Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Skyscape loose ends – still loose

  • Skyscape are late submitting their first statutory accounts to Companies House
  • There are more reasons to believe that HMG will lose control of our data once it is hosted in the cloud on Skyscape's servers
  • It looks as if GOV.UK is still not being hosted by Skyscape
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Skyscape's non-existent track record
Source: Companies House, 30 January 2013
Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd were due to submit their first set of accounts to Companies House by 31 December 2012 and, so far, they're a month late.

How did the Government Procurement Service (GPS) and the G-Cloud team determine that it is safe to offer Skyscape's services on the Cloudstore?

What were the Government Digital Service (GDS) going on when they chose Skyscape to host GOV.UK, the soon-to-be-single face of government on the web?

How did HMRC decide to entrust its local office data to Skyscape?

Monday, 28 January 2013

BIS – redundant situation vacant

Reprinted below is the job description of a post currently being advertised by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Not a bad job really. You get between £40,000 and £55,000, you don't need a medical, there's no Criminal Records Bureau check and you start at Grade 7, the bottom rung of the senior civil service.

There is one issue you might bear in mind before sending in your application.

"We are a busy team of digital specialists responsible for managing the Department’s online presence, including our website and social media", says the job description, and "this will mean identifying our online influencers and forging relationships, creating digital content and opportunities for online engagement, and helping to develop the way BIS uses the web".

The issue is this. BIS don't have a website. Not any more. http://www.bis.gov.uk has been consigned to history, it is no more than a fond memory, time has been called, on the web at least, on the venerable Board of Trade, 1621.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Inspector Harry Callahan's advice to GDS

"What's that?", said the punk, pointing at the books in Harry's arms.

This ... punk ... is the UK tax code. The longest and most complicated tax code in the world.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

GDS and the new world

The previous post on this blog was written overnight, 22/23 January 2013, and published at 9:30 yesterday. The closing paragraphs read as follows:
GDS's new world
Martha Lane Fox describes her digital-by-default project as a revolution. Those of us who were born yesterday will have no trouble believing that we are living in a new world. First we believed that UC would be fully operational in 37 days time. Then seamlessly we believed that the target is 400 days.

And in 400 days time?

What will GDS have us believe then?
Later that same day, 16:02, Computer Weekly published Kathleen Hall's article Interview: Cabinet Office chief operating officer Stephen Kelly.  The closing paragraph reads as follows:
“This world won’t automatically switch to the new world, which is why I want to elevate the CTO [chief technology officer] role – to strengthen our core direction of travel. The new world is where we are going and we are putting a lot of resource and focus behind that.”
Spooky?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

21 million prospective Universal Credit claimants, 40,000+ ex-public servants, 400 days and GDS

From spring 2013
It is the Government Digital Service's dream to make all public services digital by default. To make that happy dream come true they need identity assurance – each UK parishioner needs his or her own electronic ID.

20 April 2011:
... To someone's dyspeptic eye, IDA looks like a non-starter, another elaborate and expensive plan which turns out to be fantasy, doomed to failure when it confronts reality. The timetable for IDA was presented and described as not over-ambitious. That is perfectly accurate. The timetable is not over-ambitious. It looks more like the psychedelic product of a prolonged session on hallucinogenic drugs. Far from being merely over-ambitious, it is quite simply impossible.

22 September 2012Universal Credit and the December putsch:
... The revised notice was published on 1 March 2012 and the service has to be operational from the Spring of 2013? Barely a year later? Only six months after the contracts are awarded? 21 million claimants? Millions of whom have never used the web? Operational? Countrywide? ... It's a tall order.

25 September 2012Identity assurance – the clock is ticking, ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken's chickens are coming home to roost:
... That's six months time if we measure to the start of next spring, or nine months if we measure to the end. Either way, DWP's Universal Credit (UC) scheme has to be up and running by October 2013 and UC depends on identity assurance as Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, has emphasised – no identity assurance, no UC.

