Sunday, 29 December 2013

RIP IDA – individual electoral registration


The key to success with regard to IER lies in being boring.
The more boring the better.

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.

----------

If all goes well, the media will pay not the slightest attention to the changes promised for 2014 in the way the electoral register is compiled in Great Britain.

Beginning on 10 June 2014, England and Wales will switch from compiling the electoral register on a household basis to individual electoral registration (IER). In Scotland, the equivalent date is 19 September 2014 – the delay there is to cater for the referendum on Scottish independence.

IER will be a yawn and a bore. That's if all goes well. The new electoral register will be ready for the 2015 general election and it will be complete enough and accurate enough not to impugn the legitimacy of the election result.

The Electoral Commission published a readiness report back in October 2013. They've got the forms ready and they just need political approval before Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) send them out to individuals to register. That will be in July 2014 and there will be an accompanying public awareness campaign.

It is to be hoped that that public awareness campaign will be workmanlike, clear, simple and above all uncontroversial. Dull. Worthy. Yawn-inducing, as befits a highly respected, confident and mature democracy.

There are a few worryingly interesting bits of IER.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Whitehall misfeasance – something's up

Jill Sherman is the Whitehall Editor of the Times and she has a scoop in today's paper, please see Whitehall forced to call in the experts:
About one hundred high-powered troubleshooters are to be drafted into Whitehall from the private sector to save the Government’s riskiest projects, The Times has learnt.

The experts from management consultants and other industries will help to turn around difficult schemes such as Universal Credit, High Speed rail (HS2), and electronic tagging. They will also help to monitor new contracts and bulk purchasing across the public sector.

The move follows months of criticism over the lack of commercial skills within Whitehall after a series of IT disasters and other fiascos that have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money ...
Someone has clearly finally had enough of Whitehall's unaccountable failure.

We're talking about power here. Specifically about power changing hands. That spells danger. Adroitly handled, it also spells hope.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Whitehall press release – an apology

In a blog post published on 19 December 2013, The peculiar art of the Whitehall press release, DMossEsq accused a Cabinet Office Minister of describing a manifest failure as a success. DMossEsq was wrong and he apologises.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The peculiar art of the Whitehall press release

Date confirmed for Individual Electoral Registration (IER), says yesterday's Cabinet Office press release: "The government has today confirmed its intention to move to IER on 10 June 2014 in England and Wales and 19 September 2014 in Scotland".

We are moving in Great Britain from household registration to individual electoral registration. That is the will of Parliament as enshrined in the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013.

How will local Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) make sure that the electoral roll includes all those eligible to vote and only those eligible to vote? It's an old question. With old answers – we've been voting for several centuries now.

There was one new answer.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Vaz v. Rapson – book now to avoid disappointment

In their bid to transform government, the Government Digital Service (GDS) have chosen 25 public service transactions to demonstrate their prowess.

Three of them (see alongside) are Home Office transactions. No.20 out of 25 is something to do with criminal record checks.

But things have moved on. No.20 is no more. As ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of GDS, tells us in his quarterly report:
Following discovery on exemplar 20 (criminal records checks), GDS and Home Office (HO) have agreed that due to contractual constraints and competing policy and legislative priorities, there would be more opportunity to effect transformational change by March 2015 in another service. GDS and HO have agreed to investigate working with HM Passports Office as an alternative, and details of the new service will be confirmed publicly on the transformation dashboard when finalised.
He also tells us that:

RIP IDA – Universal Credit, bad week/good news


Digital-by-default would work for Universal Credit
only if the JobCentre staff and the claimants were things like kettles.
They're not.

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.

----------


Private Eye No.1355 13-20 December 2013 p.5
There's been a lot of Universal Credit news this week.

And none of that news is good.

Or almost none ...

First of all, the money. Never mind Private Eye's figure of £34 million being written off, we know that the write-off will be a nine-figure sum in the end and hope it won't be any bigger.

That's bad news for the taxpayer – that's our money going up in smoke. Why bother to pay tax? It's bad news for the human beings who will remain caught in the benefits trap for years. It's bad news for Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It's bad news for Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). And it's not good news for the contractors who have been paid a fortune. World-class professional systems integrators every one of them – Accenture (£125 million), IBM (£75 million), Hewlett-Packard (£58 million) and BT (£16 million) – their name is Mudd.

There is one organisation it should have been good news for – the "hot-shot computer programmers from the Government Digital Service (GDS)", as Rachel Sylvester called them in the Times. But it isn't. Not even for them.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

midata in the UK, MesInfos en France

300 individus volontaires ont accès à leurs données personnelles restituées par les organisations partenaires du projet via une plate-forme personnelle de données sécurisée.
Do what?

Look mate, it's French. Alright?

It means something like "300 volunteers have access to their personal data given back to them by partner organisations in the project via a secure personal data platform".

What project?

Have you ever had breakfast with Sophia Loren?

There was a very good programme on BBC4 recently, The Joy of Logic: "Documentary exploring the human quest for certainty and sound reasoning itself. Professor Dave Cliff asks, just how logical are we really and can humans stay ahead?". Highly recommended.

Never having had breakfast
with Sophia Loren,
David Moss sets out on a journey
from Plato to Bjørn Lomborg‎,
with a long pit stop
at Willard Van Orman Quine.
Why would anybody do that?
The BBC programme covers much of the same ground as the esteemed treatise on artificial intelligence penned by none other than DMossEsq himself currently basking at no. 5,298,041 in Amazon's bestsellers rankings. If even one person buys a copy for Christmas thanks to Professor Cliff, surely the book could once again shoot up into its rightful position in the high four millions.

Have you ever tried to read Gödel's Theorem? Couldn't even understand the definitions? Same here.

But it's important. In any formalised language, you can have either completeness or consistency, one or the other, but not both.

