Friday, 31 May 2013

Dematerialised ID

Ten years (and one day) ago, someone posted a policy proposal to the Home Secretary. Ditch ID cards, the proposal said, they're guaranteed to fail, take a look at mobile phones and digital certificates instead – try dematerialised ID.

Cut a long story short, dematerialised ID hasn't exactly taken off.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

SCOOP? IER, sackcloth, ashes and Rip Van Winkle

In the past seven months since 26 October 2012 the DMossEsq blog has published 12 posts whose veracity relies entirely or in part on the contents of the Individual Electoral Registration Bill (IER). Attention is drawn in particular to Identity assurance – shall we vote on it?.

Properly sourced, the assertions made in the 12 blog posts were based on Hansard, parliamentary business news, explanatory notes on the domain, the text of draft Bill, its impact assessment, and a draft statutory instrument.

Quite good.

Not good enough. The Rip Van Winkle of bloggers, DMossEsq missed the fact that (a) the Bill changed its name and (b) it is no longer a Bill, it was enacted on 31 January 2013. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 is now law.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

GDS? Who?

Whitehall has a pitiful record when it comes to investing public money. Think of the National Programme for IT, the NHS black hole into which £6 billion of our money disappeared without trace. Or possibly £12 billion. No-one seems to be sure.

Mindful of which, we now have something called the Major Projects Authority (MPA), a Whitehall unit which keeps tabs on where the money's going and how likely we are to see any return. The MPA issues red-amber-green verdicts on our investments. Green is good news. Red means kiss goodbye to the money.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Biometrics – the tiger the Center for Global Development has caught by the tail (updated)

The case for investing in the nationwide deployment of biometrics has not been made.

In their 7 May 2013 report Performance Lessons from India’s Universal Identification Program one of the lessons that Alan Gelb and Julia Clark (G&C) draw from UID (also known as "Aadhaar") is that ...
UID’s performance suggests that accurate, biometric-based, identification is quite feasible for large countries, including the US. (p.8)
... restated a page later as ...
UID shows that countries with large populations can implement inclusive, precise, high-quality identity systems by using existing technology. (p.9)
In his 12 May 2013 blog post Biometrics: will the Center for Global Development reconsider? DMossEsq suggested that this conclusion of G&C's needs to be qualified in at least six ways and should read "the US could safely deploy an identity management scheme based on biometrics":
  1. "subject to an annual audit"
  2. "apart from the possibility of cyberattack"
  3. "and as long as we've got our maths right"
  4. "and as long as you realise that it's not identity that's being managed"
  5. "and as long as you're relaxed about the fact that anyone could have any number of entries on the population register"
  6. "and the fact that the discipline of biometrics is out of statistical control"
On 21 May 2013, Alan Gelb posted a comment, which includes this:
... we hold to our conclusion that the data released provides a very significant benchmark on the capabilities of biometric systems in developing country conditions and one that should be studied carefully by other countries.

Some evidence of reconsideration
But that wasn't their conclusion.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

CloudStore and OJEU

The question was asked yesterday Is CloudStore entirely legal? and an impressively prompt response was received which deserves equal prominence:
Anonymous said...


The G-Cloud framework *is* procured through the OJEU process (every 6 months, hence we are on G-Cloud III now - see the official notice here: Once a framework has been established, public sector organisations can procure from that framework without the need for OJEU (because the suppliers on that framework have already been through the process). Page 7 of the document you quote has the relevant guidance (note that a mini-competition can be run by the buyer against the framework).

