Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Trouble With ... The Green Book

The Green Book is, for some, akin to a Bible.  It's 118 pages of guidance on how to work through the costs of a project (not to mention 130 pages of guidance available on how to move from SBC to OBC to FBC - you get the ideas).

Across government, departmental approval bodies revere the Green Book with its detail on NPV, risk assessment, Monte Carlo models and benefits realisation.  The Green Book is for all projects covering whatever kind of policy outcomes are relevant - providing benefits to the right people, improving water quality, connecting communities and, of course, IT.

Despite all of the comprehensive guidance contained within it, the outcome of many projects suggests that risks aren't properly evaluated, that costs are not fully calculated and that the outcomes expected don't always occur.  Recent experience with ever inflating HS2 numbers demonstrate that only too clearly.  That said, trying to forecast costs many years out has never been easy (and the error bars increase with every year) - and in case you think government doesn't think long term, the Green Book contains a table that shows how you would discount cost of cash out 500 years.

Some paragraphs in the Green Book show how far we have to change to make the move from traditional project delivery to an approach that is faster, lighter and more agile:
5.61 There is a demonstrated, systematic, tendency for project appraisers to be overly optimistic. This is a worldwide phenomenon that affects both the private and public sectors.Many project parameters are affected by optimism – appraisers tend to overstate benefits, and understate timings and costs, both capital and operational.
Optimistic? Really?

Or how about this:
6.23 Implementation plans should be sufficiently complete to enable decisions to be taken on whether or not to proceed. So that evaluations can be completed satisfactorily later on, it is important that during implementation, performance is tracked and measured, and data captured for later analysis
Perhaps the get out here is "sufficiently complete" - one man's sufficient is another person's hopelessly inadequate.  But entire business cases are routinely laid before approval bodies right across government that claim to have looked ahead 10 years and figured out what will happen year to year at a sufficiently detailed level to forecast costs and benefits, albeit with inevitable optimism. Only recently - perhaps the Olympics and, now, HS2 - has contingency been a visible and public part of budgets.  It will be interesting how the spending of it is reported and tracked

And then this:
6.33 Benefits realisation management is the identification of potential benefits, their planning, modelling and tracking, the assignment of responsibilities and authorities and their actual realisation. In many cases, benefits realisation management should be carried out as a duty separate from day to day project management.
Generally the people delivering the programme are not the ones who have to make it work on the ground and so achieve the cost savings that the approval body has been promised.  As it says above, "realising the benefits" is a separate duty from day to day project management.  That is, then, part of the problem - delivery being isolated from the business means decisions can be taken for the good of the programme that are not for the good of the business.

None of the above is intended to be critical of the Green Book - it was very much a product of its time and perhaps where contruction of vast architectural feats such as dams and, indeed, railways that go from South to North (and back again) are being planned, it still makes enormous sense.

With a desire that IT projects be agile, flexible, iterative and responsive to the ever-evolving user need, the guidance looks increasingly anachronistic.   If you're not sure what functionality you're going to deliver when because you might replace A for B or drop C altogether, how do you calculate either costs or benefit with any reasonable confidence only a few months out?  The best you might be able to do is calculate the likely cost of the team - but what if it needs to grow suddenly to deliver an identified need?

The Green Book is doubtless being refreshed now by a combination of GDS, Cabinet Office and HMT but, and it's a big but, convincing finance directors across government that 200 page business cases with all of the options mapped out and separately costed are a thing of the past will be challenging.  And interesting to watch.
"Minister, there are three options … the first two pretty much lead to nuclear war, the third will be explosive and there will be terrible consequences, but I think we will survive … I recommend the third option … do you concur?"

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Trouble With ... Nokia

A little over two years ago I wrote a prescription for Nokia. I said they should do many things, some of which were very wide of the mark versus what's actually happened and some of which were reasonably close.

