Thursday, 18 December 2014

Matt Ridley and the GDS PR blitz


"It is not just me who is starstruck
by what Mr Maude and Mr Bracken are doing"

Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, DL, FRSL, FMedSci (born 7 February 1958), known commonly as Matt Ridley, is a British journalist who has written several popular science books. He is also a businessman and a Conservative member of the House of Lords ... Ridley was chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, during which period Northern Rock experienced the first run on a British bank in 150 years ...

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Whitehall Effect

Not a single solitary soul on the whole editorial board of DMossEsq had heard of John Seddon before he published The Whitehall Effect on 5 November 2014. They all have now:
Agile is an example of the IT industry re-inventing itself ... if the way work is done is central to the problem (as is the thesis of this book), Agile can only amount to doing the wrong thing faster. (pp.48-9)
IT innovation is truly faddish: plausible but fuzzy ideas pushed by large marketing budgets on unwary lemmings who follow the herd ... Take, for example, the 'cloud' ... (p.152)
In any event, 'digital-by-default' is guaranteed to fail (see later). (p.153)

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Current and future uses of biometric data and technologies

"EVIDENCE HEARING Current and future uses of biometric data and technologies, Wednesday 26 November 2014, Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster" – that's what the email says.

What's this all about?

Friday, 31 October 2014

Changing the organising principle of Whitehall

"Hello. I'm Mike Bracken. I'm from the Internet."
Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE CDO, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS), has made another one of his astonishing speeches.

En passant, please note that "CDO" doesn't mean that he's become a collateralised debt obligation. He's a chief digital officer.

The last speech of his that caught our eye was delivered a year ago on 16 October 2013 to the Code for America Summit 2013.

Friday, 3 October 2014

HMRC digital team plights troth to wrong Liege

Monday 29 September 2014, the week was launched with these rousing words:
I’m Mark Dearnley, HMRC’s Chief Digital and Information Officer. Today we have published HMRC’s Digital Strategy.
 Be still my beating heart, the strategy is no less than to ..
... give all of our customers – individuals, business and agents – their own online tax account ...
Christmas has come early. Not only are we all to get our own on-line tax account but our most Estonian dreams have at last come true – HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) want Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox's digital-by-default to be realised here on earth. They want ...
... the vast majority to deal with us through modern digital services that we’ll offer.
-----  o  O  o  -----

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

RIP IDA – notes to editors

... the unveiling
does not coincide
with the availability of the service ...

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.

----------


1. All the rest of you editors have been scooped by Bryan Glick, the esteemed editor of Computer Weekly, who published GDS unveils 'Gov.UK Verify' public services identity assurance scheme yesterday:
The Verify brand will be unveiled tomorrow (Wednesday 17 September 2014) as the public-facing name for the Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP), which the Government Digital Service (GDS) has been working on for the past three years.
You didn't know it was happening today (17.9.14), did you. And you didn't know that IDA had become Verify.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The magic of open data #1

"Sharing information across government databases
will dramatically increase governmental powers –
otherwise the UK government wouldn't have proposed it."
Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Chairman, Open Data Institute


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

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

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

midata – still waving, still drowning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 23 August 2014

RIP IDA – gander rejects goose's sauce

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

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

----------

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

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

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Cloud computing goes up in smoke

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

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

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

Not just businesses, but governments, too.

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

The government initiative was championed by the charismatic Chris Chant.

Now it appears that the sales pitch was all wrong.

Who says?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

John Vine will be missed

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

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

How did they know?

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

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

Mr Vine will be missed.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Mooncalf Economics Ltd

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

Free Companies House data to boost UK economy

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 5 July 2014

GDS's agile business plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

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

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

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

----------

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 June 2014

World-famous in their own world

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's odd.

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

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

Sunday, 15 June 2014

UK local government – dating websites for no-brainers

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Whitehall savings – too modest by half

The Treasury and the Cabinet Office issued a joint press release yesterday, Government unveils £14.3 billion of savings for 2013 to 2014.

It comprises a mass of figures all of which need to be audited by the NAO before anyone can know how reliable they are. As it happens, the NAO published their Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Whole of Government Accounts 2012-13 on the same day. They've had to qualify the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) for 2012-13. They do not present a true and fair view:
... the Comptroller & Auditor General, Amyas Morse, has again qualified the WGA because of significant continuing issues with the quality and consistency of the data included; and has again expressed concern that bodies such as Network Rail and FE institutions continue to be excluded, even though accounting standards require their inclusion.
The ONS also may care to comment on the Treasury/Cabinet Office methodology:
The Efficiency and Reform Group has supported departments in saving £14.3 billion against a 2009 to 2010 baseline.
It's easy to show savings against a year in which there was an obvious crisis. But suppose the baseline chosen was the healthier year 1996-97?