Professor Cliff reminds us of Gödel's belief that people were trying to poison him. The only person he would allow to prepare his meals was his wife. When she fell ill and went into hospital he starved to death.

Which makes the first of many important distinctions – just because a person like Kurt Gödel is highly intelligent, it doesn't follow that he's sane. Intelligence and sanity are two different things ...

A reminder to all tax publishers – tomorrow's the day

GDS & HMRC – what could possibly go wrong?

Good question ...

... which should be answered tomorrow, 9 December 2013, the day of the workshop round at GDS Towers, where tax publishers are invited to a briefing on GOV.UK:
We would like to invite all tax publishers to attend a briefing on GOV.UK. There will be an opportunity for questions on the day and if there is a need we can arrange follow up meetings on a later date. The workshop will be held on Monday 9 December from 1.30pm to 3.30pm at Aviation House. If you would like to attend, please contact the HMRC transition team.
The purpose of this transition is apparently to provide APIs (applications program interfaces) to HMRC's manuals.

What can the tax publishers look forward to seeing tomorrow?

Friday, 6 December 2013

The weekly diary that's full of omissions

GDS, the Government Digital Service, published their weekly diary yesterday.

Two items.

One about what their colleagues in Canada are up to. "They are doing something very similar", says Sarah Richards, in connection with GOV.UK, "it’s just like having a GDS ..., but on the other side of the water". No sooner is that clear than she adds "they do things quite differently over there and some of their processes are different".

Identical-but-quite-different is the theme of the other item, too, about the Digital Services Store.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

BIS now Dan Batesless

17 November 2013 – midata kickstarts a collective inflection point in business:
"Hi I’m Dan, Director of the midata Innovation Lab, part of the midata voluntary [?] programme. I wanted take this opportunity to share my vision for the lab, or mIL as we call it", Dan Bates told us on 23 May 2013 when he was still Working with business to fan the flames of innovation. (He's left now.)
Dan Bates used to work for BIS, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. We knew he'd gone. But where?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Curtains for midata

Tom Loosemore is "not 'appy. Not 'appy at all"

It was two years ago, 3 November 2011, that Ed Davey when he was still at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) told the world about 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".

That data could form the basis for a new industry. Ctrl-Shift, the consultants advising BIS, told us that "access to such data represents a ‘holy grail’ data to companies because it explains why people do what they do and predicts what they are going to do next".

There was a perfunctory consultation and BIS issued a press release listing 10 ways that apps in a midata future could shape our choices, including this: "So where your favourite restaurant has deals or offers, you could be alerted in advance to take advantage and make a booking. Combined with other services, the programme could also indicate where you could save money or improve your health by eating elsewhere, drinking less or going out less".

The voluntary midata scheme became the statutory midata scheme when the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 was passed, including the Supply of Customer Data clauses 89-91: "The Secretary of State may by regulations require a regulated person to provide customer data (a) to a customer, at the customer’s request; (b) to a person who is authorised by a customer to receive the data, at the customer’s request or, if the regulations so provide, at the authorised person’s request" etc ...

Then the midata Innovation Lab (mIL) was set up with 22 Founding Partners including the likes of the BBC, Which?, Ofgem and nPower. "Hi I’m Dan, Director of the midata Innovation Lab, part of the midata voluntary programme", said Dan Bates, who was Working with business to fan the flames of innovation, "... we will help empower UK consumers in a really meaningful way ...".

That was May 2013, six months ago, and since then the mIL has been beavering away producing apps to demonstrate the incontrovertible value of midata and as we saw in midata kickstarts a collective inflection point in business they've produced five of them.

Five Prototype apps – MI Energy, MI Finance, MI Relative Calm, MI Health and MI Move.

Five.

Do you know how many apps there are in the world?

Saturday, 30 November 2013

midata – the service you can trust

midata had one of its "turns" recently.

There was a sudden rash of publicity.

Ctrl-Shift News published Midata Learnings on 20 November 2013. "Learnings" is the new word for lessons and a review of the research work done by the midata Innovation Lab (mIL) is full of them:
In her speech at the Showcase event, held at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Jo Swinson discussed the notion of ‘affordances’ – how an item designed to do one thing can usually be used to do many other things too. You don’t just sit on chairs for example. You may stand on one in order to change a light bulb.
Then the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced the release of The midata innovation opportunity. One of the learnings from mIL, according to the Executive Summary, is that:
Initiatives like the midata Innovation Lab can greatly accelerate the development of new concepts and approaches by creating an environment where diverse stakeholders can collaborate, learn from each other and experiment.
What new concepts, you want to ask, but you already know the answer – affordances.

Friday, 29 November 2013

GDS now Lane Foxless

Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox is the salesman who sold the government the revolutionary idea of digital-by-default and laid down the constitution of the Government Digital Service (GDS) to deliver it.

She is now stepping down from her rôle as the UK's Digital Champion.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Civil Service Awards 2013 – rarest bug

Whereas DMossEsq normally tries to entertain all his millions of readers at once, this post is highly technical and may only appeal to the computer programmers, book-keepers and legal draftsmen among you.

GDS and international relations

GDS, the Government Digital Service, is always written about as though it's a young organisation, practically new, but actually it's been around for long enough now to have missed deadlines, annoyed people, faced criticism and to have acquired all the other attributes of any mature organisation, including a nostalgic past.

They're a gregarious lot, GDS. They're always welcoming delegations from overseas or attending functions abroad.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Only 10 more shopping days to the Autumn Statement 2013

5 December 2012, HM Treasury, Autumn Statement 2012, p.58, para.2.9:
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’.
We have tried to make sense of the alleged savings made by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and their digital-by-default project at least twice before – in The savings to be expected from digital-by-default – a clarification and Cutting costs/making savings, and GDS's fantasy strategy – and failed both times.

