of a (great) speech that Chris Chant gave at yesterday's Tea Camp:

First of all to acknowledge a small and important bunch of people who have been delivering some great stuff in gov IT And those who have been working their socks off but through no fault of theirs ON THE WRONG THING - it's tough being in IT. 
People now can be using the fruits of your work EVERY DAY. There aren't many things like that - electricity maybe. 
But we need to face  some  UNAVOIDABLE TRUTHS head on 
The vast majority of Gov IT in todays market is outrageously expensive, ridiculously slow,  poor quality and most unforgivably rarely user centric in any meaningful way 
Let's start with a personal view of the unacceptable. 
It is unacceptable, not to know the cost of a service and the real exit costs - commercial, technical and from a business de- integration standpoint. 
It is unacceptable now to enter into contracts for longer than a year.......
And to those who say "what about supplier upfront  infrastructure costs", I say ask shops how they do it, ask small garages how they cover the costs of hydraulic hoists and computers 
It is unacceptable, not to know how many staff we have working on IT 
It is unacceptable, not to know what all those staff do. 
It is unacceptable, not to know what systems we own, how much they cost and how much or even IF they are used 
It is unacceptable, not to know when users give up on an online service 
And it is unacceptable, not to know why 
Of course It is unacceptable that they do! 
It is unacceptable to have a successful online service and then to remind customers to use it with a postal mail shot 
It is unacceptable not to be able to communicate with customers securely electronically  
It is unacceptable, not to be able to do our work from any device we choose. 
It is unacceptable to pay up to £3500 per person per year for a desktop 
It is unacceptable for your corporate desktop to take 10 mins to boot up in the morning and the same to shut down 
It is unacceptable for staff to be unable to access Twitter or YouTube or not able to access the online service they are supporting in a call centre 
It's unacceptable in this day an age, to ensure people are "working" by restricting access to the Internet. 
It is unacceptable, that 80% of Gov IT is controlled by 5 corporations. It is unacceptable, to outsource your IT strategy
It is unacceptable to see the cost of changing 1 word/colour or 1 line of code as £50k  
It is unacceptable to wait 12 weeks to get a server commissioned  
ABOVE ALL,  
It is unacceptable, not to engage directly with the most agile,  forward thinking suppliers, the SME market.

Things have changed and we haven't, until now 
SO HOW DOES G-CLOUD HELP 
Cloud will be cheaper - by the time you factor in the time spent now procuring and accrediting individual solutions,  
Using cloud solutions that have already been secured and accredited will be cheaper almost always.  
We will only pay for what we use, even models emerging for DR 
Over time, for most, products will be pre-procured and security accredited 
We will know from the outset the cost of the product and importantly the cost of exit 
Contracts will be under a year and the business impact of exit will be visible 
Price and service performance will be visible to all. Which will drive a provider to low cost high performance products 
We will not get ourselves locked in, in any way 
We will make fewer changes to the standard configuration of our desktops ( for as long as we provide them) so they will be more reliable, faster and cost less 
82% saving in GDS over corporate systems, includes great kit and IL3 access when needed. 
We will be able to migrate quickly to pre procured products that we need. Either as our needs change or if we are dissatisfied with service or price 
Our staff, over time, will become our system integrators until services in this space mature at the right price. What they won't be doing is spending years on procurement and security work that has been done by others a hundred times before. 
People will be setting up some services in minutes instead of years 
FDPs and cross cutters don't have all the answers now must iterate and iterate delivery, policy AND  process - will this approach work - I believe it will - certainly the Herculean effort spending 2 years working out requirements, another year in a procurement process and 3 years delivering some massive bespoke system hasn't covered us in glory 
The first manifestations of this total transformation of the way Government uses technology will come in the next couple of days. 
We will publish a strategic implementation plan and OJEU which will together demonstrate solid commitment to change the way we work. 
But cloud is very much applicable to restricted and confidential. Services already being developed 
Cloud is PAYG, is elastic, is on demand, put down as fast as you pick up 
Not bound by old rules and ways of working 
Not lock ourselves in business or commercial 
Aggregation of demand is not the only way to drive down cost 
Commerce doesn't only work that way - M &S 
IT service must start around user need not around outdated and ill applied security concerns 
CESG know this local practitioners often don't  
We start from "this is what the user needs", then comes the system (at the right price), then comes the security wrapper to make it appropriately safe 
And that, for many,  is a 180* turn - and it's the way all Gov IT must be delivered from now on.


(any transcription or editing errors are mine)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jobs For Life?


