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:

video

"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?