When the Chancellor made his Autumn Statement a year ago we were still expecting GDS's identity assurance system to be "fully operational" by March 2013. It wasn't, it still isn't and, without identity assurance, digital-by-default can't start. Her Majesty's Treasury will therefore have received none of the £1.2 billion they were hoping for yet.

Our budget deficit in the UK is around £120 billion and the national debt is heading towards £1,500 billion by the time of the 2015 general election. £1.2 billion of savings would be appreciated, of course, but it's not a big number against that background.

Material savings are supposed to be made by digital-by-default when take-up reaches 82% according to GDS's Digital Efficiency Report, p.11. And when will that be? 11 or 12 years after digital-by-default starts, according to the graph on p.20. And when will digital-by-default start? No-one knows.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The technology tail shouldn't be allowed to wag the public service dog but that's just what it's doing, wagging it

A: Here's a clip which starts 10'50" into the astonishing speech about Redesigning Government made by ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken on 16 October 2013 at a conference in the US:


"Technology is a fourth-order question in government", he says. Only after the user needs and the policy needs and the operational needs have been determined should attention be paid to the technology needs, if any.

If we let technology determine public services, then "we are literally starting in the wrong place and guaranteeing failure". The proper question to ask is: "What technology may we need to provide the service?".
 
"One of the first battles you've got to fight", he says, "is putting technology in its place".

"Words are important, aren't they", he says. Yes. And the distinction he is making between "technology" and "digital" is unfathomable.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

GDS & HMRC – what could possibly go wrong?

Tax Inspector Harry Callahan tried to warn them on 27 January 2013. Keep your hands off HMRC's manuals, he told GDS, if you know what's good for you.

This is all to do with GDS's single government domain project.

And the Government Digital Service – to give them their full name – seemed to heed Harry's advice.

Admittedly on 1 March 2013 ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of HMRC GDS, announced that GDS had "mapped over HMRC".

In terms of the single government domain project that should mean that GDS had transferred the content of http://www.hmrc.gov.uk to https://www.gov.uk and discontinued http://www.hmrc.gov.uk in the same way that http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk, for example, has been disappeared.

But luckily that turned out on inspection to be simply and flatly false. http://www.hmrc.gov.uk was still there and what's more it still is today.

Discretion had proved the better part of valour?

Not. As. Such.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

RIP IDA – HMRC

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.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Routing round Whitehall

Last year, you will remember, Tim O'Reilly and Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America (CfA) came over to the UK and kindly told our Government Digital Service (GDS) how marvellous they are. That was 12 November 2012.

In an act of reciprocal diplomacy, returning the compliment, ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken went over to the US last month to speak at the CfA Summit 2013, 16 October 2013, so that he could tell them how marvellous GDS are.

RIP IDA

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.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

midata kickstarts a collective inflection point in business

"What would you like for Christmas?", DMossEsq asked his maternal grandmother about 25 years ago.

"I want one of those typewriters with a television on top."

Word processing. That was a killer app. Its value was clear even to an old woman RIP who grew up 85 years before, travelling the highways and by-ways of Jamaica in a pony and trap.

And spreadsheets. Visicalc. Supercalc. Lotus 1-2-3. Excel. That was another killer app. All those book-keepers and auditors with their seven-column analysis paper. They didn't need to be told twice. It was obvious. The spreadsheet sold itself. And the microcomputer it ran on.

We've been promised killer apps for midata. Apps whose worth is so obvious that you just have to have them and you'll take midata as well, unthinkingly, because that's just the typewriter with a television on top that the apps run on.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Can the Government Procurement Service count?

The "Digital Services framework, which is now open with 183 companies evaluated and selected to supply services" is the result of a year's work by GDS, the Government Digital Service.

So says joshr (?) in a post today on the GDS blog, A supplier framework for building digital services.

"It gives government access to a competitive and wider pool of innovative suppliers, to design and build user focused digital by default services in an agile way". That's joshr's entry in the competition to get as many buzzwords as possible into a single sentence – "user focussed", "digital by default" and "agile" all in one sentence is good, but surely we can do better.

Anyway, there's going to be a Digital Services Store according to joshr on which suppliers can offer their services and government users can buy them:
Suppliers have one place to go to apply to offer these services, and in the upcoming store, buyers will have a single place to procure. The framework will also be the first one of its kind to be supported with a managed service from Government Digital Service and Government Procurement Service.
But hang on a minute.

Monday, 11 November 2013

GDS – this is getting embarrassing

GDS, the Government Digital Service.

Remember the pan-government identity assurance system that was promised for autumn 2012, then March 2013 and which still doesn't exist?

Remember the assisted digital project that keeps starting, stumbling and starting again?

Remember the four professors' frosty report on GDS's government digital strategy?

Remember the other frosty report, this one by the Electoral Commission?

Remember the fifth professor's warning about the need to use formal methods (para.13) to produce quality software systems?

Remember the CloudStore being unavailable for four days?

They've only been and gone and done it again:


GOV.UK and user needs

GOV.UK is the public face of the UK government on-line.

Take a look:


Zoom in on the orange text and you see:


"This website replaces DirectGov" is an assertoric statement. It can have one of only two truth-values, True or False. Which is it?

Agile v. digital-by-default

Are GDS agile?
Or are they digital-by-default?
When it comes to Universal Credit,
it may not be possible to be both.

Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

We follow these principles:
  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

History: The Agile Manifesto

... Representatives from ... and others sympathetic to the need for an alternative to documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes convened ...

... attendees voiced support for a variety of "Light" methodologies ... articles were written that referenced the category of "Light" or "Lightweight" processes. A number these articles referred to "Light methodologies ...