6 November 2012Identity assurance – shall we vote on it?:
... That's what it says in the draft legislation. Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken was meant to announce who would be the UK's so-called "identity providers" by 30 September 2012. We're still waiting ... He'd better hurry up. He's promised to have an identity assurance service "operational" for 21 million Universal Credit claimants by Spring 2013.

26 November 2012Identity assurance – one under the eight:
More to the point, there are 21 million prospective claimants for Universal Credit in the UK. Identity assurance is meant to be operational by the Spring of 2013 for all 21 million of them. The chances of that happening are now nil. GDS's failure is extending the imprisonment in the poverty trap of millions of claimants who could be released by Universal Credit. Putting the wrong people in charge of identity assurance has miserable social consequences.

10 December 2012Universal Credit – GDS's part in its downfall:
... That wouldn't be feasible, not now, December 2012, not even if the details of IDAP had all been worked out but they haven't been ("we now have a group of suppliers with whom we can work out the practical issues"). Why hasn't it already been done? How much longer will it take?

11 December 2012, GDS's identity assurance story continues to unravel:
... GDS went on in their blog post of last March to refer to the procurement of identity assurance services, needed by DWP for their Universal Credit initiative: "The initial DWP services will be required to provide identity assurance for approximately 21 000 000 claimants ... To support the rollout of universal credit and personal independence payments, identity assurance suppliers will be selected in summer 2012 and systems will need to be fully operational from spring 2013" ... Question – how did GDS come up with that timetable?

18 January 2013#2 of many lessons about GDS and the external digital thought-leaders:
... it's impossible. Would you trust an organisation that promises the impossible?
And so was born GDS's Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP) which they have repeatedly promised would be "fully operational from spring 2013".

In the first instance, GDS need to provide identity assurance for the new Universal Credit (UC) system which is designed to rescue people from welfare dependency by making work pay. It's UC that needs identity assurance to be fully operational from spring 2013 and that's what GDS have promised.

From March 2013
Eight so-called "identity providers" have been appointed to turn IDAP into reality. The documentation on the IDAP contracts was published the other day, 16 January 2013, and includes this:
To support the rollout of universal credit and personal independence payments providers will be selected by June 2012 and systems will need to be fully operational from March 2013.
"... fully operational from March 2013" – 37 days away.

That deadline has seemed impossible for years, since at least 20 April 2011 (please see opposite), before GDS existed, but they (GDS) have never sought in public to change it and, even now with only 37 days to go, there may be up to 21 million prospective universal credit claimants out there who assume that the deadline will be met.

It won't. It can't be.

April 2014
In his 22 January 2013 Computer Weekly blog the engaging Toby Stevens reports on the current state of IDAP and says:
And when does all this happen? We would expect to see the first pilots in October this year, with more widespread use kicking off in April 2014.
Fully operational from March 2013? No. October 2013. But that's just "trials". So not fully operational. Maybe more like April 2014. And maybe not.

Has anyone told Iain Duncan Smith that GDS have delayed his beacon policy by at least a year? Presumably not as he keeps telling Parliament that UC's going swimmingly. Has anyone told the press? Or the prospective claimants of UC?

No.

GDS have kept quiet about it.

Cui bono?
Instead, they have diverted us with scores of blog posts about how important the users are – excluding benefit claimants, presumably – and how the users' needs are GDS's only guide and only concern.

They trumpet the success of their single government domain project – "This website replaces Directgov [and] Business Link", it says on the home page of GOV.UK. Manifestly false. The IDAP documentation quoted from above, for example, is on businesslink.gov.uk.

They proudly announce that they will make a minimum of 40,000 public servants redundant thereby saving the government – but not the public – up to £1.8 billion p.a.

Cheekily, in view of UC, GDS claim to believe that they are dedicated to "delivery".

And on 21 January 2013, they held a jamboree, The future is here, attended by 300 civil servants to celebrate themselves and to announce vaingloriously that they would transform government in 400 days.

Who is this all for?

