Friday, 29 August 2014

The magic of open data #1

"Sharing information across government databases
will dramatically increase governmental powers –
otherwise the UK government wouldn't have proposed it."


Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, "is a particularly scenic waterway, renowned for its beautiful setting. The area is popular for angling and watersports, with waterskiing, Rowing and wakeboarding being amongst the most popular; the stretch of water alongside the Broadmeadow, Enniskillen, has hosted stages of the World Waterski Championships annually since 2005, and in 2007, a pro-wakeboard competition, 'Wakejam' was hosted by the Erne Wakeboard Club (EWC) after successful national wakeboard competitions in the previous years. Canoeing is also a popular recreational sport on the Erne".

That's what it says in Wikipedia and that's where, on 18 June 2013, after a hard day's fishing and wakeboarding, the G8 canoed back to shore and issued their famous Declaration (para.7):
We, the G8, agree that open data are an untapped resource with huge potential to encourage the building of stronger, more interconnected societies that better meet the needs of our citizens and allow innovation and prosperity to flourish.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

midata – still waving, still drowning

The following article was published in Digital by Default News (DbyDN) on 21 August 2014:
Initiative to explore how citizens can be empowered with their own data

Five organisations have come together to run a three-month feasibility study to explore how to empower citizens with their own data. The miData Studio initiative is a collaboration between Ctrl-Shift and Milton Keynes Council, the Cabinet Office, Open University and Connected Digital Economy Catapult.

The project aims to create an open, collaborative environment where citizens, the council and developers explore how empowering citizens with their own information can enable better services, better quality of life and efficiency in the delivery of public services.

The project will develop exemplar use cases that deliver benefit to the council and citizens and the local economy more generally.

The project will look for new ways for citizens to gain control of their information, exploring how they can give controlled access to trusted service providers for the services they want or need. It will also act as a pilot for the Cabinet Office’s identity assurance scheme in a local authority context.

This overarching project aim is to empower citizens with their own data in a way they can trust. The project will create a space for learning about working with citizens’ data, building a safe environment to try things out and study what works and what doesn’t work. Crucially the project aims to understand how to do this in such a way that individuals are in control of their data.
It was 3 November 2011 when Ed Davey first announced midata:
Today’s announcement marks the first time globally there has been such a Government-backed initiative to empower individuals with so much control over the use of their own data.
Little did we expect then that it would be the best part of three years before anyone started to "explore" how midata might work. But only now, if DbyDN are to be believed, is a "feasibility study" being launched.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

RIP IDA – gander rejects goose's sauce

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.

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There are 23 problems with UK government IT, Chris Chant told us, and they could all be solved by the adoption of cloud computing, he said.

You may or may not agree but the Government Digital Service (GDS) certainly do. They're all for cloud computing. Like all go-ahead people.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Cloud computing goes up in smoke

Cloud computing, we have been told for years, is a no-brainer. It's cheaper than operating your own IT facilities in-house. It's more flexible – you can scale up and down as required. It's more secure. And it's greener.

Some organisations have expressed reservations but they have been ignored. Politicians, civil servants, the media and, of course, the suppliers of cloud computing services have succeeded in presenting cloud as a set of technologies which it is responsible to adopt.

Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft, among others, have thrived as a result. Businesses all over the world have been outsourcing their IT to these cloud computing suppliers, destroying their in-house competence and happily making themselves dependent on/beholden to outsiders.

Not just businesses, but governments, too.

In the UK, central government has contracted with third party suppliers to store a lot of their data (our data) and to operate many of their applications. They plan to put more data and applications into the cloud as soon as possible. They have created the G-Cloud team (government cloud) and CloudStore, a virtual supermarket where government departments can buy cloud services. And they have lured local government into doing the same, mocking local authorities who fail to follow the fashion.

The government initiative was championed by the charismatic Chris Chant.

Now it appears that the sales pitch was all wrong.

Who says?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

John Vine will be missed

E-borders system inspector to step down, hat tip Kable/government computing:
Chief immigration inspector John Vine will step down after overseeing 50 reports including review of key e-borders project in 2013
Among those 50 was the report on his May 2010 inspection of Manchester Airport.

Several senior civil servants all the way up to the level of Sir David Normington had asserted that face recognition machines would keep the border safe by matching passengers to photographs in their passports. These machines would be more reliable than human beings and cheaper.

How did they know?

Answer, these officials based their conclusions on trials carried out at Manchester Airport.

And what did John Vine say at para.5.29 in his report?
We could find no overall plan to evaluate the success or otherwise of the facial recognition gates at Manchester Airport and would urge the Agency to do so [as] soon as possible.
The matter is described in Whitehall on trials. The prattish belief in the effectiveness of mass consumer biometrics persists nevertheless.