The Treasury's Statistical bulletin: public spending statistics February 2014 shows that government total managed expenditure in real terms was £449.1 billion in 1996-97 and £673.7 billion in 2012-13 (p.19), a 50% increase. As a percentage of GDP, it has gone up from 39.0% to 42.8% in the same period (p.20). That's not a saving, but you wouldn't know it from the press release.

The ONS's Government Deficit and Debt Return, March 2014 shows that the national debt was £1.046 trillion in 2009-10 and had risen 32.5% three years later to £1.387 trillion in 2012-13 (table M1) – the Treasury/Cabinet Office press release studiously ignores the context of their modest savings, which go hand in hand with a weekly interest bill alone of £1 billion.

For DMossEsq readers there is a specific omission from this press release which demands explanation.

Individual Electoral Registration = national identity register

Individual Electoral Registration (IER) came into force in England and Wales yesterday, Tuesday 10 June 2014. DMossEsq's millions of readers have known about it for ages ...
... and a few other people may have seen Rt Hon Greg Clark MP's press release yesterday, Register to vote: new online service launched.

Mr Clark is a Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and he says that:
IER will prevent fraud by enabling government to check that everyone on the register is who they say they are. This will lead to greater trust in the legitimacy and fairness of elections.
"Prevent fraud"? That's a tall order.

"Check that everyone on the register is who they say they are"? We've always been told that we need the Government Digital Service's (GDS) identity assurance service (IDA) for that. IDA still doesn't exist. GDS just can't hack it. It's beyond them. What we've got instead is a second rate check – against the Department for Work and Pensions National Insurance number database. That's the database that included nine million people no-one could account for back in April 2007, Fraud fear as millions of NI numbers are lost – so much for identity assurance:
The nine million numbers were issued by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and are registered on its database, but officials do not know if they are held legitimately.
"This will lead to greater trust"? Mr Clark may prove to be right. Or wrong.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Whitehall on top of the cloud


Cloud computing:
"you're relinquishing a lot of control to this system"
Mike Neil, Windows Azure general manager

Anyone read The Fear Index by Robert Harris? DMossEsq has, and it's jolly exciting – "nothing spreads like fear".

It's all about an algorithm called VIXAL-4 that "learns" how to exploit its environment and ensures its survival by disarming its competitors.

VIXAL-4 was written by a physicist at CERN. He gets thrown out of CERN because his work is too dangerous so he sets up a hedge fund. Armed with huge amounts of historical price data and a real-time web-based surveillance system, VIXAL-4 cleans up in the global securities markets.

The hedge fund's compliance officer is a bit of a threat, so VIXAL-4 gets rid of him. The major threat is VIXAL-4's own author, the ex-CERN physicist. He powers down two gigantic data centres to try to stop VIXAL-4 but, would you believe it, there's obviously another data centre somewhere because the physicist ends up looking like nothing more than a psychopathic pyromaniac, while VIXAL-4 sails on unopposed.

Great fun, but quite unrealistic, of course.

Or is it?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

David Gauke MP and the UK's tax revolution 2


This is turning into a slow-motion political train wreck,
with the care.data scandal
and the revelation
that the hospital episode statistics data sold to numerous companies
contained patient postcodes and dates of birth,
so the anonymity claims were simply false.

UK government departments and their agents store reams of personal information about us. They have to, to do their job.

That data is kept confidential. There are certain uses to which it can legitimately be put. Beyond that – verboten.

There are always poachers circling the game reserve. Most recently, it was Stephan Shakespeare. Then Tim Kelsey. And then David Gauke.

They all want to make more personal data available to researchers or entrepreneurs, to improve policy-making, to improve administration, to stimulate growth in the economy or to make medical break-throughs.

It is questionable whether any of those objectives would be achieved.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The non-existent personal-data control-shift

DMossEsq's millions of readers may have got the wrong impression of Ctrl-Shift – "The opportunities for organisations arising from a new personal information economy are game changing. Ctrl-Shift is the world’s leading market analyst and consulting business helping organisations to capitalise on these opportunities".

Saturday, 24 May 2014

GDS, G-Cloud, user needs and security


How would you make G-Cloud less attractive
and slow down take-up even more?