One thing I thought was really important was that Nokia:
Develop a brilliant and obvious naming convention. Years ago when I started using Nokia I understood the convention ... There was the 6210 which was replaced by the 6310; not long after came the 7210 which I understood to be better still. It all went wrong with the 8xxx series - the 8250 was small and sexy, the 8800 was shaped like a banana. Now, I couldn't tell you how it works with C, E and N series.
On hearing that Nokia had chosen "Lumia" to lead their branding, I was impressed.  Lovely word.  But how confusing does the range look now:

Not yet two years old, the Lumia range already numbers 12 models (albeit with two coming soon and, apparently, only one marked as "best seller").  Looking at the pictures above, taken from the Nokia website, I struggle to figure out what's what (not aided, I think, by the overwhelming similarity of the screen images on each).

The 625 ... "lets you see more of everything" ...

... the 925 has eye catching design and Smart Camera ...

... the 920 has a Carl Zeiss lends and PureView technology (but perhaps not a Smart Camera?) ...
... the 520 has a 1Ghz processor (I've always wanted one of those, it's right after "ability to make calls" on my list of user needs) ...

... the 820 has colourful and wireless charging shells (is that what makes it a best seller)? ...

... and the 620 packs a punch (which presumably means it has none of the above, or perhaps all of it?)

Confused?  Yes, thought so.

Is a 6xx better than a 5xx?  Is a 925 better than a 920 but not as good as a 1020?

I'm told that there are other variants, such as the 928 which is exclusive to a US carrier and even a "Model T" which is exclusive to a Chinese carrier.

It begins to look like Nokia need to publish a simple key, as Which? does for Samsung TVs:
'D' is an LCD TV
'E' is a plasma TV
'EH' and 'ES' are LED TV models
The final four numbers signify the series - a '4000' model is from Series 4, a '5000' model from Series 5 and so on. The higher the number, the more premium the model is - ie it has more gadgets and better features.
Series 4: Entry-level range and all HD Ready (720p)
Series 5: Just above entry level. All are Full HD (1080p) and offer additional features - some are 3D and smart TVs
Series 6: Mid-range. All are Full HD (1080p) and offer additional features. All come with 3D and smart TV capability, plus Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners
Series 7: Premium models with a dual-core processor. In addition to the key features of the series below, there’s also a built-in camera and voice and motion control
Series 8: Flagship premium model. In addition to the features of the series below, this range features Samsung’s premium image processing and a touch-sensitive remote
Nokia also need, in my view, to introduce new brands to make it easier to choose between phones - they can stick to derivatives of Lumia if that's where their heart is (how about Lumila for cheaper phones? Lumaxa for the high end, flagship phone?) though I don't like those much.  Maybe Photia for the phones that focus (ha) on the camera. Or maybe they go for Lumia P for the multi-megapixel phone? 

Or perhaps Lumia Z for the Zombie phone ... because I think they might get there soon if they don't do something to make it easier for the customer to choose.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cloud First (Second and Third)

Watching, and playing a very small part, in G-Cloud, the UK government framework for purchasing cloud products and services, over the last 2 1/2 years has been a fascinating experience.   It's grown from something that no one understood and, when they did, something no one thought would work into the first, and probably only, framework in government with greater representation from small companies than large companies and one that refreshes faster than any other procurement vehicle ever.

What G-Cloud doesn't yet have is significant amounts of money flowing through it - the total at the end of May was some £22m.  With its transition from "programme" to business as usual, under the aegis of GDS, it should now get access to the resource it has been starved of since birth.  The absence of that would, had it not been for tireless passion and commitment from its small team, have resulted in it being killed off long before now.  GDS should also bring it the needed Political cover to help it find a role  as part of the agenda for real change, but there are challenges to overcome.

In 1999, Jack Welch told every division in GE, the company he was then CEO of, that e-business would be every division's "priority one, two, three and four."

In 2013, UK government went a little further and mandated that, for central government, cloud would be first in every IT purchasing decision.  Local government and the wider public sector would be strongly encouraged to follow suit.

It's a laudable, if unclear, goal.

The previous incarnation of this goal held that "50% of new spend" would be in the public cloud - that was perhaps a little sharper than a "cloud first" goal - if, as I've written, we could be clear about what new spend was and track that spend, then achieving 50% would be a binary achievement.  Testing whether we are "cloud first" will be as nebulous as knowing whether the UK is a good place to live.