This is exactly the same as any one of the 104 framework agreements that the Government currently has in place (see: Also note that this isn't just the UK - in 2010, 21,500 framework agreements were awarded across the EU (see:

22 May 2013 15:38
The Page 7 citation leads to:
Framework Agreements - These can be used for repeat but irregular purchases for example stationery supplies, legal services, building repairs. Generally they are of no more than four years’ duration.  There are four main types, single-supplier, multi-supplier, single user, multi-user.  Suppliers are selected following an initial OJEU notice, in the case of multi-suppliers (no less than three) subsequent mini-competitions are used to select winning contracts.  The same selection and award criteria used when setting up the framework agreement must be used when procuring services from this agreement.  Provided the agreement is compliant with these requirements, pre-existing framework agreements may be used to select suppliers to the project.  Contracting Authorities utilising a framework agreement need to ensure that they are eligible to make use of it and that the framework agreement has been properly established
There may be all sorts of problems with Whitehall's cloud computing strategy but so flagrantly infringing OJEU that even DMossEsq can spot it doesn't seem to be one of them.


Updated 23 May 2013 12:04 p.m.
That is the case, at least, as long as you first agree that arranging to host the entire public administration of the country in the cloud is like making "irregular purchases for example stationery supplies, legal services, building repairs".

Take an example. See Skyscape bags biggest deal on G-Cloud EVER. Skyscape will be hosting the heir to the Criminal Records Bureau. How much like ordering the paper clips is that?

Updated 24 May 2013 19:45 p.m.
Even if the definition of "irregular services" is being stretched a bit, clearly OJEC think it's legal. So they won't object.

Who would?

Answer, maybe some of the long-established cloud services suppliers with impressive track records whose bids lost against Skyscape, a company that won contracts from GDS, the MOD and HMRC almost before it existed, please see Skyscape – would you invest £4 million? Thousands haven't., and who have now won a big contract from the Home Office. How did Skyscape manage to be accredited, let alone win?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

IDAP: the stories our MPs are told

Here in the UK there is an organisation called the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST):
POST is Parliament's in-house source of independent, balanced and accessible analysis of public policy issues related to science and technology.
On 25 April 2013 POST published Managing Online Identity to brief MPs and peers about Whitehall's plans for the UK's Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP).

In some respects the briefing note is admirable – "A Home Office report estimated that cybercrime costs the UK economy £27bn a year", it says at one point, before adding "this figure received widespread scepticism".

It would have benefited, though, from a bit more scepticism like that.

Is CloudStore entirely legal?

Hosting GOV.UK in the cloud to cost GDS record-breaking £600,000

Government Digital Service signed a deal with Skyscape last month

By Derek du Preez | Computerworld UK | Published 10:29, 10 October 12

(GDS) infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) deal with Skyscape to host single domain website GOV.UK, which was procured through the G-Cloud, is worth an estimated £600,000.
There are rules for us members of the EU. Procurement rules. Procurement rules we have to abide by:
EC Procurement Thresholds
The European public contracts directive (2004/18/EC) applies to public authorities including, amongst others, government departments, local authorities and NHS Authorities and Trusts. The European utilities contracts directive (2004/17/EC) applies to certain utility companies operating in the Energy, Water, and Transport sectors.

Biometrics: a response from the Center for Global Development

Biometrics: will the Center for Global Development reconsider? was published on this blog 10 days ago on 12 May 2013.

A response from the Center for Global Development has now kindly been sent.

On the principle of equal prominence, their response is reproduced here:
Alan Gelb said...

We agree with a number of points raised by David Moss. One is the importance of releasing field performance data; other programs should be held to this standard. We recognize that biometrics is not a panacea. Our previous working paper that reviewed some 160 cases noted several problematic examples, particularly in the area of elections. It is far too early to assess the UID program record in delivering more effective and inclusive services. Where we differ from Moss is that we see the data that it has released on inclusion and accuracy as a very significant benchmark for biometric systems in developing countries, and a major advance on the use of laboratory data. These appear to be the most extensive field data released so far.

The UID data are of interest for other countries; the hypothetical example of Ughana illustrates what such a system should be able to achieve for a “typical” country with about 30 million people. It is easy to scale the results for country size. We estimated that for a country as large as India there would be somewhat over 3 million false positives during enrolment, a large number for manual follow-up but probably doable. For a small country like Haiti the number would only be around 300.

