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.