All change round at G-Cloud. Again.

They're full of surprises.

Especially since they came under the control of the Government Digital Service (GDS) on 1 June 2013.

So what is it this time?

Accreditation. It's on the way out.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Can website designers "challenge" UK government policy?

Writing 18 months ago about Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox's call for a revolution in the UK, we noted among others this demand:
Directgov should own the citizen experience of digital public services and be tasked with driving a 'service culture' across government which could, for example, challenge any policy and practice that undermines good service design.
In the event, the revolutionary cadre implementing the new dispensation is GDS, the Government Digital Service, and not Directgov. GDS's skill lies in designing websites. Can website designers "challenge" UK government policy?

Monday, 19 May 2014

RIP IDA – mooncalf economics

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.

----------

3 December 2011
It's two-and-a-half years since we first looked at Ctrl-Shift Ltd, the consultancy firm.

They had recently published a report, The new personal data landscape. Their claim was that national economic growth will be achieved if only we all of us make it easier for companies to know all about us. If we would just release all of our personal data, then "Ctrl-Shift’s research finds that the market for these new streams of information could grow to be worth £20bn in the UK over the next ten years" (p.14).

Friday, 16 May 2014

GDS and security, Mae West and Estonia (Mae Westonia?)


Democracy?
Who cares?
The latest example of GDS's inability
to take security seriously

Servicemen during the Second World War kept their morale up in many ways. Among others by having pin-ups, dear old Mae West among them.

70 years later, the wars are different, sentiment has moved on and the front line in digital services has a new pin-up – Estonia.

Some things never change, of course. The fascination with vital statistics, for example – only the other day, there was Jordan Hatch of GDS, the UK Government Digital Service, transfixed by Estonia's dashboard :)


Monday, 12 May 2014

GDS's achievement

That was GDS's proud claim made at the Sprint 14 celebration this year – "we've achieved so much". But is it true?

GDS is the Government Digital Service and their mission is to transform government by making public services digital by default – "we are the show", said their executive director, Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE, in a speech (17'39") to the Code for America conference last October. Is that true? Are GDS the show?

Monday, 5 May 2014

David Gauke MP and the UK's tax revolution 1

Literally millions of DMossEsq's readers have responded to his post about the plans to sell taxpayer records and implored him to read HMRC's 17 July 2013 consultation document, Sharing and publishing data for public benefit. Which he now has.

Monday, 28 April 2014

NLGN report findings – GDS are wonderful and local government is useless

Like all award-winning internationally popular rock combos, the Government Digital Service (GDS) has a fanzine – in this case Digital by Default News – and they've just published a collector's edition article, Local government is being left behind by the digital revolution.

It's the usual riff. GDS are great. Everyone else is an idiot – the US government, the UK government and all big IT companies (the "oligarchy") except Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook and, natch, Apple.

Lead singer, Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken MBE, takes GDS on tour all over the world, insulting people and patronising them, while manager Francis "JFDI" Maude entertains flocks of adulatory fans back at the band's Aviation House studios in Holborn with the same everyone-else-is-an-idiot message.

It's hard to remember in all the excitement that GDS have only released one track so far – Student Finance exemplar #6 (catchy, or what?) – with the other 24 they've been rehearsing still in the edit suite.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

You are for sale 2



That's what it said in Friday's Guardian, 18 April 2014:
The personal financial data of millions of taxpayers could be sold to private firms under laws being drawn up by HM Revenue & Customs [HMRC] in a move branded "dangerous" by tax professionals and "borderline insane" by a senior Conservative MP.
Her Majesty's Treasury are quoted as saying:
"HMRC is committed to protecting its customers' information ..."
If they're committed to protecting their customers' information, isn't it a little odd to sell it?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Digital government, empowerment and the Estonian fallacy


Don't be fooled into believing that "digital government"
will automatically deliver empowerment


Last Sunday night/Monday morning DMossEsq started a post. It's a good thing he fell asleep before finishing it and you never had to read it. It wasn't getting anywhere:

The lesson today is taken from the Book of Onwurah and our text is:
Labour’s history, our roots, are in the empowerment of people. All too often government is something done to the people. Digital government must not be like that.
That is as it is recorded in the Guardian version of the Estonian Bible of Digital Government. In the Civil Service World version, it is written:
We see digital government as a way to empower citizens and enable the public sector to do more with less; the Tories see it as just another way to slim down the state and deliver a public sector which does less with less.
The "more with less" tag will be recognised of course from an earlier lesson, Less for more:
... Not so fast, said, Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer of ERG [the Efficiency and Reform Group], whose motto, devised by Lord Brown of Madingley, Chairman of ERG and previously Chairman of BP and the Gulf of Mexico, is "more for less" ...