It's clearly not for the users. It's not for the 21 million prospective UC claimants. And it's not for the 40,000+ ex-public servants.

That's alright then
The executive director of GDS and senior responsible officer owner for IDAP is ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken. And on his website he modestly quotes these words of Martha Lane Fox's:
It is a rare individual that can take a bunch of ideas and turn them into a reality in any environment but particularly in government. Mike is doing just that for me and it has been a privilege to watch.
Ms Lane Fox was interviewed at the heady, revivalist, the-future-is-here jamboree by a Computer Weekly journalist, Kathleen Hall, who finishes her article with this:
Although Lane Fox has been digital champion for four years, she has no immediate plans to step down. “I think you have to be constantly appraising yourself as to whether yours is the best voice – or whether you are becoming a bit like white noise, and not doing a good as job as you could be. But at the minute I’m still having a great time,” she said.
GDS's new world
Martha Lane Fox describes her digital-by-default project as a revolution. Those of us who were born yesterday will have no trouble believing that we are living in a new world. First we believed that UC would be fully operational in 37 days time. Then seamlessly we believed that the target is 400 days.

And in 400 days time?

What will GDS have us believe then?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Skyscape Cloud Services push the boat out

Time was, when you went to the cinema, there was always an advert for the local curry house.

These short promotional films followed rules from which no deviation was permitted.

The cameraman had to have the shakes. The soundtrack had to be just as unsteady, as though it was hanging on, rather listlessly, and didn't much care if it lost its grip.

The first grainy shot would have the proprietor, off-centre, trying to smile naturally and failing. All expense spared, the film would cut to a close-up of congealed entrails in a cracked bowl and then pull back to show a lot of worryingly pasty-faced people with no make-up sitting round a table and looking as though they might try eating the entrails. Or not.

Finally, without warning, it would stop being daylight and while the sound recordist replaced the sitar music with something more Hawaiian a voice-over would explain to us that the restaurant was just three doorways from this very venue, as though we didn't know, next to the betting shop.

It's always been a mystery. What happened to the professionals who made these gems? Where are they now? Let's face it, we miss them, it's part of our heritage.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

#3 of many lessons about GDS and the external digital thought leaders

Each week, ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and senior responsible officer owner for the government-wide Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP), writes up his diary for the previous seven days and publishes it. And on 11 January 2013, it was published in the form of a video. Tune in and learn, as he explains that:
Martha gave us our publishing mandate. And we've now got our transaction mandate [now that there are digital strategies for each government department].
"Martha", of course, is Martha Lane Fox DBE, the UK Machiavelli de nos jours, the Prime Minister's digital champion and chairman of the GDS advisory board (and now also a member of Richard Branson's/Virgin Media's 'Our Digital Future' campaign). It is thanks to her 14 October 2010 letter to Francis Maude – Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution – that GDS exists.

Actually, that's not true.

Friday, 18 January 2013

#2 of many lessons about GDS and the external digital thought-leaders

Would you trust an organisation that promises the impossible?

It's a week now since ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and senior responsible officer owner for the government-wide Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP), issued his invitation to Sprint 13, The Future is Here.

What a party it promises to be. Come and meet "Government and Agency Board Members, Officials, Policy Makers, Ministers, Press and External Digital Thought-Leaders" in uptown SW1 at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on Monday 21 January 2013 from 08:45 to 13:00 (GMT) – "jealousy" hardly begins to describe the state of those of us who have been uninvited.

midata – the simple question posed by Which?

BIS – abandon midata as a bad job. Now.

Is it safe? Yes or no?
In their 3 November 2011 press release Government, business and consumer groups commit to midata vision of consumer empowerment, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) said:
The following consumer groups and regulators are working with midata to represent consumers' interests and concerns. As well as working towards potential benefits, their input plays an important role in identifying potential risks and helping determine how these can be addressed:

- Citizens Advice
- Communications Consumer Panel
- Consumer Focus
- Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
- OFCOM
- Office of Fair Trading (OFT)
- Which?
Now, 14 months later, we are still none the wiser how midata would "empower" consumers.