On multiple identities, no system will be able to guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Certainly not the systems in place in the rich countries where identity theft is hardly unknown! The question is not “whether it works or not” but the precision of one system versus another and relative cost-effectiveness. For some applications, such as access to a health insurance program, one might accept a modest level of duplicate or false identities. For others, such as access to a nuclear facility, we want to minimize them – just as we would want very high standards for aeroplane safety, to take the example cited by Moss. These might involve different biometrics and also passwords or other identifiers; the most demanding applications can apply whatever other additional checks they choose outside the scope of national identification. For a national ID system the reported rate of 0.035 percent for UID seems low enough to discourage most deliberate efforts to acquire multiple identities.

Any identification system will have to cope with people who are unable to enroll using biometrics and with identification and authentication errors. The UID data offer useful pointers to likely numbers.

UID does not, therefore, provide answers to every question -- it is far too early for that and we do not claim that it does. It remains to be seen how the program is or is not picked up by various applications and how it negotiates the political winds that arise with any system of identification. But we hold to our conclusion that the data released provides a very significant benchmark on the capabilities of biometric systems in developing country conditions and one that should be studied carefully by other countries.

To correct the record, we do not assert that the number of bilateral comparisons is the square of the population, n. It is 0.5*n*(n-1) which rises (as we note) with the square of n. As n becomes large, it approaches 0.5*n*n; since no identification system will cover 100% of population, we rounded n off to 1 billion for India. If we accept the field estimate of 0.057% false positive rate against a data base of 84 million, the rate for a 1:1 comparison would have to be very small, in the range of 7 in one trillion. The implied precision can only be possible with the combined use of multiple biometrics, which is another of the lessons from the UID exercise.

Alan Gelb,
Senior Fellow,
Center for Global Development

21 May 2013 22:17

Monday, 20 May 2013

Shakespeare on duty

Stephan Shakespeare, Constitutional expert, writing in An Independent Review of Public Sector Information (p.5):
Consider the role of government: it exists to decide the rules by which people can act, and to administer them: how much, by what method, and from whom to take resources; and how to re-allocate them.
Bit more to it than that, surely, but let's see where this bleak definition takes him.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The traditional Shakespearean line

He gets off to a cracking start, Shakespeare. The cure for cancer. And happy children:
Is that exciting? It couldn't be more exciting: from data we will get the cure for cancer as well as better hospitals; schools that adapt to children’s needs making them happier and smarter; better policing and safer homes; and of course jobs.
That's Stephan Shakespeare, not the other one, and he's chatting about Phase 2 of the web revolution on p.5 of An Independent Review of Public Sector Information. "The size and coherence of our public sector", he says, "combined with government’s strong commitment to a visionary open data policy means that we have the opportunity to be world leaders in the enlightened use of data". "Strong"? "Visionary"? "Enlightened"? "World leaders"? Flattery?

Some of us remember the 1970s and the invention of the computerised management information system, MIS, which became a decision support system in the 1980s, DSS.

But that's just its age in the benighted computer world. The discovery that you need data to make decisions is a lot older than that – isn't there a bell ringing somewhere at the back of your ur-memory, recalling the first vizier telling an early Ptolemy that collecting a few facts might be a good idea, before risking life and limb running up a pyramid in the middle of nowhere? And the pharaoh's ageless response?

Is you-need-facts-to-make-a-decision the most frequently re-discovered nostrum in history? (No. "Ne'er cast a clout till May is out". Ed)

Shakespeare's take on property

Stephan Shakespeare, the founder of  YouGov, has published An Independent Review of Public Sector Information.

His idea is that we can expand the economy and increase general wellbeing if a cadre of brilliant data scientists is given access to the huge amounts of public sector information (PSI) held by the UK government. He also has his sights set on our personal data – open that data to being processed, and intelligent lifestyle decisions can be made for us by apps.

Who does this data belong to?

Shakespeare, Google and our new government

The world is now in the second phase of the web revolution. So says the political pollster Stephan Shakespeare in his report, An Independent Review of Public Sector Information.

