Monday, 31 December 2012

OBITUARY: Whitehall 1947-2012

Some emperors driven mad by absolute power appoint their horse a senator.
While others create ERG.

This time last year Sir-Gus-now-Lord O'Donnell was still Cabinet Secretary, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office and head of the home civil service. He stood down on 31 December 2011.

The month before, Sir Richard Mottram had published an article in Public Servant magazine, Whitehall shake-up – not all good news.

Sir Richard mentioned a number of the abiding problems faced by Whitehall, problems which existed when Sir Gus took over and which had still not been solved six years later. Among others, how do you govern Whitehall? The big central government departments look like independent satrapies. Silo government. Who, if anyone, is in charge? According to Sir Richard:
... the coalition government has given increasing priority to improving the efficiency of the civil service and the wider public service under a Cabinet Office group ...

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills want all consumers to store their personal data on the web so that they will be empowered.

The Department for Work and Pensions want 21 million claimants to store all their personal data on the web so that they can register for and claim Universal Credit.

The Government Digital Service want everyone to store their personal data on the web so that public services can become digital-by-default.

HMRC want to store all their local office records on the web so that they can save money.

Good idea?

midata – dumb marketing

Do you feel resentful? Permanently? About everything?

Are you susceptible to blatant mercenary manipulation?

Are you a helpless consumer? You see it and you have to buy it?

Friday, 28 December 2012

Jo Swinson and Randi Zuckerberg – accelerating towards a digital meltdown

Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook. His sister Randi works in the marketing department. She used Facebook to circulate a family photograph to her friends. She was shocked to discover that the photograph was promptly published for all and sundry to see. The story is covered by Forbes magazine, 26 December 2012 @ 8:52 a.m., 904,546 views at the time of writing:
Oops. Mark Zuckerberg's Sister Has A Private Facebook Photo Go Public.

Being a member of the Facebook founder’s family won’t protect you from having your privacy breached on the social network. On Tuesday night, Randi Zuckerberg — older sister to Facebook’s CEO — posted a photo from a family gathering to Facebook (of course), showing her sisters using Facebook’s new Snapchat-esque ’Poke’ app on their phones, with Mark Zuckerberg watching with a confused look on his face. It popped up on the Facebook newsfeed of mediaite Callie Schweitzer who subscribes to Zuckerberg. Assuming the photo was a public one, Schweitzer tweeted it to her nearly 40,000 Twitter followers. Zuckerberg was not pleased.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Cloud computing supplier raises doubts about cloud computing suppliers – "suicidal mission with no exit"

It should be made clear that Mr Peter Dawes-Huish, the chief executive officer of LinuxIT, is in favour of cloud computing. "G-Cloud is a great opportunity for government", he is quoted as saying in computing.co.uk.

This has provoked fury in the Twittersphere where Chris Haslam has re-Tweeted Mark_Anthony's scorn: "RT @Mark_Antony: Worst article on the @G_Cloud_UK I have ever had the misfortune to read: http://bit.ly/XzwKw0  - shameful drivel...”".

The shameful drivel Mr Dawes-Huish is guilty of uttering is presumably where he described G-Cloud as a military mission "with an entry route and no exit route" that is "not just dangerous, but suicide".

G-Cloud, of course, is the government cloud, a military mission in the safe hands of the Cabinet Office and the Government Procurement Service (GPS). GPS, if you remember, are the people whose procurement service broke down because it didn't have enough space to store the tenders submitted by prospective suppliers in response to GPS's invitation.

Monday, 17 December 2012

GDS deal death blow to midata

The Government Digital Service (GDS) are currently re-writing all central government websites and moving them to https://www.gov.uk (GOV.UK).

No-one knows why.

Just because the exercise is pointless doesn't mean that it has no effect.

Friday, 14 December 2012

GDS misbriefing

The invitation to tender for the Government Digital Service (GDS) market research contract with IFF Research Ltd includes this picture of the "new identity assurance model":
The document was created on 8 November 2012, according to its Microsoft Word properties, and was last modified on 12 November 2012. Next day, 13 November 2012, the names of the UK's appointed identity providers (the electronic Mary Poppinses) were announced. Halifax weren't on the list. Neither were Lambeth and Visa. Nor Lloyds and Equifax.

Which means that GDS briefed the prospective suppliers wrongly in their invitation to tender.

Jo Swinson on midata – How and Which?

Ms Swinson can plead ignorance. Which? can't.

Writing successful publicity material is hard. Quite beyond DMossesq. And, it seems, Jo Swinson, minister of state at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). Here she is, trying to write with unfeigned enthusiasm about midata:
Recently I was chatting to the owner of an independent bookshop, who told me animatedly about his Christmas recommendations. In particular which ones I might enjoy most given what other books I had recently read and loved.

How great, I thought, to have that personal, tailored advice, and wouldn’t it be great if I could get that everywhere else?
That gem appears on the blog run by Which? magazine and you can see why the consumer champion Which? wants a disclaimer at the bottom of Ms Swinson's post:
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Jo Swinson MP. All opinions expressed here are Jo’s own, not necessarily those of Which?
The benefits of midata that Ms Swinson manages to name are all available already without midata and have been for decades – BIS's initiative is otiose. The other benefits are vague, unnamed and hypothetical – unreliable, in other words, dubious marketing.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

GDS's identity assurance story continues to unravel

The Potential Provider shall complete Phase 1 by 31 December 2012
DWP, the Department for Work and Pensions, is by far the biggest spender in government, having clocked up £242.3 billion in 2011-12, see HM Treasury's Public Spending Statistics July 2012 (p.53), including £93 billion on pensions.