... Early on, Alistair Cockburn weighed in with an epistle that identified the general disgruntlement with the word "Light": "I don't mind the methodology being called light in weight, but I'm not sure I want to be referred to as a lightweight attending a lightweight methodologists meeting. It somehow sounds like a bunch of skinny, feebleminded lightweight people trying to remember what day it is" ...

[which is how the methodology came to be called "agile"]
GDS, the Government Digital Service, are committed to making public services in the UK digital-by-default.

They are committed to achieving this goal by using so-called "agile" methods.

What are agile methods when they're at home?

Agile
As noted by the National Audit Office in their report Universal Credit: early progress (p.53), agile methods derive from the admirably short Agile Manifesto published by the Agile Alliance in 2001 and reproduced opposite.

The Agile Alliance acknowledge that their thinking is based on earlier methodologies in software engineering – it wasn't new in 2001 and it certainly isn't new now, 12 years later.

The reader may note en passant that "agile" is just a word. The Agile Alliance could have been called the "Lightweight Alliance", please see opposite, and they could have published the Lightweight Manifesto.

More important, please note the 12 principles that the Agile Alliance distilled from their professional experience in the world of software engineering.

Digital-by-default
Universal credit to be first service 'digital by default', said the Guardian on 3 February 2012, when Steve Dover was still the director of major programmes at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The article quotes him as follows:
The starting point, I said to our telephony collaboration teams based in Newcastle, was just think of a contact centre, but it has got no people in it and think of an operating model that has got no back office, and start from there.
Mr Dover is no longer the director of major programmes at DWP.

The Cabinet Office's Digital Efficiency Report estimates the savings to be made by introducing digital-by-default. These savings would be made only if 80% or more of public service transactions take place on-line. The report estimates that it could take 11 years to reach that goal. On p.19 the report says:
If the proportion of savings estimated to relate to staff costs ... is applied to the total estimated annual savings and then divided by an average cost per FTE [full-time equivalent, what we used to call a "person"], this amounts to a total FTE savings estimate of at least 40,000. This represents the number of FTEs [people] that could be saved [scrapped] if a shift towards digital transactions right across government were achieved.
"Digital-by-default" means empty call centres, unmanned back offices and 40,000 fewer public servants, minimum, all replaced by computer systems.

This is Tony Blair's deceased transformational government agenda. Dead, but still walking.

No.6
Take a look at the principles behind the Agile Manifesto reproduced above. Particularly principle no.6:
The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
"Requirements elicitation" as it's known. The best way for a development team to understand or elicit what is required of them is by "face-to-face conversation".

As keen followers of agile methods, GDS may be expected to adhere to that principle. They will not rely on documentation printed on paper or displayed in browsers, they will not rely on emails or texts or instant messages or phone calls or memos. Face-to-face conversation. That's what works.

We can think of other scenarios where face-to-face conversation works best. Teaching children in class, for example, and diagnosing a medical problem.

Let's call this class of requirements elicitation scenarios "Class H", where the "H" stands for "human".

And let's distinguish Class H requirements elicitation from Class D, "digital".

Amazon doesn't need a teacher or a doctor to find out which book you want to buy. That simple piece of requirements elicitation can be accomplished digitally. Buying a book on Amazon is in Class D. You want to buy a heated towel rail on eBay? Ditto. Class D. You want to hire a car at Catania airport for five days beginning 12 December 2013? Class D. Etc ...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Putting the user first – what does it mean?

Co-operating with Korea to put users first – that was the big news two days ago from GDS, the Government Digital Service.

According to Liam Maxwell, Her Majesty's Government's Chief Technology Officer: "As demonstrated in last month’s Conference on Cyberspace in Seoul, we have much in common with Korea, but we also have much to learn from each other. Yesterday’s signing commits both of our countries to creating digital public services that put the needs of the citizen first, and I'm excited that we’ll be working more closely together".

Francis Maude signing an agreement with Korea for no apparent reason
while Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox looks on
Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken was equally excited after his presentation to the Cabinet a few weeks ago: "Starting with the needs of users has led to a radical shift in the way we build and provision government services. That’s a huge thing. It means an end to big IT, it means smarter and cheaper services which meet users needs, and it means digital sitting at the heart of teams all around government".

Does "starting with the needs of users" mean "an end to big IT"? No. Does it mean "smarter and cheaper services"? No. Does it mean "digital sitting at the heart of teams all around government"? No. Not in English. And not in Korean.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Universal Credit 40 years on

University of London Computer Centre Newsletter No. 53 March 1973


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

DWP v. the Cabinet Office – seconds away

The Department for Work and Pensions  (DWP) want option A – please see Universal Credit and GDS – think twice – and the Cabinet Office want option B. Neither option will benefit Universal Credit but that won't stop them fighting.

Normally there would be no contest between the country's biggest-spending department and the Cabinet Office – DWP spend even more than the Department of Health. You may think it's different this time and that DWP haven't got a leg to stand on, having wasted over £100 million of public money so far on Universal Credit.

You're wrong. It isn't different this time. DWP are still huge and anyway, it's not obvious that the Cabinet Office have got a leg to stand on either, with their "agile"-is-a-magic-bullet and big-companies-are-all-useless-unless-they're-Apple arguments. Just in case these points aren't clear to the protagonists, DMossEsq issued a press release the other day, please see below. That should help.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Whitehall's rethink headache. And the Whitehouse's

That wailing you heard throughout the land last week, the rending of shirts clothes and the clatter of teeth being gnashed – what caused it?

CompanyMarket
cap ($bn)
Exxon Mobil385.65
Apple378.25
Google259.13
Wal-Mart258.49
Microsoft241.45
General Electric236.04
Johnson & Johnson234.67
IBM233.68
Chevron223.04
Pfizer221.82
Was it the fact that only-one-way-to-go-from-there Apple was knocked off the top spot in the list of the world's biggest companies by market capitalisation?