In Phase 1, the revolutionary winners – Shakespeare's Robespierre heroes listed on p.5 of his report – rose to the top on the basis of the unprecedented ease of communication between suppliers and consumers:
Google, Ebay, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple – the companies through which our daily lives are run ...
Now we're in the next revolutionary phase, he says (also p.5):
Phase 2 sees an equivalent leap, this time in the capacity to process and learn from data. Is that exciting? It couldn't be more exciting: from data we will get the cure for cancer as well as better hospitals; schools that adapt to children’s needs making them happier and smarter; better policing and safer homes; and of course jobs. Data allows us to adapt and improve public services and businesses and enhance our whole way of life, bringing economic growth, wide-ranging social benefits and improvements in how government works.
Shakespeare's theme is that, if only they're given enough of our personal data, then intelligent scientists can run our daily lives for us even more intimately than in Phase 1, the quality of government will improve and, what's more, the economy will grow.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Shakespeare – principles, statistics and mooncalves

He's a big topic, Shakespeare. You can't say everything about him that needs to be said in one post. But we have to start somewhere. With the foundations.

"In October 2012, I was invited by government to lead an independent review of Public Sector Information (PSI) to explore the growth opportunities of, and how to widen access to, the wealth of information held by the public sector." That's the "foundation", Mr Shakespeare says (p.3), of his latest diversion, An Independent Review of Public Sector Information.

Born in the Warwickshire town of Stratford-upon-Avon Mönchengladbach, Stephan Shakespeare ( Kukowski), just making sure we've got the right Shakespeare, is the founder of YouGov, one of the polling organisations which have replaced political principle in the tragedy which is national debate in the UK with market research.

What we need, says Shakespeare, now Chair of the Data Strategy Board, on the basis of his review and of a report by the respected Constitutional experts, Deloitte ("Deloitte analysis quantifies the direct value of PSI at around £1.8bn with wider social and economic benefits taking that up to around £6.8bn"), is more data and more data scientists.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

midata and the South Sea Bubble

"Insolvency" has been much on our lips for the past five years and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) maintains a useful website to teach us all about it.

In 1720, with the national debt standing at £30 million, the government borrowed £7 million at 5 percent p.a. from the South Sea Company so that it could carry on a war with France and granted the company in return a monopoly over trade with South America.

The company's share price promptly went through the roof, inspiring the famous Bubble – people went mad investing in useless businesses thinking they were guaranteed to make a fortune. At the height of the mania, BIS tell us:
A company was promoted “For carrying-on an undertaking of great advantage but no-one to know what it is”. After receiving £2,000 from subscribers the promoter emigrated.
No-one knew what they were going to get but they handed over £2,000 anyway. That could never happen now.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

"When it comes to cyber security QinetiQ couldn’t grab their ass with both hands"

So said Bob Slapnik, vice president at HBGary, the security experts "detecting tomorrow's threats today", as reported by Bloomberg, the company that's been using its financial information terminals to spy on its clients. So says the New York Times, the company whose cyberdefences were breached in 2012 by the Chinese, seeking to stop people being rude about Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Although the Chinese say they didn't.

You can see why Mr Slapnik was cross back in 2010. QinetiQ had just won a contract to advise the Pentagon on how to counter cyberespionage despite QinetiQ's own computer systems having been comprehensively hacked for the previous three years.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The unqualified success of the Government Digital Service