Ways To The Cloud

The Government's Cloud Strategy document will apparently shortly be issued.  It will move on from the previously published wider ICT strategy (which, itself, will be enhanced by an Implementation Plan) and elaborate how UK government will take advantage of cloud technologies.  Or, perhaps more likely, it will outline the "what" and leave the "how" to the next iteration of the document. With the gCloud procurement about to get underway - any day now I am told - here is my view of the "how" for cloud in government:

1) Starting now, UK government should never again purchase hardware for development or test environments; any such need will be met from pure public cloud "tin for rent" IaaS or from reuse of community/private cloud capability (this will inevitable require applications to be architected in a way that will make them cloud ready).

2) From today, any refresh of e-mail systems or deployment of new e-mail capability should be through public cloud or from usage-based private / community / shared within government clouds.  Alongside this, no department should use a collaboration capability that isn't in the public or private cloud (and, in the latter case, already in use by other departments)

3) Building on the existing "Foundation Development Partners", one department should take the lead in putting a single end to end process (rather than just a specific application) into the cloud.  A potential candidate could be case management - there are dozens, probably hundreds, of such processes in government, each implemented differently and with varying technology.  The FDP will eat its own dog food (get wet under its own cloud?) and move its own processes so that they are supported by this cloud - suggesting an early candidate could be from within the Ministry of Justice - and make all of it available for other departments too (with the aim that all such processes are supported from a common, or small number of consistent, cloud solutions within 3 years).

4) One department or public body should volunteer to make itself 80% cloud supported within 2 years.  Candidates would include departments where there is little transactional or clearly secure capability required - which might mean DCMS or DCLG.

That should get things off to an interesting start.  By doing these four things

  • Any department starting a new project will test out cloud (and will architect for future deployment to the cloud by default)
  • Anyone looking to refresh email (and given most departments are likely still on Office 2007 or earlier, that could be all of them) will take advantage of cloud-based mail so lowering their costs, allowing a wider range of mobile devices to connect to their e-mail (again lowering costs) and improving support for remote working
  • An end to end process will be tested in the cloud, for at least one department with relatively complex needs, so allowing government to understand the changes in business process, in operational rules and in the software procure / deploy process
  • One department will become the vanguard that all others can aspire to follow (or shy away in fear from)
These moves would not be without their troubles and challenges but they would allow the testing out of the benefits that cloud promises.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Combat Stress - Royal Parks Half Marathon

Tomorrow I will run the Royal Parks Half Marathon in support of the charity "Combat Stress"

I got involved with Combat Stress after a chance meeting with one of their patrons.

I got involved with marathon running by chance too, after moving near to a wide open park in Paris that just seemed made for running.  Serendipity.

I haven't sent out e-mails seeking sponsorship for this run, I haven't rattled a tin at the local tube station and I haven't set up a JustGiving page (I have done all of those in the past and remain grateful to those who were kind enough to contribute).

I appreciate that the financial pressures on everyone are extreme and that many will already have a charity that is near and dear and which they choose to support whenever they can.  I will make my own donation to Combat Stress.

If, though, you are looking for a charity to support, let me tell you why I choose to raise money for Combat Stress:

I have only a little affiliation with the military.  Relatives have been involved - one died in the Great War, another flew 'planes from Ark Royal as a Squadron Leader, one was an Air Commodore in the Reserves - but I have no personal experience.

But I can see a problem looming

That problem is increasingly likely to mature within the next 10 years.  There is little data on how troops are affected after encountering combat, the severe injury or death of their comrades and friends, the separation from their own loved ones and the return to "normal life" - a life that is very different from what they have just been through.  Some adjust.  Some don't.  The trouble is that the "don'ts" can take years to show the signs.  The most often quoted figures suggest that some 7% of returning soldiers will show the symptoms of PTSD but not until, on average, some 14 years after they have left the army.

7% is too low and 14 years is far longer than it really takes

Combat is more intense and on multiple successive fronts; a relatively small number of people have military experience (when compared with conflicts 50 years ago or more from which most of the data is sourced); information on wins / losses / injuries / deaths circulates far faster (both to the troops and to those at home); and now, troop counts (with troops being "made redundant" - as if - almost upon their return) are reducing increasing the number of former soldiers who will be looking for something else to do.

All of these points and a few more led me, after researching the available data, to conclude that there is a problem coming, probably some time in the second term of this government (assuming that they win the next election).