Probably.

But there is another hypothesis to explore.

Even though it shouldn't have been, the world was shocked by the failure of the Obamacare website. Millions of dollars spent on it, and it didn't work. And the seven or eight of us who follow these things were also a bit agitated at the failure of Universal Credit here in the UK, millions of pounds spent on it, etc ...

How can so many experienced professionals work so hard and be paid so much and yet the ObamaCare and Universal Credit IT systems don't work?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Universal Credit and GDS – think twice


"Agile" is not a silver bullet

Universal Credit is a damsel in distress
but the Government Digital Service is not a white knight


A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) report has been leaked to the Guardian, please see Universal credit: £120m could be written off to rescue welfare reform.

Universal Credit (UC) is DWP's system to spring the poverty trap and make work pay.

UC is in a mess. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on developing the system and there is very little if anything to show for it.

What to do?

Friday, 1 November 2013

Central plank of the 2015 UK election campaign temporarily unavailable

Monday was a big day that week. 23 September 2013 was the deadline for suppliers to put in their bids.

'Submitting for G-Cloud 4? Don’t leave it to the last minute', it said on the G-Cloud blog. This is the fourth version of G-Cloud. There's a new version twice a year. Miss the deadline, and their services couldn't appear for sale on the CloudStore, the UK government-sponsored supermarket in the ether for cloud computing, for another six months. 'One week to go – a few extra tips on submitting for G-Cloud 4'. Etc ...

Then time was up. All those eager candidates who handed in their scripts on time just had to sit back and wait for their exam results.

The examiners put out a bulletin a few days later, on 26 September 2013: "G-Cloud was set up to be a new platform for the public sector to buy ICT ..., specifically cloud services, in a simpler, clearer and faster way".

"Simpler, clearer and faster"? Haven't you heard that somewhere before?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

GDS – who's silly now?

A correspondent kindly sent a link this morning to an article in the US press, U.K. Official Urges U.S. Government To Adopt A Digital Core. Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS), was over there recently to talk at a meeting of the Presidential Innovation Fellows, presumably about public service IT.

The gist of the article is that what the US needs is something like GDS and someone like ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken to save them from cock-ups like healthcare.gov but the article also includes this: "Parliament ... appointed Bracken, a tech industry veteran, as the first ever executive director of digital – a Cabinet-level position".

Cabinet-level?

Really?

"These journalists", you can't help saying to yourself, "they're so silly, can't they get anything right?".

GDS & assisted digital – the project that keeps on starting

When Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox decreed that all public services should be digital by default (14 October 2010) she created a problem – how do you avoid all the people unversed in digital ways being excluded by default?

The problem was given to the Government Digital Service (GDS) to solve. A strange choice. GDS's expertise is in building websites, not helping old ladies to fill in attendance allowance forms. What special knowledge would they bring to bear? None. GDS's natural inclination would be to devise a digital solution. That's their approach to all problems but in this case it's definitively inappropriate. It's strange that GDS accepted the rôle.

But accept it they did and they gave the problem a name – "assisted digital" – and they started blogging about it (28 July 2011). Nearly a year later (30 May 2012) they published Getting started on assisted digital.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Kofi Annan, the NSA and GCHQ – maybe this time

NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts it said in the Guardian yesterday and in every other newspaper.

That comes as news to most of us.

But then we remember: "News that Kofi Annan and other senior UN figures may have been routinely bugged by US or British security services has caused a huge political row around the world. But it will also have caused alarm among other people in the public eye who deal with sensitive information - or anyone, indeed, who values their privacy" – that's from the BBC News website, 2 March 2004, 9½ years ago.

It didn't cause "a huge political row around the world" then.

Maybe this time. Maybe the penny is beginning to drop.

Next week's news

Just to remind you, some time over the next 168 hours, as promised, we shall see the first ever fruits of the Government Digital Service's identity assurance programme. We shall all be able to amend our tax codes through an on-line connection to HMRC.

Extraordinary, but they won't have the field to themselves.

Remember midata, the latter-day South Sea Bubble being blown by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills? They've been "fanning the flames of innovation" round at the midata Innovation Lab and some time over the next 168 hours we are promised a glimpse of the fruits of their labours, too.

At last, new apps to empower us and improve our lifestyles and make the economy grow.



Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Cloud computing and the sizzling Stephen Fry

Mr Fry has made only one appearance on this blog so far. That was in connection with the UK government's vile bid to introduce press regulation.

Many more posts have covered the inept marketing device of comparing cloud computing with the utilities:
The reputation of the utilities for the past year and more has taken a beating and it defies logic how anyone could believe that comparing it to a utility would make us want to buy any service.

Hyperinflation hits the unicorn market

We live on a diet of data hacking stories fed to us by the media. Have done for years.

There's no defence. Not for us mooncalves. Not even for US defence contractors, who should know all about cybersecurity but who nevertheless managed to lose, among other things, the designs for the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.

"Every day, all around the world, thousands of IT systems are compromised", says Iain Lobhan, the Director of GCHQ. He should know.

The upshot is clear – there is no such thing as a secure website. Secure websites are like unicorns. They don't exist.

1st cloud in Skyscape Cloud's sky

Readers will remember the immaculate conception of Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd, the company incorporated on 3 May 2011 which won four government contracts, some of them before the company had submitted its first set of accounts to Companies House.

The Government Digital Service (GDS), HMRC, the MOD and the Home Office all chose Skyscape in preference to long-established cloud services companies.

Now GDS have parked their harp on another cloud.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

GDS and the Electoral Commission

Have you recently received your voter registration form?