If the regulators in the list above had succeeded in their task, then no-one would be considering midata. We are still none the wiser how midata could succeed where the regulators have failed.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

GDS, data-sharing, privacy and dignity

In February 2007 a man called Chris Lightfoot committed suicide. Many people paid tribute to him including Phil Booth, the National Coordinator of NO2ID, who wrote in memoriam Chris Lightfoot, 1978 – 2007:
Chris, more than most, understood how important it is that we should all have the choice of what about ourselves we share with others. His intellectual honesty and keen appreciation of human dignity informed all that he did ...
Now another man has committed suicide, Aaron Swartz, and again there are many tributes including one from Sir Tim Berners-Lee ...

The identity of the UK's eighth identity provider has now been provided, reluctantly

The acknowledged problems with public administration in the UK are to be solved, it is proposed, by making public services digital by default, which requires us all to have electronic identities (eIDs). These are to be provided by eight so-called "identity providers" of whom only seven were previously announced, please see Identity assurance – one under the eight.

The eighth identity provider is PayPal.

How do we know that?

Monday, 14 January 2013

Whitehall – front page misfeasance

... put the departments of state out to tender ...

This morning's Times newspaper leads with:
No, Minister: Whitehall in ‘worst’ crisis

Roland Watson, Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson
Published at 12:01AM, January 14 2013

An increasingly bitter power struggle between ministers and mandarins is poisoning relations across Whitehall and threatening to derail David Cameron’s reforms, The Times has learnt.

Tension over the pace and scale of coalition policy has given way to outright mistrust in some departments with ministers feeling blocked by an unwieldy and unwilling Civil Service.

One Tory Cabinet minister said that the working relationship was akin to both sides waging a permanent “cold war” ...
The Times have conducted an investigation they say involving "dozens of ministers, past and present", and the article names David Cameron, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles, Francis Maude, Tony Blair, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield and Nick Herbert. Whitehall is in a power struggle with Westminster, apparently – not news to DMossEsq readers – and accuses Whitehall of being obstructive, untrustworthy and in need of reform. There is an accompanying editorial, Office Politics.

The public administration bubble was identified in OBITUARY: Whitehall 1947-2012. Is the bubble now, as predicted, bursting before our eyes?

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Updated 14:30:

Saturday, 12 January 2013

#1 of many lessons about GDS and the external digital thought-leaders

Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and senior responsible officer owner for the government-wide Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP), produced not one blog post yesterday but two.

The Future is Here is an invitation to Sprint 13Strictly limited to 300 guests, no more room in the Ark, be there or be nobody, this is the party for the "ambitious" (we're going to be seeing a lot of that word).

Videos, speeches and workshops at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Monday, 21 January 2013 from 08:45 to 13:00 (GMT), come and meet "Government and Agency Board Members, Officials, Policy Makers, Ministers, Press and External Digital Thought-Leaders". Who could resist?

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Mooncalves, marketing, midata, my money and yours

We live in a new world, so we're told. Revolution all around us. Is that true?

Is it dishwasher-proof?
Here's Murad Ahmed in the Times newspaper, 9 January 2013, reporting from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:
For just £60, the world’s first “smart fork” can be yours, boosting your cutlery drawer’s IQ while changing your eating habits and making you thin ...

The HAPIfork gets smarter over time, tracking a person’s rate of eating across several meals and slowly increasing the seconds before it buzzes as you learn to eat more slowly. After a meal, it send the information to your mobile phone.

“People have never questioned how a fork works before,” said a rather trim Andrew Carton, the president of HAPIlab, who says that he once was obese. “They’ve been eating all their lives and think, who are you to tell me I’m not using a fork correctly? But we think the fork can and is evolving.”
Good luck to Mr Carton.