Help for Heroes does an amazing job of dealing with the troops that come home injured, Combat Stress deals with those who return home apparently normal but, some time, later are plainly not.  There is a bigger category of troops - a General I know calls them "the rest" in a fatherly sort of way - who will never seek help but who end up alcohol or drugs-dependent, in jail, homeless, or beat up people in bars.  Not all troops will end up in any of these categories of course, not even a majority.  But a substantial enough number will.  Combat Stress will be there to help as many as they can.  And that "as many as they can" is determined, largely, by donations.

So I like to raise money and give my time to Combat Stress.  If you feel the same, you can donate money right from the Combat Stress website avoiding the commission taken by other sites.  You can donate by 'phone, by text, or using an online form.


Friday, October 07, 2011

AlphaBeta.gov ...

Is what Alpha.gov.uk (and the soon to be beta.gov.uk) are doing really different? I mean, it's a website, right?  We've had a few of those before, more than a few (thousand) in fact.  As someone who used to do, in the Office of the e-Envoy, what the Government Digital Service (GDS) team (formerly the alphagov team) are doing, I watch their progress with interest, applauding the successes and wondering about the things still to do, occasionally scratching my head.



I was part of a team a lot like the GDS team.  We had a bunch of hugely talented people drawn from inside and outside of government (plus quite a few secondees from major technology companies too); we published a lot of what we were doing; we took on some difficult projects (some right at the very edge of what was going on in industry let alone in government); we worked hard to draw other departments in (we often had to pitch for them to use what we were doing during a competitive tender process;  we used open source products; we did work for other departments who commissioned us to build things; we put in place things that, 10 years on, are still in place now and drawing ever greater usage; we built things from scratch, used beta products, and integrated some complex stacks; we even used the first cloud service in government in 2001 when we paid by usage and didn't own any assets; we worked across government to write and edit content; we dealt with accessibility from day one with the aim of creating the most accessible sites; we tried to lead the way in doing things in a different way; we, too, dealt with the long tail of the vast range of services that government offers; we did things, like MessageLabs anti-virus, that weren't strictly in our remit but felt like the right thing to do; we lived and breathed our services, taking it personally if there were problems or if customer were not happy.
eDt vision, September 2001
So are GDS all that different? My sense is that they are, and they aren't.  They're doing what we did, and more, and better.  And they have some things to work on - based on current progress, I'm pretty confident that they'll sort those out too.

The team - there is a greater focus on people already inside government.  In 2001 we tried hard to recruit civil servants into the team but often failed to attract many (or, indeed, any).  The Cabinet Office wasn't seen as the place to do what we were trying to do; it wasn't a delivery department.  We had some great civil servants for sure, but not enough to make them the core of the team.  The GDS folks, and the Alpha team in particular, have attracted some terrific people into the team, even converting some outsiders into insiders along the way.

The process - this is open government in action.  From 2000-2005 we published almost everything we did, but almost always to those inside government.  We were amongst the first (and probably actually the first) to make available every detail of the volumes, the service delivered, the product roadmap and so on; the team often spoke at conferences but the audiences were mostly other government people (and the larger suppliers). GDS are publishing pretty much everything they do, including decompositions of decisions made (particularly the ones that have attracted criticism), via blogs, twitter, the press and doubtless other routes.

The roadmap - I get the sense, and I don't know this for sure, that the alpha team don't know where they're heading with each piece of work they start, and I mean that in a good way.  When we started work we had to bid for money, build requirements list, test the requirements with customers and deliver what we said we were going to deliver.  We wiggled a little as we went but we pretty much got to where we had said we were going to, for better or worse.  These guys are working in a much more iterative way, shifting left and right to work around some problems or to add in new capability.  The beta will, I hope, evidence that approach even more.

Things still to see

Alpha tied itself closely to politics - the PM and Deputy PM were pictured smiling on the front page.  The GDS blog has a banner picture of Francis Maude:


If we'd had any obvious political link there would have been a lot of trouble.  Things change, of course, but my view is that these two shouldn't mix (and I don't mean the PM and Deputy PM).   The public ministerial support is, though, a brilliant thing to have in your pocket.

A single great website is, of course, essential for government (I think my position on that has long since been clear).  27 million people a month visit the existing direct.gov.uk but it has remained largely untouched since I left it in 2004/5 (it's had a technology refresh and significantly increased functionality, but it still looks and feels largely the same - that is meant as no slight to the team who have worked diligently to upgrade it and keep it fresh, just an observation that it's still orange and looks much the same).    For instance, the screen shot on the left is from 2007, the one on the right from 2011.