Comment submitted to the UK Constitutional Law Group in response to a post on their blog about the perils of GOV.UK:
When links are broken, a bit of history is lost. This vandalism is always happening on the web. We know that. The web is inimical to scholarship in that way.
The advent of GOV.UK was exceptionally vandalistic. The Government Digital Service (GDS), whose baby it is, left behind a trail of destruction. Or rather, they didn’t. They eradicated it.
They did so under the terms of reference of a project called "the single government domain".
They are prone now to congratulating themselves on completing the transfer of all central government departmental websites to the single government domain, GOV.UK, and several non-departmental sites. Their congratulations are premature., for example, lives on, thank goodness. A rare case of GDS’s discretion being the better part of valour.
There was internal dissent to the policy-centric GOV.UK approach identified by Liz Fisher. Jeni Tennison argued that destroying departmental identity involved losing something valuable. Judging by the comments on her thoughtful blog post, her objections were slapped down, rather than refuted, and she left GDS.
Who grants the licence for GDS’s vandalism?
The answer may interest Constitutional lawyers. Martha Lane Fox.
Now a peer of the realm, Lady Lane Fox of Soho, it is she who first called for GOV.UK in a letter dated 14 October 2010 where she wrote:
A new central commissioning team should take responsibility for the overall user experience on the government web estate, and should commission content from departmental experts. This content should then be published to a single Government website with a consistently excellent user experience.
The "new central commissioning team" is GDS. And the departments of state are to be reduced, in Lady Lane Fox’s view, to waiting to be commissioned by GDS to publish their policy.
She didn’t stop there. GDS should be able to countermand the law as well as the expertise of policy-makers wherever "user needs" are adversely affected as judged by GDS:
[GDS] SWAT teams … should be given a remit to support and challenge departments and agencies … We must give these SWAT teams the necessary support to challenge any policy and legal barriers which stop services being designed around user needs.
We all used to get emails from the individual departments bringing their press releases to our attention. Now those emails all come from GDS,
Unprecedented power is being centralised in GDS, whose qualifications – they are a team of website developers – are questionable. It’s a new world.

midata is an attempt to get us all to embrace PDSs (personal data stores)

Comment submitted to Craig Belsham's midata blog:
Mr Belsham

My objections to midata are set out in my response to last year's BIS consultation and I shan't repeat them all here.

None of midata's claims to empower the consumer and to expand the economy is even remotely convincing. Which leaves me asking, like Paul Clarke, why?

One hypothetical answer is that midata's sole purpose is to encourage people to maintain PDSs (personal data stores).

That hypothesis is consistent with William Heath being a member of the midata strategy board and the chairman of Mydex – a PDS company – which is, in turn, one of the UK's eight appointed identity providers. It makes midata part of the Government Digital Service's Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP).

It doesn't excuse the mendacious marketing. But at least it explains why Whitehall takes the trouble to promote this otherwise fatuous initiative.

What do you think, Mr Belsham?

The historically inevitable triumph of midata

Many of us find the Department for Business Innovation and Skills's initiative, midata, perplexing. With the passing of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, midata now has the statutory powers needed. But why?

An explanation is available.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Biometrics: will the Center for Global Development reconsider?

A recently published report on India's identity management scheme says that: "accurate, biometric-based, identification is quite feasible for large countries, including the US".

The suggestion below is that the conclusion should read: "subject to an annual audit, the US could safely deploy an identity management scheme based on biometrics apart from the possibility of cyberattack and as long as we've got our maths right and as long as you realise that it's not identity that's being managed and as long as you're relaxed about the fact that anyone could have any number of entries on the population register and the fact that the discipline of biometrics is out of statistical control".

Will the authors consider issuing a revised version of their report?

-----  o  O  o  -----

On the rare occasions when trials have been conducted, the performance of biometrics technology has been disappointing. For example, when 10,000 of us took part in a UK government-run trial in 2004, about 20% of participants couldn't have their identity verified by their fingerprints.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The war of independence

Here in the UK, the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) state benefit is in the process of being replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), worth between £21 and £134.40 per week. "PIP helps with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability", which is good, but the whole point is that many claimants will be dependent on this benefit which makes it very odd to call it a "Personal Independence Payment". Something odd is happening to the concept of independence here.

The same odd thing is happening to the concept of control. Mr Andrew Dilnot, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, argues that there should be a limit of £35,000 on the amount old people pay for their social care. That limit should apply even if an old person owns a house, say, worth £2 million, say. They shouldn't have to sell the house to pay for their care.

Why not?

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Four professors review the Government Digital Strategy

Alan W. Brown is the Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Surrey Business School, University of Surrey.

John A. McDermid is the Professor of Software Engineering at the Dept. of Computer Science, University of York.