Then in Thursday's Times David Aaronovitch re-kindled interest in the unfinished post. He was writing about the letter sent to the Guardian by 19 "members of the progressive community" about Labour's manifesto for the May 2015 general election here in the UK:
If it were to sell this vision, Labour required an election manifesto based on a list of principles including “prevention of the causes of our social, environmental, physical and mental health problems, which requires a holistic and long-term approach to governance”, and the “empowerment of everybody . . . to enable them to play a full role as active citizens”.

This “empowerment of everybody” would need much devolution of power, said the letter, before ending in a peroration that included the assertion that “the era of building the capacity and platforms for people to ‘do things for themselves, together’ is now upon us” ...

When you write this badly, when you are so unclear that even experts in your field cannot decipher your intention, there is a reason for it. It could, of course, simply be that you are an idiot. But two other explanations are more likely: either that you don’t really know what you mean yourself; or that you do know, but you’d rather not spell it out.
It's not just the Labour tribe hoping to win by banging on about empowerment, as Mr Aaronovitch would have known if he had only read the DMossEsq post that was never published:

The Conservative tribe – the "Tories" as the prophet Onwurah calls them – also invoke empowerment. The October 2002 Book of Carswell, for example, is actually called Direct Democracy – empowering people to make their lives better.

And the Lib-Dem tribe, too. Repeatedly.

Here is the Lib-Dem prophet Davey:
Government, business and consumer groups commit to midata vision of consumer empowerment
... Today’s announcement marks the first time globally there has been such a Government-backed initiative to empower individuals ...
And Davey's successor, the Lib-Dem Lamb:
The Government launched the consumer empowerment strategy, Better Choices Better Deals: Consumers Powering Growth, in April 2011. The strategy set out ways for Government and others to help give consumers more power in a rapidly changing and complex economy.
And Lamb's successor, the Lib-Dem Swinson, with her midata Innovation Lab. And her successor in turn, the Lib-Dem Willott, who detects "progress on the consumer empowerment strategy".

It's up to these politicians to explain clearly what they mean by "empowerment". If they can. We must be able to answer the question what is this power that our politicians are so graciously granting back to us. Only then can we the public judge their offering.

The one germane point to add here is this. Don't be fooled into believing that "digital government" will automatically deliver empowerment.

That's what many of these politicians are advocating. And they're wrong. It's the Estonian fallacy.

Digital government – the customer is always wrong 2

We noted, a couple of months back, an open letter to the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Government Procurement Service (now the Crown Commercial Service). The letter was orchestrated by Skyscape Cloud Services, please see G-Cloud – Animal Farm, and included this suggestion:
There is little, if any, transparency of forthcoming opportunity to the supplier, which can in turn lead to negative speculation about how long-lists and shortlists are compiled. We recommend that transparency principles are applied to all areas of G-Cloud transacting:
  • That an opportunity pipeline is published so that suppliers can see who is planning to buy and when (Contracts Finder would be the logical channel);
  • That suppliers are informed if they have been long-listed – and that reasons for failing to make the shortlist are communicated to the supplier. Suppliers can then improve their products and pricing which will in turn benefit the market as a whole.
Skyscape and their 14 fellow signatories want to force prospective customers to tell suppliers what new business is available and they want to force them to explain why they rejected all the other suppliers in favour of the lucky ones who were shortlisted.

"10 out of 10 for trying", you may say, "a bit pushy, unlikely to work – what sanction do suppliers have if customers simply refuse to explain themselves? – but, who knows, they might get away with it. Someone might fall for the it's-in-your-own-best-interests argument, prices will fall and quality will rise. There again, do Skyscape and their friends really want to get into a public shouting match about why they were rejected, how bad their products are and/or how stupid the customers are for rejecting them? The customer is always right, isn't he? ..."

Never mind all that.

How could suppliers be notified of new business opportunities? "Contracts Finder would be the logical channel", say the Skyscape 15, referring to the venerable Contracts Finder website on BusinessLink.gov.uk, a domain which isn't supposed to exist any more but does, like Direct.Gov.uk, don't tell GDS.