English Defence – another success story for the UK Border Force 2

At 00:27 on 8 January 2013 DMossEsq published English Defence – another success story for the UK Border Force, an article about border control failures in the UK and the US.

The story concerns the leader of the English Defence League – a man known variously as Stephen Yaxley Lennon, Tommy Robinson and Paul Harris – and his trip from the UK to the US and back. There are many border control failures possible and many of them were exhibited in Lennon/Robinson/Harris's trip*. With all of those actual failures to choose from, DMossEsq managed nevertheless to focus on one failure of the UK Border Force that wasn't exhibited.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Facial recognition blarney

TheJournal.ie is an Irish news website that invites its users to shape the news agenda. Read, share and shape the day’s stories as they happen, from Ireland, the world and the web. On 29 December 2012 TheJournal.ie carried the following article:
Facial recognition on the way for social welfare claimants

The rollout of a new Public Services Card will mean new technology to ensure claimants are who they claim to be.

SOCIAL WELFARE CLAIMANTS will be faced – literally – with cameras to determine their identity when a new generation of identity cards is rolled out early next year.

The new Public Services Card, which has already being phased in and will be introduced nationwide in 2013 – will require welfare recipients to stand in front of a camera so that their facial image can be recorded and printed onto their new card.

Once the rollout has been completed, visitors to Social Welfare offices will have another picture taken and referenced against the original to vouch for their identity.

The moves are the Department of Social Protection’s latest attempts to clamp down on social welfare fraud.
Let's do a bit of sharing and shaping, as requested, with one of yesterday's stories from around the world – yet another revelation that facial recognition doesn't work, when it was reported that the leader of the English Defence League sailed through the Heathrow Airport security checks using another man's passport.

Good luck Ireland, but don't rely on Public Services Cards to "clamp down on social welfare fraud".

English Defence – another success story for the UK Border Force

The leader of the English Defence League is a man called Stephen Yaxley Lennon. Or Tommy Robinson. Or Paul Harris.

Whatever his name is, he has just been sent down for ten months for trying to get into the US with a passport he borrowed from Andrew McMaster. He succeeded in leaving the UK on the McMaster passport. But they rumbled him at the US border.

The Press Association story about Mr Lennon/Robinson/Harris's trip to New York is carried by just about every media outlet in the English-speaking world. See for example the Daily Mail's Leader of far-right English Defence League jailed for 10 months for using someone else's passport to get into the U.S. And just about everyone sees in it the story they want to see.

Fraser Nelson, the esteemed editor of the Spectator, sees it as evidence that flat print fingerprinting works – that's the technology used by the Americans to discover that it was questionable whether this traveller really was Andrew McMaster:


There are good reasons to believe that Mr Nelson draws the wrong conclusion about biometrics.

There are other questions.

How did Mr Lennon/Robinson/Harris manage to leave JFK and spend the night in New York? How did he subsequently manage to fly out of the US and back to the UK? He flew in as McMaster and out as Harris. There was no record of Harris having entered the US. How did the US authorities manage to let a man who had not come into the country leave it? I-94 exit controls are supposed to match entry controls ...

Let's leave all those complicated issues to resolve themselves as and when more detail is released. Let's look at something simple.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Public service in the UK 2013-style – ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken

Under the guidance of ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, the Government Digital Service (GDS) have turned parts of Martha Lane Fox's digital-by-default revolutionary manifesto into reality. At least what passes for reality in the Cabinet Office.

Is her manifesto really revolutionary?

Public service in the UK 2013-style – Tim O'Reilly

Under the guidance of ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, the Government Digital Service (GDS) have turned parts of Martha Lane Fox's digital-by-default revolutionary manifesto into reality. At least what passes for reality in the Cabinet Office.

Are they getting it right?

How would they know?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Public service in the UK 2013-style – Martha Lane Fox

Under the guidance of ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, the Government Digital Service have turned parts of Martha Lane Fox's digital-by-default revolutionary manifesto into reality. At least what passes for reality in the Cabinet Office.

Why?

Why are they doing that?