If so, you may have noticed that, depending on where you live, you can now register on-line via www.elecreg.co.uk. This website is operated by a company called Halarose Ltd, who have contracts with 80 UK local authorities to provide "democracy through technology", as they call it.

The briefest of investigations on the Companies House website suggests that Halarose has a paid-up share capital of 9¼ pence, which looks like the start of an interesting story, but that's not why we're here today.

What follows in this paragraph and the next would be correct if NSLOOKUP was correct ... NSLOOKUP suggests that the IP address of www.elecreg.co.uk is 54.247.162.156 and if you look that up on RIPE you draw a blank. Which is odd, because RIPE is where you'd expect to be able to find the details of a European website.

... but NSLOOKUP isn't correct so, in the event, there's no UK-electoral-rolls-stored-in-the-US story here ... But the electoral rolls of these 80 UK local authorities aren't being stored in Europe. They're being stored in the US, on Amazon servers, according to ARIN, the Regional Internet Registry for North America. That looks like the start of another interesting story but, again, that's not why we're here today. ... please see update below 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Identity assurance, GDS and HMRC – the tension mounts

Here in the UK, this month is Identity Assurance Month. This is the month that the Government Digital Service have to deliver.

It's the 8th of the month and there's no news. Will we soon be able to alter our tax codes on-line? The tension is mounting.

Are you starting to wilt?

Here's a little mental stimulation to divert you and keep you going.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Has anyone heard from the Home Secretary?

Communications Data Bill? Unnecessary. That was the question on the DMossEsq blog on 7 July 2013. And the answer. Judging by the Edward Snowden revelations, we don't need this Home Office Bill. The security services already have all the tools they need to try to keep us secure against terrorism, the Bill adds nothing.

Six days before, on 1 July 2013, the (London) Evening Standard published an article by John Kampfner which includes this: "Plans to introduce the Communications Data Bill or “snoopers’ charter” have been put on hold thanks to determined resistance by Nick Clegg and others ... Now we know they didn't really need the legislation – they've been doing it anyway, without bothering to recourse to the law".

It's not just Mr Kampfner and DMossEsq. Hugo Rifkind had an article in the Spectator the other day, 28 September 2013: "Six months ago we were tying ourselves in knots over the Snooper’s Charter – all about what invasive powers the state required into our digital data – and never was it admitted, even in passing, that our security services had the capacity to do all this stuff anyway, whether granted the new powers they desired or not".

So that's three of us. Including the son of Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC MP, the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

And d'you know what?

GDS, agile PAYE on-line

This is the month when the Government Digital Service (GDS) have to deliver.

December 2012

PAYE Online
A new online service for taxpayers who use PAYE to pay tax via their employer. The service will allow individuals to get guidance and information on their tax code and to inform HMRC when they make a change that affects the amount of tax they pay ... (p.17)

IDA
The Digital Solutions Programme, together with the Government Digital Service, is developing an Identity Assurance (IDA) capability that can be re-used across all departmental and governmental services. The ID hub is based around the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) standard and gives a route for government to utilise existing, trusted identity providers in the market. A pilot IDA service, using point in time verification (a necessary part of the PAYE online exemplar) to make things simple and easy for one-off transactions will be used in October 2013 with wider IDA capabilities becoming available from October 2014. The new IDA capability will replace the current Government Gateway authentication used by HMRC’s online services with customers being migrated from the Government Gateway in 2015 ... (p.17)

Addressing the user problem
Under PAYE Online, we are giving customers the ability to update information that helps us better calculate their tax code. We are starting with company cars and medical benefits in October 2013. (p.20)
We expected a prototype by the end of 2011, the first public services were due to be tested by February 2012 and live by the autumn of 2012. Nothing happened.

Then we expected it to be fully operational for 21 million people by 31 March 2013. Nothing happened.

Now, we must assume, at last, identity assurance (IDA) is going to see the light of day, this month, October 2013.

What will we see?

Go back to HMRC's December 2012 digital strategy.

HMRC want us PAYE taxpayers to be able to report to them on-line any changes to our circumstances which affect our tax codes.

Until this month, if you wanted to change your tax code, you had to ring HMRC or send them an email or a letter. Now, for benefits in kind, specifically company cars and medical insurance, you'll be able to fill in a form on-line. No more phone calls, emails or letters. That's the promise. "Digital by default", as they say.

Of course, HMRC need to know it's you and not someone else trying to vandalise your tax code by telling HMRC that you're receiving benefits in kind when really you're not. That's where the "trusted identity providers" mentioned by HMRC come in.

This service could be offered over the existing Government Gateway but, no, GDS and HMRC want to operate it on a new pan-government "ID hub".

Will IDA be a reality by 31 October 2013, a year after it was meant to be?

Monday, 30 September 2013

GDS – next month is Identity Assurance Month

Here we are at the end of September.

Next month is Identity Assurance Month.

How often have you said that before?

The answer to Mr Miliband's prayer

Why freeze energy prices? Why not halve them?

Gas and electricity prices rising fast? More and more people having to choose between keeping warm and eating?

Freeze 'em! (The prices, that is, not the people.)

That's the solution recommended by Ed Miliband, the leader of her Majesty's loyal opposition here in the UK.

Everyone knows that this solution won't work. Not if that's all there is to it. You just need to look at what's happening in Venezuela today to see that.

But that isn't all there is to it. Mr Miliband's recommendation in full is to freeze energy prices for 20 months, during which he would do something, if he was in government, to solve the fuel poverty problem sustainably. He's not relying exclusively on a price freeze.

What is that something? What is his sustainable solution?

He hasn't told us.

Look again at the problem. There are at least three elements:
  • Energy consumers have no autonomy when it comes to prices. We are in no position to negotiate with the suppliers. If that's the price they set, that's the price we pay. Either that, or we freeze.
  • Prices are rising fast despite the existence of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and OFGEM.
  • The economy is suffering at the moment from high energy prices. If prices are frozen, the economy will  still suffer, Venezuela-style. Either way, the economy suffers.
What options are available to Mr Miliband? What values of something are available?