But transactions are where it's at.  We built the government gateway to support both single transactions and joined up transactions (that is, ones that would link more than one department and send each of them the relevant data.  The vast bulk of those transactions come from sites other than direct.gov; the vast bulk of direct.gov's transactions are for Car Tax.  That all needs to change.  We didn't ever crack it.  It needs cracking - integrated transactions, simple pan-device (and even pan-channel) authentication, pre-population of data that government already knows about you and so on.

We built tools and services for all of government to use.  Our aim was to massively reduce spend on technology by building something once that could be used by many.  It was a great aim then and it's still a great aim.  I don't yet see where the GDS team are going with this.  Folks in government are still building and rebuilding websites - I know of a dozen that have gone live this year alone and that's only the ones that I know about.  As Simon Dickson has argued before, there's a great case for a lightly centralised service supporting government entities that still need their own site. I say "lightly" because I think there's a need for two or three competitive offers working from consistent templates with each innovating and improving as well as co-operating and sharing.

We regularly confronted the question of whether to build something ourselves or to use existing products.  With the gateway, we used a not-yet-released to market Biztalk which needed around 100,000 lines of custom code to get it to do what we wanted.  Microsoft took all that we had done (under licence) and released a new version a year or so later which did all that we needed and left us with only 8 lines of custom code.  When looking at the engine for direct.gov (and later dh.gov and several other sites), we looked at Vignette, Stellent and others but went with a custom build - that was a difficult decision and one that proved wrong in the end as the engine was subsequently scrapped and replaced by Stellent.  GDS look to be going custom again which is likely to prove interesting perhaps 2 or 3 years from now.

We also confronted the issue of how much to do in-house and how much to outsource.  We were lucky to have a great skunkworks team who could rapidly build proofs of concepts, but we went with suppliers for all of our production versions (and we hosted with them too, not having a real cloud supplier at the time - plus we were also tied in knots by the Critical National Infrastructure badge, one that we wore with pride at the time but one that, in hindsight, was plainly an albatross).  Keeping everything in-house, managing turnover of staff, staying on top of emerging developments, dealing with 24 hour support, knowing that the only people in the way of criticism is your own team etc is a tough place to be - we were there too, but we had dozens of supplier people working for us too, so at least the load was spread.

In the end, GDS will make their choices on each of these and a million more decisions.  I hope that they recognise that, whilst it may all feel new/different/special, some of what they are doing has been done before (not just during the time of the Office of the e-Envoy around but by people in the 25 years before, dating all the way back to the computerisation of major transactions like PAYE).  Lots of lessons were learned and lots more will be learned from here on.  It would be good if the ones learned again aren't the same as the ones learned before.

We, too, made decisions that attracted flak from armchair commentators, professionals and the press.  Perhaps the largest flak resulted from choosing Microsoft to deliver the gateway (when the previous attempt had failed dismally).  Microsoft were the only company willing to step into the fray - others suggested we scale down our ambitions and make use, for instance, of Windows NT and e-mail.  That decision proved to be the right one, despite the seemingly endless flak,

Alpha and all that follows it needs to part of a long-term delivery plan, one that shows how the Government's ICT strategy will be implemented (a document describing that is due out any day now I believe).  But it also needs to be part of a wider delivery plan that shows what will happen within and across government where the real world services will be challenged in the same way as the technology ones are being (and have been).  Technology can create a veneer of joined up capability but it can't truly transform the services in and of itself.

I will keep watching with interest because the challenge they're taking on is the right one to undertake and because I believe in it too.  This is a new time in government.  Maybe it's even a new 50 year storm.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Oracle's Clock Cleaned??

Marc Andreesen, erstwhile co-founder of Netscape and now uber-VC, says "The Clock Is Ticking On Oracle." He explains:

Ten years ago, it was a joke: you'd raise $20 million in venture capital and write a $4 or $5 million check to Oracle, Sun, BEA, and EMC....When it started, Salesforce looked like a toy compared with Siebel. Look ahead five years later, it's obviously better. Not a single one of our startups uses Oracle.
And I suspect he was using Oracle only as an example of many companies that need to execute a pivot if they're going to be in the same shape 10 years from now that they're in today.


In the last year I've seen plenty of examples of companies who, in the past, would have spent £250k or more on a technology solution and can now spend 20-40% of that.   If you're a big company - HP, IBM or similar - and you charged a client millions for a solution last year that this year they think they can get for hundreds or even tens of thousands, your revenue is going to suffer  (not to mention profits, stock price and individual bonuses).  


Those big companies are going to have to do some pretty incredible gymnastics to execute this pivot and keep everyone happy.  Some, of course, will choose to ignore the potential consequences and will try and ride the changes out hoping that none of their customers will notice what other companies are up to.  


