Saturday, March 23, 2013

Identical Transparency

A little over a year ago I praised the team at GDS for their openness (Re-Inventing Government IT, February 2012):
All of these changes are underpinned by an openness and transparency that is incredibly refreshing.  Seeing new starters in GDS blog about what it's like to work there and very senior people across government blog / tweet / respond to comments has opened up the workings of government - my guess is that the regular audience consists of a relatively small number of geeks but the occasional bursts into the mainstream press so no change in message.  We have done betas and pilots and test versions in UK government before, but never quite in this way.  
As I said at the beginning, with reinvention comes risk. With risk comes the potential for failure. With failure comes interrogation and criticism.  The good news is, I think, that all of the interrogation and criticism will have been done on the inside and posted on blogs long before that point
Since then the gov.uk team have been relentless in their communication - every detail of everything they do is blogged, tweeted or otherwise made public (GitHubbed and beyond).

But there is little sign of that same transparency and relentless communication either in the rest of GDS or, indeed, in the rest of government.  Universal Credit, for instance, has ignored my plea (and that of others) to say more about how things were going (despite an, as yet, never-ending stream of negative press stories). 

Where GDS and UC come together is, of course, in the field of digital identity.

In March 2012, DWP went to market (for the second time), seeking providers who could join an identity framework, specifically to support UC (initially).

Indeed, at the time Mike Bracken (in a blog on the Cabinet Office site), said:
"[This] marks the start of the formal process to create a market of identity services for access to digital public services." 
Bracken said that using this approach has cut the cost of procuring IDA from £240m to £30m
"Creating a trust infrastructure is an exciting challenge. It is a complicated subject and won’t be delivered overnight," he wrote in the blog. 
Great things were expected - after all, Government had suddenly saved £210 million (through some substantial sleight of hand and changing of scope it has been said) - and the digital identity market was soon to be real.  UC itself needed the service to be ready in March 2013.
In November 2012, the DWP announced its first seven providers (The Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex, and Verizon) within the framework and in January 2013, added an eighth (Paypal).
Last week, Computer Weekly let the world know that DWP was putting use of identity services for UC on ice.  DWP in response said:
“The identity provider framework was designed to be available to other government departments, which, like DWP, are also working with the Government Digital Service to develop personalised online services for citizens. 
“In line with government best practice for cross-government services, responsibility for the framework is now being moved to the Government Procurement Service – as we've always said it would."
The latter paragraph is certainly true.   And so is the former.  There was no comment on when,if or whether UC or the DWP would use services from its own framework.
But surely DWP should be the first buyer of services from its own framework?  And looking around government, I am yet to see a queue of other buyers of identity services.  HMRC certainly put its head above the parapet (in June and July 2012) and took a look at a new schema for identity, organising a series of workshops and detailed reviews with dozens of possible helpers (including Rainmaker Solutions, a company in which I am a partner).  But since then?  Deafening silence.
Of course, during the last year, the GDS blog has been alive with reports of the progress, issues, challenges and achievements of the digital identity team.  Hasn't it?  Well, no, not really.  I mean with a year gone since the procurement started and five months since the award, we must be well past discovery, into Alpha and seeing some betas ... ready for UC to be live in March 2013 (or whenever it is going to come along)?

Oddly, it seems not.  The only post I can find recently, dated March 2013, refers to an Alpha with a company that, even more oddly, is not one of the eight on the framework.  Apparently the Alpha "started long before the procurement process for central govt IDA services began".  Long before?  Can Alphas go on for more than a year?  Doesn't sound as agile as I had in mind.  There have been 11 GDS blog posts on Identity Assurance in the last year.  Apart from the last one noted above, none mention Alphas or any other tangible progress.  Although there was a nice trip to Washington.
Of course, one of the key tenets that GDS have regarding their agile methodology is that there need not be a roadmap, because that would constrain the process.  So in November when an important first milestone was passed - there was no mention of when the second or third milestones would be reached.
Re-set Identity Assurance: £10 million of funding has allowed us to start the GDS programme to work collectively across Government to deliver identity assurance  solutions for digital transactions. 
Next year we look forward to a faster pace for delivery. While our roadmap is not finalised, and indeed will never be given the agility to which we aspire, we can look forward to some major releases.
So where does all this leave identity in government?
I hear talk only of the Government Gateway's support contract being simultaneously "deprecated" and re-procured to allow it to continue providing its current services until 2017 or 2018.  That would make it an agile service - designed, developed and delivered in 90 days - still running after 15+ years.  It is, though, time for it to be retired and replaced with more capable services - they are out there, though not in the configuration and complexity that GDS seem to desire.  Government can certainly be the stimulus behind delivery of a marketplace too.  
I hope that we'll see a transparency identical to that adopted by the gov.uk team from the Identity Assurance team.  You can't only publish the good news stories, that's what politicians do.  To be open, you have to be open. The good, the bad; the rough, the smooth; the issues, the challenges; the successes, the failures.  And this looks like a failure.
If it is, let's get it out there and figure out how to correct it and move ahead.  Proper digital identity will underpin much of what GDS aspire to do, so we need to get it addressed.  The framework providers will be wondering where they point their solutions next, if they even have solutions.  Those who weren't ready to bid first time around will want to know what their next opportunity is and departments wondering how to get identity done for their transactions are looking for someone to lead the way.