The energy sector is currently privatised. Competition doesn't seem to be keeping prices down. Not even with regulation. Mr Miliband could instigate an antitrust investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority or maybe by the EU. That's one option. Or the sector could be re-nationalised. That's another. And there are intermediate states in addition, the energy sector could be part-nationalised and part-privatised.

20 months might just be long enough to complete the investigation or to complete the partial or complete re-nationalisation.

Would any of these options work?

It would be a political decision. Ministers would be advised by officials but it would be their decision – the ministers'. They would face a number of awkward questions:
  • Why wait until 2015 to start tackling the problem?
  • Why have the price freeze at all? That is, why not go straight for the proposed solution, the something?
  • Why freeze prices? Why not halve them?
  • If the proposed solution involves re-nationalisation, what happens to the national debt? We are led to believe that the national debt will stand at £1.5 trillion by the time of the next election. Nationalisation of the energy sector can only increase it. At some point, people are going to stop lending to us at today's low rates. Higher interest payments, allied to quantitative easing, are going to send inflation through the roof and the exchange rate through the floor.
  • And what happens to the budget deficit? The present government is trying to reduce it by 1% p.a. at the moment. That microscopic reduction will be reversed if the state takes the energy sector onto its books.
  • Trickiest of all, politically, Mr Miliband happens to be the Energy Secretary who, in the last government, saddled us all with levies to pay for alternative energy and with carbon taxes. Why would anyone believe that he now knows how to reduce the bills that he increased?
The option that ministers choose would have to have economic support. Government economists would provide some supporting arguments and the think tanks would provide a few more.

That risks being unconvincing. After all, there were economic arguments in favour of nationalisation after the war and there were economic arguments in favour of privatisation during the 1980s – ask enough economists, and you'll always find one in the end who will provide the supporting arguments you need for whatever bee there is in your bonnet.

Sometimes that will be a very senior economist indeed, with a global reputation. Sir-Gus-now-Lord O'Donnell, for example:
In 2002, he co-edited a book with Ed Balls, congratulating Gordon Brown on eliminating boom and bust, Reforming Britain's Economic and Financial Policy: Towards Greater Economic Stability. A year later saw another book edited by the two of them and Joe Grice, again congratulating Gordon Brown, this time for Microeconomic Reform in Britain: Delivering Opportunities for All.
As we now know, Sir Gus was spectacularly wrong. Following the 2008 bust Sir Gus claimed to have abolished everyone has become their own economist. Instant economists are a dime a dozen.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

G-Cloud and lavatory paper

There are lots of utilities but let's concentrate to start with on gas and electricity.

The gas and electricity markets in the UK are in turmoil. British Gas has just announced an 8% price increase, against a background where the rate of energy poverty has already been rising steeply for years. The regulators don't seem to be able to do anything, and neither does the Prime Minister.

The problem is exacerbated by subsidies given to the alternative energy sector in the name of global warming. These subsidies are paid for in part by levies added to our gas and electricity bills.

Meanwhile, we could be taking advantage of the bucketsful of shale oil we're apparently sitting on, the way they have done in the US, to reduce energy prices, but the roundheads refuse to countenance that, in their Puritan way, and spread malicious rumours of methane coming out of our taps if we start fracking. Also, earthquakes.

Everyone knows that we ought to be developing nuclear capacity but no-one has the courage.

The effect is to drive energy-intensive industry abroad, where prices are lower.

It's all a bit of a mess and now the leader of the opposition has proposed that, if we vote him into power at the 2015 general election, he will freeze energy prices.

Job done. Genius. Why didn't anyone else think of that?

Unless you were born yesterday, you might remember that we did. And last time we had a prices and incomes policy in the UK, in the 1970s, it all went horribly wrong and we had to rediscover the hard way that utility prices should be set by markets. Do we have to go through that again?

If you want a reminder of the good old days, take a look at Venezuela today, where the army has had to be called in to guarantee supplies of lavatory paper, Troops move in as shortages prompt new roll for Venezuela:
Critics of President Nicolas Maduro say the nagging shortages of products ranging from bathroom tissue to milk are a sign his socialist government’s rigid price and currency controls are failing. They have also used the situation to poke fun at his administration on social media networks.

A national agency called Sundecop, which enforces price controls, said in a statement it would occupy one of the factories belonging to paper producer Manpa for 15 days, adding that National Guard troops would “safeguard” the facility.

“The action in the producer of toilet paper, sanitary napkins and disposable diapers responds to the state’s obligation to ensure a steady supply of basic goods for the people,” Sundecop said, adding it had observed“the violation of the right” to access such products.
All of which is way outside the remit of this blog.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

G-Cloud pan-government accreditation

What is pan-government accreditation?

The UK government proposes to make public services more efficient by using cloud computing. The G-Cloud project – government cloud – operates the CloudStore, an on-line shop for cloud computing services. Central government departments and local government, too, can buy whatever they need from the CloudStore quickly and cheaply.

Quickly, cheaply and with confidence, because these cloud computing services have all been accredited.

And some of them have pan-government accreditation. 72 of them, to be precise:
Any services procured which have not achieved pan government accreditation are purchased at the risk to [sic] the consumer. The Pan Government Accreditation service (PGA), Public Sector Accreditation Board (PSAB) and the G-Cloud SIRO shall not be accountable for any such decision. The preference of the G-Cloud programme is that BIL 11x/22x and 33x should have pan government security accreditation before they are bought from the Cloud Store.
Nine of the pan-government accredited services are provided by Lockheed Martin, 18 of them by Microsoft and two by QinetiQ. These are big companies that everyone has heard of, just the sort of suppliers you would expect to be worthy of this valuable accolade, pan-government accreditation.