Moving G-Cloud from a rounding error (generously, let's say 0.05% of total IT spend; it's probably 1/10th of that even) to something more fundamental that reflects the energy that has gone in from a small team over the last 3 years or so requires many challenges to be overcome.  Two of those challenges are:

1) Real Disaggregation

Public sector buyers historically procure their IT in large chunks.  It's simpler that way - one big supplier, one throat to choke, one stop shop etc.  Even new applications are often bought with development, hosting and maintenance from one supplier - leading to a vast spread of IT assets across different suppliers (not many suppliers, just different). Some departments - HMRC and DWP perhaps - buy their new applications (tax credits, universal credit) from their existing suppliers to stop that proliferation.

Even today's in vogue tower model, with the SIAM at the top (albeit not its prime), there is little disaggregation.  The MoJ, shortly to announce the winner of its SIAM tender, will move all of its hosted assets from several suppliers, to one (perhaps - there is little to no business benefit in moving hardware around data centres, common sense may prevail before that happens).  MoJ had, indeed, planned to move all of its desktop assets from several suppliers to one but recently withdrew that procurement (at the BAFO stage) and returned to the drawing board - the new plan is not yet clear.  In consolidating, it will hopefully save money, though some of that will likely be added back when the friction of multiple suppliers interacting across the towers is included.  The job of the SIAM will be to manage that friction and deliver real change, whilst working across the silos of delivery - desktop, hosting, apps, security, network etc.

But disaggregating across the functional lines of IT brings nothing new for the business.  Costs may go down - suppliers, under competitive pressure for the first time in years will polish their rocks repeatedly, trying to make them look shinier than that of the others in the race.  Yet the year, or even two years, after the procurement could easily be periods of stasis as staff are transferred from supplier to supplier (or customer to supplier and even supplier to customer) and new plans are drawn up.  During that time, the unknown and unexpected will emerge and changes will be drawn up that bring the cost back to where it was.

In a zero-based corporate cloud model, you would also have your IT assets spread across multiple providers - and you wouldn't care.  Your email would be with Google, your collaboration with Huddle or Podio, your desktops mights be owned by the staff, your network would be the Internet, your finance and HR app would be Workday, your website would be Wordpress, your reporting would be with Tableau and so on.

In contrast, the public sector cloud model isn't yet clear.  Does the typical CIO, CTO, Chief Digital Officer want relationships with twenty or thirty suppliers?  Does she want to integrate all of those or have someone else do it?  Does she want to reconcile the bills from all of them or have someone else do it?

But if "cloud first" is to become a reality - and if G-Cloud spending is going to be 50% of new IT spend (assuming that the test of "cloud first" is whether it forces spend in a new direction) - then that requires services to be bought in units, as services.  That is, disaggregation at a much lower level than the simple tower.

Such disaggregation requires client organisations that look very different from those in place today where the onus is on man-to-man marking and "assurance" rather than on delivery.  Too many departments are IT led with their systems thinking; GDS' relentless focus on the user is a much needed shift in that traditional approach, albeit one that will be relentlessly challenged in the legacy world.

As Lord Deighton said in an interview earlier this month, the "public sector is slightly long on policy skills [and] ... slightly short on delivery skills."  I agree, except I think the word "slightly" is redundant.

2) Real Re-Integration

As services disaggregate and are sourced from multiple providers, probably spread around the UK and perhaps the world, the need to bring them all together looms large.  We do this at home all the time - we move our data between Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and Instagram all of the time.  But public sector instances of such self-integration are rare - connecting applications costs serious money: single sign-on, XML standards, secure connections, constant checking versus service levels and so on.

Indeed, a typical applications set for even a small department might look something like this:

Integrating applications like this is challenging, expensive and fraught with risk every time the need to make a change comes up.  Some of these applications are left behind on versions of operating systems or application packages that are no longer supported or that cannot be changed (the skills having long since left the building and, in some cases, this Earth).

New thinking, new designs, new capabilities and significant doses of courage will be required both to bring about the change required to disaggregate at a service level and to ensure that each steps is taken with the knowledge of how a persistent whole will be shown to the user.