Only a few will do what Intel did in 1983 when it got out of memory chips and focused on microprocessors.  Many large IT companies will soon face their Intel moment.  It will be interesting to watch how they react.

The Cloud Defined (by Apple)

This coming week Apple will properly launch iCloud - and, when they do, over 200 million people (and climbing fast) and the devices plumber into their hands will suddenly become aware of what the cloud is.  Or, perhaps more accurately, they will associate the cloud with Apple and what Apple's cloud does.

Apple have for some time been triggering ads to any search with the word "cloud" in it:


Up until this point any ad featuring a pitch for cloud has used "soft and fluffy" (obviously) imagery, such as the one below (from Microsoft - but I could have picked imagery from any of a dozen or more major vendors).

It's been interesting, I think, to see an IT solution get associated with sunny days, blue skies and a sense of uplifting vision - that didn't happen for object oriented programming, open source code, relational databases or even utility computing.  And that might have been fine when no one had stepped forward to say, actually, "this is what I mean when I say 'cloud'."  Indeed, I've occasionally used slides in the last couple of years with pictures like the one below and the sub-heading "99% vapour, 1% grit that gets in your eye."

iCloud, along with Amazon's equivalent services for the Kindle range, will define cloud just as Apple defined what a smart phone was with the iPhone and what a tablet is with the iPad (let alone music players, laptops and whatever else). iCloud will be myCloud.

For the first time, for hundreds of millions of people who have stared at the posters along the Interstate or the M4 wondering what on earth the IT world is going on about, cloud will mean something. They will be given a way of having everything in sync, all the time, on all devices.  Where "everything" is contacts, mail, calendars, game state, videos, music and so on.  It will also give them something that apparently costs nothing (only a few users with very large storage needs will end up paying), further complicating the job of those who want to make money from clouds. And that will be what cloud means.

My guess is that others wishing to use the word "cloud" are going to have a battle on their hands to differentiate their cloud from the Two A's Clouds.  "Cloud Computing", which has always been hard to define, will mean something else - and so the marketing people will work overtime to create differentiated brands that try, in 2 or 3 words, to mark out what their particular cloud does.  As a result "Cloud Computing" will become a redundant term and imagery will shift away from the kind shown above.  That can only be a good thing - it should result in less effort being expended on cloud as some kind of nirvana and more on what a business can do with it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We Are All Integrators

My email runs on an exchange server, my files sync with dropbox or sugarsync, my calendar is in MobileMe (soon to be iCloud), my contacts are split across my phone/LinkedIn/Facebook, I collaborate in podio/google+/basecamp, I track projects in trello etc

In short, many times every day I act as the integrator for all of these services on my desktop, phone and iPad.

As governments (and corporations) move increasingly to the cloud, their employees will inevitably integrate products themselves. The "single helpdesk number" that they can avail themselves of today will be largely useless as there won't be a single provider - and any provider that there is won't know the whole picture.

There is a huge wave of change coming to government IT as a result of the focus on cloud.

Some corporations already give their employees a handful of cash and let them buy whatever laptop or desktop they want - the days of a "government laptop" are perhaps as numbered as company cars were a few years ago.

Perhaps another step is a budget for "apps" being handed over - if an employee wants to use googleapps or Dropbox or some other service then they can subscribe themselves. Project teams will coalesce around the same few apps to make themselves more productive and as long as everyone doesn't want to use a different email service we'd all still be able to communicate. Does there even need to be a single email provider in a department or just a good directory?

In short, for many workers in government, they will soon integrate their IT at work just as they integrate it at home.

There are interesting implications for government there - how does FoI work, how does availability and integrity get dealt with/understood, how do custom/legacy apps work (the lengthy package and build process doesn't fit this) and so on.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Daily Mail Guide to Government IT

Saturday's Daily Mail carried a story entitled "it's only your money going down the drain" which contained the following guide to successful IT projects:

First, ministers should scale down ambitions and choose systems shown to work elsewhere.

Second, they must open up competition to new contractors: it is estimated the six biggest firms win nearly four-fifths of contracts, despite often-lamentable track records.

And, third, technicians and contractors should make more use of open-source software and open standards, which allows systems made by rival — and smaller — manufacturers to work together.

Using such software, Martha Lane Fox and a small group of geeks built Alpha.gov.uk —which will eventually replace 700 government websites with one personalised portal — in under three months. It cost less to make than the price of one government tender process.

I leave the reader to conjure with the image of Martha and her group of geeks.