Someone has had a better idea.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Digital government – the market in contempt

Dotted around central government and local government there are thousands of experienced and responsible buyers, among them people who buy IT hardware, software and services. They've been doing it for decades. They know what they're doing. They're not idiots.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

RIP IDA – where is it?

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

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

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The Government Digital Service (GDS) are trying to transform government by making it digital by default. They have chosen 25 public services as exemplars. Exemplar no.9 is a service for DVLA – the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – and is described as follows:
If you are a driver you will be able to view information from your record, including what vehicles you can drive and any penalty points and disqualifications. Drivers' data will be made available via a new DVLA enquiry platform built to handle high-volume enquiries
That's point #1.

Point #2 – GDS have been trying for some time to get identity assurance working. On 11 February 2014 they told us that IDA was finally being tested behind the scenes, and that testing on exemplar no.9 would start to use IDA in public in March:
Initially we will be adding more services and users quite gradually, as we continue to get the service ready for wider use. Other services will begin to use identity assurance from March onwards, starting with DVLA’s view driving record service. The DVLA will start trialling identity assurance for some users, aiming to use it exclusively once the identity assurance service is in public beta.
Point #3, on 1 April 2014 DVLA announced that:
Yesterday, at just after midday, we launched the public beta of View Driving Record on GOV.UK.
"... after 15 months of hard work this was it", they said, "we had delivered the first part of what we had set out to achieve ...".

Can you now see "what vehicles you can drive and any penalty points and disqualifications" on-line? Yes.

And can you see IDA in action? No.

Monday, 7 April 2014

RIP IDA – long odds

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.

----------

Last Friday the Government Digital Service (GDS) announced that they would be issuing a new invitation to tender for identity assurance work (IDA), please see Identity assurance, procurement 2.

As noted, it looks as though enrolment into IDA would cost 35 times more than GDS previously told us. £30 million was meant to pay for 21 million putative registrations. In the event, it will cover only 600,000 putative registrations.

In a typically clear-headed assessment published in Computer Weekly magazine, Toby Stevens describes the difficulties GDS face with IDA. He also examines the position of suppliers considering a bid. Should they try to become "identity providers" (IDPs)? He has this to say:
... an IDP would need to run a population of 250,000 users in the first year just to have a chance of breaking even. That's going to be a problem for stretched Sales Directors who are evaluating bid risks and trying to determine where to focus their sales resources. Why bid the high-risk job with the deferred payback, when they could go for safer projects with up-front payment ...

I think I’d rather put my money on a 5-horse accumulator than an IDP bid team.
No board is going to sanction betting on the horses as a business development strategy. The equity analysts wouldn't wear it. Neither would the shareholders. The directors could kiss goodbye to their careers.

Friday, 4 April 2014

RIP IDA – registration just became 35 times more expensive

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.

----------

It seems like only yesterday but actually it was 1 March 2012 when Public Servant of the year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken MBE published Identity: One small step for all of Government.

At that stage, the Cabinet office had "built a new team and delivery plan and a working governance structure to implement Identity Assurance solutions strategically across government", he told us. The team was starting the "exciting challenge" – progress to date unknown – of "creating a trust infrastructure", whatever that is.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Estonia – are we nearly there?

This morning's Computer Weekly headline speaks for itself: "Parliamentary computers crash 90 minutes after IT assurances".

There was a "major incident" nine days ago on 25 March 2014 when parliamentarians and their staff had trouble with email and internet access. Joan Miller, Director of Parliamentary IT, emailed her users at 12:28 to say that the problem had been fixed. 89 minutes later at 13:57 it happened all over again, major incident #2.

That's a resilience problem. Like the Government Digital Service's CloudStore being unavailable for several days. Twice. In October and November 2013.

Then there's the security problem. Even when Parliament's IT is up and running smoothly, you will remember, Ms Miller suffers from the Government Digital Service's problem – security isn't important, usability is what matters, please see The Tragedy of the Commons.

Parliament seems to be in danger of enjoying neither resilience nor security.

"Would that work here?", BBC Radio 4 asked last night. In Estonia they seem to have iDemocracy, as recommended by Douglas Carswell. How far along the road to Estonia is the UK? Without resilience, security and identity assurance, not very.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Waterfall Wanderers 0 - 0 Agile Athletic

As we were saying:
The traditional approach to software development is often known as 'waterfall' development: that is, you plan, build, test, review and then deploy, in a relentless cascade. But some IT industry players regard this practice as the chief problem ...A rather different answer which has emerged in the last ten to fifteen years has been what are called 'Agile Systems', perhaps best described as a philosophical movement in action within the software industry.
The quotation comes, of course, from Richard Bacon MP and Christopher Hope's Conundrum: Why every government gets things wrong and what we can do about it, pp.240-1. Here we are, back again, asking why government IT systems too often go over budget and what we can do about it.