Mr Vine will be missed.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Mooncalf Economics Ltd

Here's a dilly of a press release issued yesterday by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills jointly with Companies House:

Free Companies House data to boost UK economy

Companies House is to make all of its digital data available free of charge.

... As a result, it will be easier for businesses and members of the public to research and scrutinise the activities and ownership of companies and connected individuals ...

It will also open up opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ways of using the information ...

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "The government firmly believes that the best way to maximise the value to the UK economy of the information which Companies House holds, is for it to be available as open data. By making its data freely available and free of charge, Companies House is making the UK a more transparent, efficient and effective place to do business" ...

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said: "The UK is an international leader in open data because it sharpens accountability, exposes waste and informs choice over public services. It is also the raw material of our age, providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to create new data-led businesses and fuel growth as part of this government’s long-term economic plan" ...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

GDS's agile business plan

The Government Digital Service (GDS) released its business plan yesterday for the period April 2014 to March 2015.

"GOV.UK has been live since early 2012, and gets over 1.5 million visits per day, saving at least £50 million per year", they tell us.

But that's not all. In addition "We’ll deliver at least £700 million in efficiency savings and improve user experience by ...".

Further, looking at eight central government departments, "we estimate that by digitising all transactional services we could save £1.4 billion every year".

These are attractive numbers. They haven't been audited. But they're undoubtedly attractive.

You may think you've heard some of them before.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

RIP IDA – "we're building trust by being open"

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.

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"This week a small group of people became the first users to sign in to a government service using identity assurance". That's what Steve Wreyford of GDS said. The best part of five months ago. 11 February 2014, Identity assurance goes into intensive care beta.

The beta test was a private affair. Close family only. GDS (the Government Digital Service), with just HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) and DVLA (the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency) in attendance.

GDS turned up at a funeral for conference on the mooncalf economics of identity on 9 June 2014 where they tried to attract new investors, for all the world as though IDA was still alive. The book was dutifully talked up by GDS's brokers, OIX (the Open Identity Exchange) and KPMG. They even got Francis "JFDI" Maude to say:
Rt Hon Francis Maude MP is the Cabinet Office minister and, as such, the political boss of GDS. Despite all this openness, sunlight and transparency, GDS's trusting public had still not seen IDA for themselves. Ever.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

World-famous in their own world

You may not have caught up with the news yet but yesterday evening was major.

Digital Leaders 100 revealed at London gala evening, it said in Digital by Default News. And what a gala it was, an awards ceremony with glittering prizes for all.

David Latimer and his 50 year-old
record-busting bottled terrarium
Digital leader in the Public Representative category was Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox, the salesman who set the whole digital by default revolution in motion.

The digital leader in the Central Government Official category was Public Servant of the year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and senior responsible owner of the identity assurance programme (RIP).

And digital leader in the Industry category was Skyscape, who have already "racked up" 50 percent of the burgeoning G-Cloud market.

It's unclear how these people won their awards. There's no sign of a vote being involved. Presumably it's like in the old days when a new leader of the Conservative Party would "emerge" after some mysterious-cum-religious deliberations in a smoke-filled room.

It's odd.

Take industry, for example. That's quite a big category. Sticking to the digital industries, how come Skyscape wins a digital leader award and not, say, ARM Holdings plc? ARM has total assets of £1.7 billion and they had revenues of £187 million in the first quarter of 2014 alone. Skyscape by contrast had a turnover £0.97 million in the 12 months to 31 March 2013 and they had negative net assets at the time of £0.006 billion.

Or consider central government, again quite a big category. HMRC somehow made iXBRL work. That was a gargantuan digital project. Then they made RTI work. Another Gargantua. Why aren't they a digital leader?

Sunday, 15 June 2014

UK local government – dating websites for no-brainers

This is very odd: "Liam Maxwell, the government’s chief technology officer, told PublicTechnology.net that the government would not be funding or instigating a single website platform for local government similar to the central government .gov.uk model".

Why is Mr Maxwell telling us what the government won't be doing? There are an infinite number of things that the government won't be doing. Why is he telling us about this one in particular?

Mr Maxwell's non-announcement is made in a PublicTechnology.net article, Bracken outlines G-Cloud engagement aim, about the putative savings made by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and their award-winning GOV.UK. Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE, executive director of GDS, says: "We are finding there is a lot of education to be done ... In the next Parliament we will engage more with the wider public sector on G-Cloud".

"The government will undertake more intensive engagement and education for local authorities on the G-Cloud purchasing framework from next year", as PublicTechnology.net put it.

What's going on? Why is poor old local government being singled out for re-education in Bracken's second term?