The change in security classifications (from BIL to Tiers) will be instrumental in this new approach - but it, too, will require courage to deliver.  Fear of change and of high costs from incumbents will drive many departments to wait until the next procurement cycle before starting down the path.  They too, will then enter their period of stasis, delaying business benefits until early in the next decade.

To be continued ...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

NHS Technology

Looking at these two slides from a recent presentation on delivering new technology across the whole of the NHS, I couldn't help but feel a sense of impending doom:

Obviously it will all be "agile" this time round ... but is that enough to get to a different outcome?

The slide deck ends with this question:

How will we incentivise the NHS to do this? What levers exist and how will innovation be funded?


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Power Of One

It's a long time - ten years - since I first put this slide on a screen:

DWP Conference 30th January 2003
In later iterations, I modified it a little:

Dan Jellinek Transforming Government Conference 13th May 2004
And sometimes I added this slide to try and emphasise the point:

Also Dan Jellinek Conference
And just to make it clear it was about the citizen (the user in today's words):

13th May 2004
There was also a post, "There Can Be Only One", in July 2004 showing that the debate about how many sites were needed was still in full flow.

At the same time, I was able to show that thinking in action:

BITS Conference 13th May 2004
I remember only too well how we took the sprawling content on the Department of Health's then site, and turned it into something with a far greater consistency and user focus on a new site,  So when I read a post on the GDS blog from Alice Ainsworth who was doing it all over again, 9 years on, I knew where her head was at.  DH has now moved 4 times in ten years - from the original platform to DotP, to Stellent, to Wordpress and now to  Let's hope that there are not as many moves over the next ten.

It's impressive to see the figures that GDS' "Inside Government" team report:
18 out of 24 ...
This has been a long journey.  Long, in fact, doesn't even describe it - as Gerry Gavigan's neatly summarised steps show (and, as others, including Jerry Fishenden, have also shown in the past).

Ten year, or more, then, to crack the problem of delivering a single, comprehensive site covering all of government - ok, there are some stragglers to come on board in the centre and the job of taking on the agencies and NDPBs is massive and only just starting.  But certainly more progress in the last year than in the previous ten.  It's an impressive job, no question.

Shaping the transactions so that they make sense to the user ... delivering the green line's upward slope in my original slide ... how long for that now?

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 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 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.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In Praise Of Motivation

The nice folks at Fitbit sent me a badge today.  Or perhaps that's the Fitbot folks.

I confess I am more motivated by being told (however abruptly) what I haven't done than by being praised for what I have done, so it's this graph that I track more closely.  It shows me how often I am hitting my target of 10,000 steps per day.

I've found it hard to hit the target for the last few weeks - certainly compared with how I did in previous months:

My preference - and perhaps this is a very personal preference - would be for Fitbit to tell me when I hadn't made the target and for reminders such as "that's 3 days out of 5 you haven't made the target" to get ever more intense and spur me on that way.  The on screen message "Yes, you nailed it" really doesn't do anything for me.

I'm the same, work or play.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Blackberry - Audible Corporate Relief?

CIOs across the world breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief this week.  Blackberry, the company that makes, ummm, Blackberries, finally produced a new device.

Ok, so the new device hardly deserves the tag "innovative" but it is a pretty good match for last year's devices from Apple and Samsung.  Blackberry's previous range was, by comparison, a pretty good match for the ZX81.  A chasm has, perhaps, been leapt.

CIOs will now hope that the clamour for sexy, touch screen, do everything devices from other companies will go away so that they can capitalise further on their not insubstantial investment in infrastructure, licences and whatnot for the existing devices.  Why would they want to go out and spend more (new) money on infrastructure and licences to support devices from other manufacturers when they can just give these shiny new gadgets to their road warriors?

There is, of course, much to ask of this new device.  Will the work/play mode work as well as it's suggested?  Will the new device be as secure as the old one, or have the Indians and the Saudis already made a play for a backdoor? Will BB be able to issue over the air updates or will corporates be stuck with a tested, accredited version of the same software (and the same functions) a year from now? Now that they've released the Q10 and the Z10 have BB shot themselves in the foot, needing to wait a year before they can release the Q11 and the Z11?  Or will they go for the R, S and T10 sooner? How will consumers know the difference beyond keyboard or no keyboard? Is it backward to name a device "10" in 2013?  If email was the BB killer app in 1999 and BBM in 2005, what is 2013's equivalent - and does anyone care?  Is it enough to be "as good as" the competition?