There are smaller companies, too, including our old friend Skyscape (now UKCloud Ltd, added 11.9.17), the captive cloud company, which offers 14 pan-government accredited services. Quite extraordinary, when you remember that Skyscape didn't even exist until 3 May 2011.

And then there's MDS Technologies, with two services on offer.

Who are MDS?

G-Cloud buries its head in the sand

Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook and became the youngest self-made billionaire on the planet. He's still young, he's still rich and he's not pleased:
Zuckerberg recently criticised the Obama administration's surveillance apparatus. "Frankly I think the government blew it," he told TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

The Facebook founder was particularly damning of government claims that they were only spying on "foreigners".

"Oh, wonderful: that's really helpful to companies trying to serve people around the world, and that's really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies," said Zuckerberg.
Never mind privacy and security, the activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA) could reduce the size of the market for Facebook. They could cost money. This is serious.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

"The digital beauty of GDS"

"When was the last time you got all choked up about a website or app? Can you recall a transformative digital experience? Have you felt the beauty of digital?"
Ashley Friedlein's consultancy offers Digital Marketing Excellence™ and in that capacity he has "spoken at numerous international conferences, from the USA to Croatia, as well as trade events in the UK, on a range of digital marketing and e-commerce topics".

Today he shares his views with us on The digital beauty of GDS (Government Digital Service). On marketing, he says that "businesses can charge for the value of the "transformation", of the “feeling”, that an experience offers". And as to beauty, he associates it with the experience of being hit in the solar plexus.

"We believe that the experiences themselves are marketing." The customer experience is the marketing?

Today the death of Ken Norton was announced. Not only did Norton hit Muhammad Ali in the solar plexus, he went on to break his jaw. That cracking sound we all heard, that was the sound of marketing.

Public administration page-turners

Two more books for the bedside table:
Published in 1952 and still essential reading:
Why would anyone want to read these books?

Monday, 16 September 2013

Biometrics, Aadhaar and the Apple iPhone 5S

(Hat tip: Ram Krishnaswamy)

For seven years DMossEsq has been boring the world with scare stories about biometrics. "Biometrics don't work", he's been telling anyone not agile enough to get away from him first, "not well enough to do the job they're meant to do, not in the mass market, not with large populations".

Even the other day when those fashionable and lovable exploiters of third world labour Apple announced details of the iPhone 5S, with its fingerprint verification, he couldn't stop himself writing about the problems of false non-matches.

These warnings just wash over people. It's all theoretical. "Computer says no" is a line in a very rude TV comedy show, it doesn't happen in real life.

Really?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Universal Credit – one for The Old Vic

Last Wednesday, 11 September 2013, the Public Accounts Committee took evidence on Universal Credit from DWP, the NAO and the Cabinet Office.

Media coverage of this electric event has been minimal. We know all about the different colours available for the Apple iPhone 5S. Nothing about the unmasking of misfeasance in public office on a monumental scale.

Where the media fail, perhaps another institution could succeed?


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Public services under a cloud

Cloud computing is like a utility. Cheap. Think of your gas and electricity and phone and water bills.

Like the internet, it's always available. Resilient. Disaster-proof. No power cuts. Ever.

Except for the past two days, when some suppliers accredited to the UK government CloudStore found they couldn't log on, see below.

iPhone 5S fingerprint technology – eye-catching

Apple unveils two iPhones — and a password at your fingertip, it says in the Times today. According to the Telegraph, Apple iPhone 5S and 5C: fingerprint sensor and plastic make iPhone 5 debut. Etcetera, throughout the media.

You could have announced the end of the world yesterday. No-one would have noticed.

In fact, Sir David Attenborough did. "I think that we've stopped evolving", he told the Radio Times. And all anyone wanted to know is how easily they can photograph themselves with the iPhone 5C.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Edward Snowden – déjà vu all over again

Come to think of it, this debate about the security services having cracked all our codes is not entirely new.

For what it's worth, back in August 2010, on the No2ID forum, we were discussing the latest revelations about BlackBerry mobile phones. Someone posted the following extracts from a Nic Fildes article in the Times newspaper, BlackBerry ‘near deal to open messages to Saudis’. The debate remains relevant three years later:
The makers of BlackBerry mobile phones appear to have backed down in the face of demands from Saudi Arabia to allow the state to monitor messages sent on its devices ...

The Saudi-backed television station Al-Arabiya quoted unnamed sources as saying RIM [Research In Motion, the people behind the BlackBerry] had agreed in principle to grant the Saudi authorities access to its messages.

Bandar al-Mohammed, of the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission, said RIM had expressed its “intention…to place a server inside Saudi Arabia”, allowing the kingdom to inspect communications and data exchanged between BlackBerry handsets ...

The United Arab Emirates intends to ban BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and web browsing on October 11 ...

The company then issued a statement on Thursday denying that it had already allowed some governments access to BlackBerry data.

The US and Canadian governments have also offered to hold talks with countries concerned about the security implications of BlackBerry usage.
Not just Saudi Arabia, but the UAE, too, and India and Indonesia and France – it seemed as if no country would allow people to use BlackBerrys until its security services had found out how to listen in. There are obvious implications for industrial and other espionage.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Edward Snowden – the penny drops 2

While beautiful people dance, beautifully dressed, through the lush pastures and wild flowers singing beautifully, they are stalked all the while by the Gestapo, the Geheime Staatspolizei, the sinister secret state police ...

The Sound of Music? It's a parable of our time, dontcha know.

No it isn't. But you'd never guess that from the way some people have reacted.

Who do you think wrote this in the Guardian?