The fashionable answer is that the problem is the "waterfall" engineering of software systems and the solution is "agile" engineering. Waterfall bad, agile good. That's the idea. Let's explore it a little.

Waterfall is always associated with Winston W Royce (1929-95) and, to hear people talking about waterfall these days, you'd think he was a bit of an idiot. Actually, he was a rocket scientist who got into large-scale software engineering and ended up running IT for Lockheed.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Scottish on-line security experiment


On-line, you can have convenience. Or you can have security.
One or the other.
But not both.

Stolen Twitter passwords 'worth more than credit card details'.

That's what it said in the Telegraph a few days ago, 28 March 2014. Credit card details are only worth between $2 and $40 these days on the black market, whereas your Twitter password can be worth between $16 and $325. That's what Michael Callahan of Juniper Networks says. And he's a security expert.

You're probably getting bored with these stories. They appear every day in the media. And every month on the DMossEsq blog, see for example Cybersecurity, and GDS's fantasy strategy. And "When it comes to cyber security QinetiQ couldn’t grab their ass with both hands". And Hyperinflation hits the unicorn market. And ...

It's boring. But it's still important.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Time for someone to take the personal information economy seriously

1938 Sears Spring/Summer Catalog
"The roots of mail order date back to the middle ages. In 1498, Aldus Manutius of Venice, a publisher, brought out a catalog of 15 texts which he had published, which were precursors of the paperback books of today" – so says Bonnie Unsworth in her A Brief History of Mail Order Catalogs.

Rather more recently, "the real beginning of mail order was the result of the experiences of a traveling salesman in the mid west, named Montgomery Ward. He published a catalog sheet that listed 163 items right after the Civil War. Within two years, the catalog grew to 8 pages, and then to 72 pages. By 1884, the catalog contained 240 pages with thousands of items, almost everyone of which was illustrated with a woodcut".

While they had Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck in the US, here in the UK we had Great Universal Stores, always known affectionately as "GUS".

Mail order was big business and the philanthropic Sir Isaac Wolfson amassed a fortune at GUS. The Wolfson Foundation has awarded charitable grants worth over £1 billion since 1955.

Not just big business, mail order was a credit business. There was no point Mr Ward repeatedly sending the products they had ordered to people who didn't subsequently pay for them. Ditto Sir Isaac. They needed to know before despatch that a given customer wasn't too likely not to pay.

The Manchester Guardian Society was established as a credit rating agency in 1826 in the UK. 1897 saw the formation of the Merchants' Credit Association in the US. The Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation and Thompson Products merged to form TRW in the 1960s. TRW's leading light, Simon Ramo, predicted the cashless society as early as 1961 – enter the credit card. GUS created Commercial Credit Nottingham in 1980, injected TRW into it in 1996 and the whole lot became Experian.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The magic of modern public administration

Here's a new TLA for you (three-letter acronym) – "VRA".

"VRA" is voice risk analysis. VRA software listens in on phone calls and tells you whether someone is lying.

If you'll believe that, you'll believe anything.

As the Guardian tell us:
Voice risk analysis has been mired in controversy since scientists raised doubts over the technology soon after it reached the market. In 2007 two Swedish researchers, Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda, published their own analysis of VRA in the International Journal of Speech, Language and Law. They found no scientific evidence to support claims for the device made by the manufacturer.

Lacerda, head of linguistics at Stockholm University, told the Guardian that VRA "does nothing. That is the short answer. There's no scientific basis for this method. From the output it generates this analysis is closer to astrology than science. There was very good work done by the DWP [the Department for Work and Pensions] in the UK showing it did not work ...".
So what?

Monday, 24 March 2014

RIP IDA – April is the cruellest month

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

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

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Anyone remember this?
Press release
Providers announced for online identity scheme

13 November 2012

Successful providers chosen to design and deliver a secure online identity registration service.

The Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex, and Verizon are the successful providers chosen to design and deliver a secure online identity registration service for the Department for Work and Pensions.

The identity registration service will enable benefit claimants to choose who will validate their identity by automatically checking their authenticity with the provider before processing online benefit claims ...

Notes to Editors:
...