CIOs that do breathe a sigh of relief won't be able to relax for long though.  Blackberry, like Nokia, is clearly fighting it out for third place (with less than 4% of the market) and it's a long way up from where they are.  A family of phones and tablets is what is needed, all working together, coupled with file stores, a huge range of apps and new capabilities dropped in regularly.

The pressure on corporates to accommodate multiple devices and to provide secure, easy to use environments across all of them won't let up. One size won't fit all and nor should it.

BB has yet to complete the leap of the chasm.  Instead, they are still in the air, legs furiously spinning.  I wish them luck getting to the other side.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Fully Costed Oracle

Who knew that's what FCO actually stood for?  All that time we've been thinking it was simply about diplomats in far flung locations enjoying "unimaginable luxury" and getting up to who knows what.

Late in January, the FCO announced, to predictably widespread criticism, that it was intending to launch a new framework:

...  supporting the Cabinet Office Shared Service strategy ... for the provision of Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) development, delivery and support services ... 
The framework intends to have a limited number of vendors, for instance a number of Lots might be awarded to the same vendor. 
The scope intends to cover existing Oracle platforms in UK government departments ... and to include upgrades and implementations of new Oracle versions for these existing platforms. It also intends to cover any move of a Department from a non-Oracle platform to an Oracle platform

The value of the framework is suggested to be £250m to £750m.  The notice is silent on framework duration but others have suggested a minimum of three years with an extension of one year.

Time clearly being of the essence, the first meeting for suppliers is planned for the 11th February.  Attendance is expected to be restricted, such will be the crush of entrants. Book now to avoid disappointment.

Parsing government procurement announcements, particularly those for frameworks, is challenging.  But here are a few points:

- Framework values are always made up.  When a framework is launched, there's never any idea of what the take up will be (and it's rarely mandatory that frameworks be used - and, even if it were, there are many overlapping frameworks that would mean you could use a different one). But what's important is that the number is set as large as possible because that (a) ensures that the limit will never be breached, which would be terrible and (b) ensures that suppliers take notice and seek to bid.

- Frameworks offer you a chance to bid for future work, not a right to it.  So you compete, as a supplier, against generic requirements providing detailed pricing (that you can be held to) and get on the framework, and then you have to wait for business to arrive or you have to chase business which you will also have to compete for (against specific requirements). What's missing in this notice is the statement "and here are the departments who have already committed to using this framework and this is why we came up with the range £250m - £750m).  I'm not feeling the love.

- This framework, unusually, says it will seek to limit the number of vendors.  It's also unusual in that it says one supplier might win multiple lots.  Yah boo to the small business agenda one might say.  Other departments - the MoJ and FCO for instance - have sought to ensure diversity of supply by making it difficult (even impossible) for one supplier to win multiple lots in their ongoing IT procurements.  This framework seems to lessen competition and certainly takes an opposite view from G-Cloud's hugely successful "Come one, come all" approach.

- Existing departmental Oracle systems (or any other ERP system for that matter) are almost always wrapped up in their wider outsourcing agreement.  So IBM run Defra's services, Cap run those for HMRC and Logica runs the MoJ's (though the MoJ is more complicated than that with its multiple divisions). So this framework only 'works' when an existing contract comes up for renewal and a department wants to separate its ERP from its other IT. I don't see why a department would do that as its first choice - they're struggling already with managing the splits into a dozen towers, brought together by a SIAM.  Only direction (read force) will change that - the equivalent of in ERP. 

- Separately, the Cabinet Office Shared Service Strategy which targets savings of £400m-600m/year with full delivery expected by 2014.  This document was only published in December 2012. It includes this paragraph:
  1. Single Oracle ERP Platform. A number of customers included in ISSC 2 require
    an upgrade of their Oracle Release 11 ERP solutions. It is felt that, rather than allow departments to upgrade separately, this situation provides a unique opportunity to consolidate platforms and provide standard processes across the major Oracle-based departments.

