Thursday, 7 May 2015

The next phase of digital transformation could be Dutch

Here's a selection of Government Digital Service (GDS) posts and a film in the week leading up to purdah:

Janet Hughes
Chris Mitchell
Janet Hughes
Janet Hughes
Janet Hughes and Stephen Dunn
Mike Bracken
David Rennie
Mike Bracken
Mike Beavan
Mike Bracken
Mike Bracken
Mike Bracken
Liam Maxwell
Martha Lane Fox

Let's take a look at Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE CDO CDO's 29 March 2015 offering, Government as a Platform: the next phase of digital transformation.

Mr Bracken wears a lot of hats. He is the executive director of GDS. He is the senior responsible owner of GOV.UK Verify (RIP). He was already the UK government's chief digital officer (CDO) when he was unexpectedly made chief data officer (CDO) as well.

All of which may explain the need to produce no less than five self-assessments (see list above) in four days, 26-29 March 2015. Obviously tiring, we only get 650 words this time, culminating in:
While the next wave of platforms has yet to be finalised, what is clear is the enthusiasm government has for the concept; taking a join-up approach to service provision that’s going to be genuinely transformational. I’m excited for what’s to come.

While we may accept that the purpose of digital transformation is to excite Mr Bracken, it is not clear why "government" should be enthusiastic.

The executive has been offered joined up government before. Transformational Government – Enabled by Technology is a 25-page paper published by the Cabinet Office in November 2005. 9½ years later, we're still waiting.

This time it's going to be "genuinely" transformational apparently. What does that say about Mike Beavan, who has for the past several years been the "Transformation Programme Director for GDS"?

The answer is confused. Talking about the programme of 25 exemplar services which were meant to transform government in 400 days, Mr Beavan says "now the programme’s ended ... We’re only just beginning".

Government as a Platform (GaaP) is the next phase of digital transformation according to the title of Mr Bracken's post but half way through it turns out to be the present phase as well:
We aren’t starting from scratch. We’ve already built platforms that are delivering better services at a much lower cost.
Ended? Beginning? Future? Present? All of those, plus new and five years old:
Government as a Platform is a new vision for digital government ... Government as a Platform is a phrase coined by Tim O’Reilly in a 2010 paper ...
And what is GaaP? It means not reinventing the wheel. Who knew?
Reinventing the wheel every single time we build a service has led to far too much duplication and waste. That’s not good enough.
How much money has been wasted? Mr Bracken doesn't tell us. How much will be saved? Ditto. When? Ditto.

Homework obviously not done, this is very thin gruel. "Onwards"? "Inane", more like.

GOV.UK is a publishing platform, Mr Bracken says. Whitehall already had one of those before the creation of GDS. GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is an identity assurance platform, Mr Bracken alone says. No-one knows any more how many of the 25 exemplars are actually live, not least because GDS have stopped updating

All we know for sure is that one of the exemplars has had to be withdrawn completely, Online farm payment system abandoned after 'performance problems'.

The question arises therefore, given that it's obviously none of the above, just exactly what has inspired the "enthusiasm" of senior officials all the way up to the Cabinet Secretary?

Of all the unlikely places, the suggested, guessed-at answer comes from the Guardian newspaper, 12 February 2015, UK voters are being sold a lie. There is no need to cut public services. Mr Mark Thompson, the author, suggests that if only Whitehall emulated Buurtzorg Nederland, a community nursing business in Holland, then we could get rid of 1½ million back office public servants and save £35.5 billion p.a.:
Reducing the number of back office staff from 1.5 million to just 23,000 would generate possible salary savings of up to £35.5bn.
Public services should be delivered on the same model, Mr Thompson suggests, as "Spotify, eBay, Airbnb, Rightmove, Uber and Amazon".

No mention in the Guardian of GaaP. For that, you have to turn to Mr Thompson's article in Computer Weekly magazine, What is government as a platform and how do we achieve it?:
There are lots of discussion going on at the moment about digital “platforms”, and the impact they might have on UK public services. A rough and ready calculation suggests such an approach could save the UK £35bn each year – but the jury is still out on how best to go about making it happen ...

For central government, the logical steward for these shared capabilities is the Government Digital Service (GDS), which can help to migrate progressive departments/agencies onto common platforms ...
How do we achieve it?

Good question.

And unlike Mr Bracken, Mr Thompson has a map of how to achieve it, a graph plotting the evolution of components against the value chain. He's got his own consultancy company, Methods Corporate Ltd, him and Peter Rowlins. And he's a lecturer at the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School – of course he's got a graph plotting the evolution of components against the value chain.

The powers that be may not be all that interested in the graph.

They may have their doubts about comparing the operation of Whitehall with Spotify, eBay, Airbnb, Rightmove, Uber and Amazon.

They may realise that Spotify, eBay, Airbnb, Rightmove, Uber and Amazon don't all use the same customer information services, for example, as is proposed for GaaP.

They may notice that the community nurses didn't waste their time re-writing the Dutch government website before getting out into the community and actually doing some nursing.

The DMossEsq guess is that Whitehall knows the pitch is utterly preposterous, if they think about it, but ... £35 billion a year ... every year ... onwards!

There's a big prize there for Whitehall in the future (if they suspend disbelief) and Methods Corporate Ltd is already being paid well, judging by their 30 April 2014 annual report and accounts – you don't see a lot of consultancies trying so desperately to keep their profits down that (along with famous footballers) they're investing in film finance partnerships.

There are signs that Messrs Rowlins and Thompson are becoming restive. The managing director of one of their subsidiaries found it opportune to publish Are Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) Good for Public Services? on 27 April 2015, deep into purdah:
At their very worst they can be single issue fanatics ill equipped to lead an organisation through complex, enterprise wide change, backed by a Board who don’t really understand what the CDO is doing. On top of this they are filled with an evangelical zeal that will tolerate no dissent or requirement for them to learn as well as teach.
The "next phase of digital transformation" may be, to quote from the lexicon of consultants' favourite euphemisms, "disruptive" and involve "creative destruction".


Hat tip: @NoDPI
Hat tip: Mark Ballard


“It reminds me of that old joke – you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist's office and says, hey doc, my brother's crazy! He thinks he's a chicken. Then the doc says, why don't you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs.
Hat tip: Woody Allen

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