2. In May 2012 DWP issued an invitation to tender to 44 suppliers.

3. The value of the 18-month framework contracts is £25m.

4. The Identity Assurance programme is a Government-wide initiative led by the Cabinet Office which will in time be available to all UK citizens who need to access online public services.

...

6. Universal Credit, which will go live nationally in October 2013, replaces the current complicated paper based benefits payment system we have now with a new online application that meets the needs of claimants and employers in today’s digital world.

7. One further provider is expected to sign up in the next few weeks - completing the eight chosen to design and deliver a secure online IDA service for Universal Credit.
Once upon a time there were seven "identity providers" – the Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex, and Verizon. Then there were eight – as per note 7, PayPal signed up later. Then there were five – Cassidian, Ingeus and PayPal pulled out. 39 of the original 44 (note 2) aspitants are gone.

Universal Credit did not go live in October 2013 (note 6). To date, no benefit claimants can choose an "identity provider" to verify their identity and there are no online benefit claims services. No sign of it so far, how long before the Cabinet Office provide identity assurance across all Government departments to all UK citizens (note 4)? They haven't said.

RIP IDA – 16 June 2014

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.

----------

Hat tip-and-a-half: Brian Krebs

Operating until recently sometimes out of New Zealand and sometimes out of Vietnam, Mr Hieu Minh Ngo is currently locked up in New Hampshire as a guest of the Justice Department and looks like spending the next 45 years in prison in the US.

An entrepreneurial young man – he's only 24 now, 69 when he gets out – Mr Ngo had two illicit web-based businesses, superget.info and findget.me, which have between them sold the personal details of more than half a million Americans. Their 1,300 customers make money fraudulently by using this information to take out loans in the victim's name, for example, or to make false tax refund requests.

Mr Ngo's companies bought this information from a legitimate company, Court Ventures, which, in turn, bought it from another legitimate company, US Info Search.

How did the information cross the line between the legitimacy of Court Ventures and the criminality of superget.info and findget.me? Rather suspiciously – Mr Ngo paid Court Ventures with monthly wire transfers from Singapore.

So far we've had new Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore and the US. We can throw in Guam, too – the US Secret Service contacted Mr Ngo and offered him some illegal business which required him to leave Vietnam, where they couldn't arrest him, and come to Guam, where they could and did.

It's all quite exotic for us Brits. Interesting in its way. But nothing to do with us, surely.

Wrong.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Who says Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE doesn't have a sense of humour?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

RIP IDA – what we shan't be told on 10 June 2014

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.

----------

Individual electoral registration (IER) was passed into law last year and will start in England and Wales in a few months time on 10 June 2014. In the weeks leading up to that date the Electoral Commission will conduct a publicity campaign to tell people how it works and to remind us of the benefits we can expect.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

EXCLUSIVE: GDS and the 2015 general election – SCOOP

"Central plank of the 2015 UK election campaign temporarily unavailable", we said, back in November 2013.

That was when CloudStore went down for a week. Twice. Just after Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE had been allowed to make a presentation to the full Cabinet of the UK government.

Clearly GDS – the Government Digital Service – was going to form part of the Conservative Party May 2015 general election campaign and manifesto, and maybe the Liberal Democrats', too.

But what of UKIP?

Don't know.

And what of Labour?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Something for the weekend, Sir?

"We wanted to try something new", said GDS four Saturdays ago, 15 February 2014, "sharing the things we've liked over the past week in a blog post".

That was followed by links to stories about the National Archives, ways to write clearly, "an unlikely cause for squeaky brakes" and other matters.

You get the idea. GDS are proposing a frothy Saturday magazine features series. Nothing too serious. A touch of humour. The emphasis is on good news for a change. Which is fine. Utterly harmless. If you're a frothy Saturday magazine.

But they're not. They're the Government Digital Service. This Weekend Links series appears on the GDS blog. And GDS's job is, to quote them, "to be the unequivocal owner of high quality user experience between people and government by being the architect and the engine room of government digital service provision".

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

RIP IDA – The Road to Estonia


Come off it, Sten.

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.

----------

Has it sunk in yet just how important Estonia is to all of us here in the UK?

According to Google there are 45 instances of the word "estonia" on the DMossEsq blog, stretching all the way from Anonymous demonstration of foolproof Cabinet Office plans back in April 2012 and Francis Maude seeks future in Estonia in May 2012, via the Government Digital Service (GDS) "fantasy strategy" series later that year, all the way through to November 2013 and GDS and international relations.

