Thursday, 14 June 2012

HMG's cloud computing strategy – there isn't one – and the Edgbaston Test

On 20 October 2011 Chris Chant listed 23 symptoms of the illness which Government IT suffers from. He carried on energetically repeating his diagnosis, unchallenged, and promoting cloud computing as the effective prescription. There he was, at it again, six months later on 11 April 2012, in a blog post on the G-Cloud website, #Unacceptable IT is pervasive. Two days later his resignation was announced.

The man in charge of G-Cloud is Andy Nelson, the Government's Chief Information Officer (CIO). That's only a part-time job. He is more fully occupied as CIO at the Ministry of Justice, where he's got his work cut out with Libra among other things. Libra is the £467 million Fujitsu system which is meant to produce the accounts for HM Courts and Tribunals Service. When the National Audit Office saw the 2010-11 accounts they were in such a mess that the NAO couldn't even qualify their opinion, they had to disclaim an opinion.

Under Mr Nelson, Denise McDonagh is also responsible for G-Cloud. Again, it's only a part-time job. Her day job is CIO at the Home Office. And again, there are quite a few distractions there:
  • There's the £385 million CSC contract with Sarah Rapson's Identity & Passport Service which is one of the reasons UK passport-holders are currently being over-charged by £300 million a year.
  • There's the £265 million IBM contract with the UK Border Agency to provide IABS, Jackie Keane's Immigration and Asylum Biometric System. IABS is meant to keep the UK border secure and make the 2012 Olympics safe but there's a problem – the biometrics don't work.
  • The same problem applies to the National Policing Improvement Agency's promotion of MobileID, a system to allow policemen on patrol to check suspects' fingerprints on the spot using mobile equipment. The idea is for MobileID to save police time. Which it will because, with a 20% failure rate, this flaky technology will cause 20% fewer criminals to be arrested.
Those distractions and others will no doubt explain her lacklustre post on 26 April 2012, Cloud Cynicism (or Dispelling the Dark Clouds) and why she hasn't been heard from since.

Not so, Eleanor Stewart. She's a trouper. She's the Assistant Director of G-Cloud and she's always good for a lively post. On 27 April 2012 she produced Crowdsourcing and a response., in which she took up some of the many questions posed in the 20 responses to Chris Chant's last post.

What the heck can we do to resolve some of the scary and largely unknown legal and policy issues that people are nervous about in a globalised world?, she asked. Good question. No answer.

And What ‘worked examples’ might we be able to provide to ... sceptics? That's in response to the simple question how cloud computing is supposed to obviate the need for long contracts to produce systems like Libra, for example, or IABS or DWP's Universal Credit. Chris Chant says it will. How? No answer.

Ms Stewart threw the post open to the crowd. And published one comment. One. The limiting case of a crowd. (I wandered lonely as a cloud?)

"Scary and largely unknown"? Hmm. Quite clearly, no-one in HMG knows the answers to some very basic questions about its cloud computing strategy. Which is odd. They keep talking about it. Andy Nelson, for example, was holding forth at the Cloud Computing World Forum only the other day. And they've been advocating it for years – the G-Cloud Overview was being touted in August 2010. But still no-one can answer the questions.

Is it all hot air? A cloud of hot air? A cloud which, when it hits some of the colder patches of reality, results in heavy precipitation and the wettest drought ever seen, which washed out the Edgbaston Test? That's certainly what it looks like at this end of the wicket.

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A version of this post has been kindly published by the estimable PublicTechnology.net

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