    A feasibility study will be commissioned to test whether the aspiration of government is realistic and the design will be based on a ‘prove why it cannot work for you’ approach rather than a ‘what would you like’ approach. This study will also look at Oracle departments who are not immediately in scope for ISSC 2 such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). This project will be managed as part of ISSC 2 until the completion of the feasibility study. 
I haven't seen the results of a feasibility study that says such a consolidation is possible but one assumes the issuance of the FCO's framework means that it's already been proven. Otherwise why go to market?   The project plan in the strategy shows the feasibility study completing in about mid-February 2013 and implementation completing in December 2013 (that would suggest to me that the solution is already known - I don't see anyone buying one, let alone building one by then otherwise)

-The scope includes "upgrades ... implementations ... moves from non-Oracle to an Oracle platform"?  Surely it should read "migrations to THE Oracle platform".  The strategy also doesn't say that the FCO will lead the delivery of a single Oracle platform (only that they will participate in the feasibility study) - though the notice does say that FCO are supporting the Cabinet Office.

- Elsewhere the strategy says that the current cost per head of Oracle services is £160, though the DWP achieve £89 (I have no insight as to whether these comparisons are truly like for like - the strategy notes comparing these things is challenging).  It goes on to say that one solution should save 40% and avoid £32m in upgrade costs to Oracle 12 (because there would only be one Oracle 12 in government).  It notes also that DWP have already completed their upgrade to Oracle 12.  So if DWP is the cheapest, and they have Oracle 12 already, are they not the obvious place to consolidate to?

- Cabinet Office recently conducted a review of existing and inflight frameworks. Some frameworks were kept (G-Cloud, PSN), some were stopped in their tracks (SIAM, G-Host).  Bill Crothers was quoted as saying: “This is a new approach to frameworks to procure ICT for central government. This approach will support goal of making it easier for all ICT suppliers, particularly with eye to SMEs, to do business with us."

This new framework is, then, confusing, inconsistent with the recent framework review, the overall ICT strategy, the Shared Services Strategy and common sense.  

But it does potentially provide a route to consolidate away from multiple Oracle solutions (that exist today) to a single Oracle solution (that hopefully exists today - because building another one to satisfy everyone is never going to happen, not for £750m nor in 750 years).  And they certainly built Versailles in less time than that - though probably not for less money (estimates for the palace vary wildly from £1.5bn to £200bn)

It is, though, very hard to see how a true cost save is achieved any time soon if there is a long line of departments waiting for their turn to migrate to the new single Oracle system, each one wanting a tweak or a change every 5 lines of code let alone once you factor in the cost of data transition, re-working of departmental accounting, retraining of staff (and possibly redundancies on the assumption that one systems needs fewer people to operate).

That said, why wouldn't you go to one system if you could?  Large banks rarely run their books on a country by country, business by business basis.  Cisco doesn't have to send couriers to every corner of the world to get its financial results.  National Grid doesn't have to ask each division to send a spreadsheet once a month with how much they've spent.  

The first question then, is which system?  The second is why consolidate to what you have, at a high and rising cost, rather than to something else at a lower and more stable cost?

- If the target per head cost of an Oracle-based system is the DWP's £89, then the best way to get that price is to configure a system that is identical to the DWP's and able to support other departments.  We could call it something like, oh, "the DWP Oracle ERP system".  Let's have a competition amongst suppliers to see who can look after the existing system (including all of the people and surrounding processes) and see if the cost can be brought down further.

- Getting from other, higher cost, Oracle solutions to DWP's will not be free of charge and will certainly not be pain free.  Every department with Oracle will have configured theirs to be "just so" and will happily die in several ditches (over and over again) to protect their unique and absolutely required configuration.  So let's be sure to add that cost in.

- And then let's see what the ground up cost per head of an alternative solution is given that the migration costs are going to be there in either case.  I'd be surprised, I think, if it turned out to be as high as £89.

And then you need a line of departments (whatever the solution) ready to adopt the new system so that the cost per head target can be achieved and further economies of scale sought.  The last thing you need is lots of suppliers competing to supply a similar thing as they can never achieve the same economies of scale.