Then in January this year Public Servant of the year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE, executive director of GDS and senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme (IDA), emitted this tweet:


That's the penny that needs to drop: "Estonia is a model for all of us".

Friday, 28 February 2014

midata, mimegalomania



"Ernst Stavro Blofeld is a fictional character and a supervillain from the James Bond series of novels and films, who was created by Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory. An evil genius with aspirations of world domination, he is the archenemy of the British Secret Service agent James Bond. Blofeld is head of the global criminal organisation SPECTRE and is commonly referred to as Number 1 ..."

Thank you, Wikipedia, that's quite enough of that.

Bond, Blofeld and SPECTRE are all in another dimension. Fantasy. Let's get back to terror firmer ...

... terror firmer, and midata, the realistic and meticulously planned initiative thoroughly thought through by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) to empower the consumer, to nudge everyone into a better lifestyle and to make the UK economy grow.

How will midata empower the consumer?

RIP IDA – care.data

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.

----------

The care.data initiative is marketed on the basis that it would support medical research. As long as you only look at that aspect of HSCIC's initiative, it looks unimpeachable.

There are other points of view:
  • The Health and Social Care Information Centre are said by some to want to make money out of selling our previously confidential GP medical records. Is the objective health? Or wealth?
  • The claim that these records can be anonymised or pseudonymised is false. Why are HSCIC pretending that we can't be identified by our medical records when, in fact, we can?
The picture becomes more complicated. Our automatic trust in HSCIC begins to be undermined. MPs on the House of Commons Health Select Committee said on Tuesday 25 February 2014 that they didn't want their medical records to be bought and sold like a commodity and that they didn't trust HSCIC, so much so that they had already opted out of care.data.

Can you opt out? There is some doubt, identified by the tireless Professor Ross Anderson. HSCIC may still take your records from your GP even if you have opted out. They will pseudonymise the records before filing them. But that doesn't work. See above. You can still be identified.

At which point you start to ask yourself why there is this rapacious desire for our medical records. Is it just the research? There's already lots of research going on. Do we need more? Why wasn't care.data a priority ten years ago? Why now?

Monday, 24 February 2014

care.data, midata & PSI/open data


Whitehall's Misfeasance in Public Office (MiPo) Express hurtles on.


Once again the UK's NHS (National Health Service) is in the news, this time as a result of its care.data initiative.

care.data is a threat to medical confidentiality. The campaign to protect medical confidentiality has been conducted by medConfidential, among others. The other day they were able to celebrate one battle won – the introduction of care.data has now been delayed for six months:


Congratulations to medConfidential. And also to the BMA (the British Medical Association) and to NHS England:
Tim Kelsey, national director for patients and information at NHS England, said:

“NHS England exists for patients and we are determined to listen to what they tell us. We have been told very clearly that patients need more time to learn about the benefits of sharing information and their right to object to their information being shared. That is why we are extending the public awareness campaign by an extra six months.”
The NHS already has access to patients' hospital records, which can be used to measure the performance of hospitals. That data is also an invaluable resource for medical research. The idea of care.data is for the first time to add patients' GP records to the hospital data to make an even greater resource for audit and for research.

An Englishman's relationship with his or her family GP (General Practitioner) is very personal and the thought of scores of strangers sifting through all our currently confidential records is bringing a lot of us out in spots. Few of us can make the case for the prosecution cogently. So let's hand that job over to Ben Goldacre, a doctor, the author of Bad Science, a journalist and public speaker, and an enthusiastic advocate of care.data.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Weight Watchers: try the new low HB diet

What is weight?

You know the answer to that one. You went to school. It's a force.

And what do we know about forces?

They're something to do with acceleration. F=ma. Force = mass times acceleration. That's what Newton said.

When DMossEsq was at school, 300 years after Newton, we were taught that here on planet Earth the rate of acceleration due to gravity is 9.81 metres per second per second. It's fixed. So how come different people have different weights?

Answer, because they have different masses, obviously, so if you want to reduce your weight, you need to reduce your mass.

But what is mass?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The science of political strategy



Public service reform: credible treatment requires bold diagnosis:
... imagine a centre which saw its role as based not on power, control of money and regulation but influence, expertise and networks. What a happier, more attractive, more open and mroe effective place Whitehall would be.
Digital Efficiency Report
Cabinet Office
November 2012 (p.19):
If the proportion of savings estimated to relate to staff costs (from Fig. 6) 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.