On 1 March 2012 GDS, the Government Digital Service, wrote: "Today the cross-Government Identity Assurance programme sanctioned DWP to publish a tender to procure Identity services for all of Government", see Identity: One small step for all of Government.

Sanctioned?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Universal Credit – GDS's part in its downfall

The importance of IDAP
If public services are to become digital-by-default the Government Digital Service (GDS) need to deliver on identity assurance.

It's their responsibility:
  • Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, the Chief Executive of GDS, is also the senior responsible officer owner for Her Majesty's Government's Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP).
  • GDS acknowledge an IDAP project on their blog.
  • And they said on 1 March 2012 that they want to ensure that "... ultimately, HMG-wide Identity Assurance is supplied across central departments via a common procurement portal ... and governed by the Cabinet Office [i.e. by GDS]".
And without IDAP, they say, people who want to use public services will not be able to assert their identities on-line and there will be no digital-by-default:
  • Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, talking about digital-by-default on 6 March 2012: "... for all this to work users of digital public services need to be able to assert their identities safely, securely and simply".
How's it going? What progress is there on IDAP?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The savings to be expected from digital-by-default – a clarification

You thought you knew what savings are?
You thought you knew the point of digital-by-default?

Francis Maude said in his Foreword to the Government Digital Strategy that: "By going digital by default, the government could save between £1.7 and £1.8 billion each year ...".

Then in yesterday's Autumn Statement ("AS2012") the Chancellor said: "The recently published Digital Efficiency Report sets out how departments could save approximately £1.2 billion over the remainder of the current spending review period by continuing to move their transactional services online and become ‘digital by default’ ...".

So which is it? 1.2, 1.7 or 1.8? And are we talking about annual figures or the cumulative total over a period of years?

Time for some clarification.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Ooh, wow! GDS and The Interpretation of Tweets (Die Tweetdeutung)

What an awful job IDAP is.
No wonder the subject wishes he were somewhere –
or someone –
else.

Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Tramdeutung) in 1900 and laid bare for all to see the precise workings of the psyche.

What would Freud have made of tweets? If only he had written it, what secrets of public administration would have been revealed by Die Tweetdeutung?

No need to guess, here are the answers.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Alan Travis – Whitehall, the Guardian newspaper and Lord Leveson

The 25 April 2012 L Notice issued by the Cabinet Office complains about an article in the Guardian newspaper published the day before. A little detective work reveals that the article they are talking about is Government revives plan for greater data-sharing between agencies by Alan Travis, home affairs editor.

That article refers to a "recent speech" made by Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister. Neither the Guardian nor the Cabinet Office identifies the speech. A little detective work suggests that it is Mr Maude's keynote speech given to the Information Commissioner's Conference on 6 March 2012. That, at least, is the assumption on which we proceed here.

If the Leveson Rules are to look like anything more than the whimsical exercise of power by the Executive then perhaps we could see a few guidelines on identifying the evidence in disputes more precisely.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Francis Maude – Whitehall, the Guardian newspaper and Lord Leveson

The accusation against the Guardian is that it misrepresented Whitehall's policy on digital public services. Explanations later, but let's get straight to the nub of the matter now – Francis Maude says in the Cabinet Office L notice:
This is not a question of increasing the volume of data-sharing that takes place across government, but ensuring an appropriate framework is in place so that government can deliver more effective, joined-up and personalised public services, through effective data-linking.
Even to a reader who knows nothing about Cabinet Office frameworks for appropriately effective, joined-up and personalised digital public services, it should be clear that the Guardian allegedly wrongly described data-linking as "data-sharing".

If the distinction eludes you, you'll just have to take Francis Maude's word for it that data-linking is Whitehall policy and a good thing, whereas data-sharing is a disgraceful slur on him personally and a bad thing, and the two should never be confused by any newspaper hoping to hold on to its publication licence.

Introduction – Whitehall, the Guardian newspaper and Lord Leveson

It is our intention in this report of our findings on the affaire Guardian to follow the example of the Guardian themselves. Now rehabilitated after their contretemps with the Leveson Rules, following some months of intensive re-education, they say of Lord Leveson's report that:
The press should treat it with respect – and not a little humility.
There speaks the voice of a truly free press. We humbly and respectfully agree.

That is the principle but what about the practice? What does it mean to report with respectful humility? How do you do it?

Whitehall, the Guardian newspaper and Lord Leveson – darkness at noon

On 25 April 2012 the Cabinet Office issued what we might take to be a sample L Notice, a rebuke of the press issued under the Leveson Rules:
Digital public services: putting the citizen in charge, not the state

25 April 2012

On its front page on 24 April, the Guardian ran an article on government data sharing plans which misrepresented statements the Government has made concerning existing data sharing arrangements.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude today made a statement in response, pointing to the Government’s commitment to putting the citizen in charge, not the state ...
It would be extraordinary if the Guardian newspaper, of all newspapers, were to be the victim – and the first victim at that – of the movement for probity and compassion in the press which marches with Lord Leveson at its head.

Extraordinary because the Guardian, after all, is a centre of excellence in world journalism, with its measured and impeccably high-minded comments always supported by the responsible and dispassionate reports on world events with which its journalists fill the pages of the newspaper.

If even they, even the Guardian, can misreport Cabinet Office policy so culpably as to be issued with an L Notice, then veritably we have seen darkness at noon.

The important word there is "if". Can it be true? Did the Guardian fall from grace? Or is it just possible that actually the newspaper reported the Cabinet Office's plans to "put the citizen in charge" correctly?

This matter calls for minute investigation ...