It would, of course, not surprise me to see this framework be marked for, ummm, 'review' and for it to disappear from view before too long.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

2013 - A Year Of ICT Stasis?

The next 12 months are going to be a very busy period for government ICT - both client side and supply side.  At the same time, not much will change; it will be a year of stasis.

There is so much procurement activity scheduled for 2013 that the best people throughout departments and in industry will be sucked into writing requirements, managing procurements, responding to requirements, defending existing contracts and showing how it can all be done better.

All of that probably sets up 2014 to be a year of transition - and again, not much happening because everyone will be busy getting from where they are today to where they want to be under the new model.  Transformation may be as far away as 2015.

Some of those happening in 2013 are:

MoJ (already underway and will complete in stages during 2013)
FCO (already underway)
UKBA Border Systems Procurement
RPA (reworking of the Common Agricultural Programme systems)
MOD DCNS (perhaps)

Few, if any, of these are going to be simple "one lot" or "single prime" procurements - this government has, rightly, done away with that approach preferring breaking up the lots so that there is more transparency, reduced margin on margin, more SME involvement and, overall, hopefully better responsiveness to business needs, cheaper delivery and improved performance.  The jury is out on whether that will actually be the consequence, but they are certainly the right aims.

In the old model, these 8 procurements would have resulted in 3-5 suppliers being taken through the main process, eventually reducing to 2 and then to the winner.

In the new model, there can be anywhere from 5 to 10 lots (indeed, there is rumour of one procurement being broken into more than 50 lots so that SMEs can fully participate).  Each lot could easily have 2-5 suppliers competing for it - and so rather than running 8 large competitions, there may be as many as 50 or 60 smaller ones during 2013.  That will be a large overhead for suppliers and for departments - hence why I think it will be particularly hard to make change happen.  Not to mention the upcoming complexities of transition, integration and ongoing management.

Yet somehow, during all of this procurement activity, each department needs both to reduce its ICT costs (ahead of the completion of any procurement) and keep their business and citizen customers happy perhaps by delivering mobile pilots, by adopting simpler security models (T1), upgrading away from Windows XP, supporting greater remote working, meeting new commitments, refreshing old equipment, making good on the digital by default commitment, committing 50% of their new spend to G-Cloud and so on.

As we come into 2014, the big departments will be closely evaluating how these procurements have gone as they ready for their own renewals from 2015 through to 2018.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Saving Money, Saving Lives

The Dft recently announced initiatives aimed at reducing delays caused by accidents. They include screens to surround accident scenes, 3D lasers to map the scene and, somewhat oddly, smartphone apps to alert drivers.

Accidents on the strategic road network alone apparently cost the economy some £750m per year. Worse, there are some 1,900 road deaths per year (2011 data).

Improving the time it takes to document and clear an accident scene is plainly a good thing but I can't help think "Door. Bolted. Horse. Shut. Stable".

As I sit in the passenger seat in a car travelling along the M4, I marvel at the vast ineptitude, outright incompetence and sheer idiocy of drivers in other cars. Not for the first time, I think that many drivers should not be allowed on roads.

Rather than clear up accident scenes faster, we need to do something to improve driving skills.

My proposal is that we:

- Introduce a requirement to take a new driving test every 5 years, including a specific test on motorway driving. We'd start with both the oldest drivers and the most recently qualified.

- Develop driving simulators that put drivers under increasingly stressful road situations (that are difficult or impossible to replicate on the roads) and assess their performance under such conditions. Simulators would be used ahead of road tests wherever possible. I don't see these as being much more complicated than Xbox solutions with steering wheel controllers initially

- Drivers would need to take lessons ahead of each test, including simulator time. Drivers who failed the test would be banned from driving until they passed the test

To my mind, this would have several benefits:

- Improved skills leading to reduced accidents

- Reduced loss of life on the roads

- Lower cost to the economy as a result of lost productivity from delays caused by accidents

- Increased jobs in the driving instruction sector as well as in developing accredited driving simulators

I'll volunteer to go first. Because something needs to change.