Ian Sommerville is the Professor of Software Engineering at the Dept. of Computer Science, University of St Andrews.

Rob Witty is the Professor of Information System Engineering at the Dept. of Informatics and System Engineering, Cranfield University.

They have written a paper, A Perspective on the Government Digital Strategy (GDS): Balancing agility and efficiency in UK Government IT delivery. The paper is dated 7 January 2013, it is marked "draft" and it is a review of the Government Digital Strategy published on 6 November 2012 by the Government Digital Service.

Speaking about the Government Digital Strategy (GDS), the professors say:

Friday, 3 May 2013

Cloud computing – a fairy responds

The following anonymous comment on Cloud computing – away with the fairies has been received and may be commented on later:
A prospective customer has to investigate the cloud supplier. Is the supplier competent? And reliable? What do their existing customers make of the service? The service may need to be audited. Does the supplier take backups? Where are they stored? Are they any good in an emergency? What do they know about security? Who's going to get priority when there's an emergency? Are their staff trustworthy? Which jurisdictions do they operate in? Contracts have to be negotiated. Then someone has to work out all the scripts to transfer code and data into the cloud. Or from one cloud supplier to another.

And so when you run an OJEU procurement, you magically DON'T do any of this? These costs are inherent in ANY outsourced procurement; arguably they are minimised in G-Cloud because of the pre-selection, but even if not, they're no different from any competition. You could also argue that in cloud services, contracts *don't* have to be negotiated - you take or leave what is offered, and it is up to YOU to manage the risk - but then that's the same no matter what procurement route you follow.

Regarding up-front costs, my reference wasn't to due diligence, but to the capital costs of setting up a service in the "traditional" way - i.e. buying dedicated kit, delivery, installation, configuration, testing, even before you get to the application. This kit has to be specced to handle peak load (otherwise you get a debacle like the census launch), for a 5 year contract, and woe-betide if things change in that time period...

Oh, and you might want to ask somebody in Central Govt how much / how long it takes to run an OJEU procurement; typically the *shortest* cycle is 6 months, and big contracts can be 12+ months.

Regarding the Guardian article on the "*Amazon* marketplace for traders" (, this is NOTHING to do with cloud computing, it is for organisations selling goods and service to the public, using an online shop. This is no different from eBay changing their cut of sales, or a council upping local rates.

The Wired article is referring to the *AWS Reserved Instance Marketplace* (, which allows Cloud users to sell virtual machine reservations they have bought bought but no longer need. See this article for more information about what a Reserved Instance is, and why you might use it:

Finally, there is also the AWS Marketplace (, which is the cloud equivalent of the physical marketplace, to allow software companies to sell pre-installed VMs, support services, etc. AWS cloud customers have *no* requirement to even visit that marketplace, but Amazon provide it as a value-added service.

Could Amazon increase their cloud pricing? Yes, they could; however the 7+ year trend is in ONE direction, down - and in the event they do increase the price, the cloud model means that the customer can move - no long-term lock-in, no 5 year contracts to break, no waste of CapEx, just choose another provider.

Of course, portability between clouds can be problematic, but this is NO different from between two "traditional" providers, and in many cases, the use of standards such as OVF for VM migration means that cloud providers are ahead of the curve.

GOV.UK – not the 9 o'clock news

Simpler, clearer, faster – that's GOV.UK's shoutline.

GOV.UK is the new "single government domain" produced by the Government Digital Service and it recently won the Design of the Year award:
Design of the Year jury member Griff Rhys Jones said GOV.UK "was a clear winner".
Great 1980s satirist that he is, Mr Rhys Jones hasn't lost his touch.


Updated 2 September 2013
GOV.UK wins the only 2013 D&AD award in the newly-created "Writing for Websites and Digital Design" category.

Updated: 15 November 2013
Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken/GDS comes top of the Digital Leaders 50 awards given to those "who demonstrate a pioneering and sustainable approach to digital transformation". The BBC come second and Francis Maude third.

No examples of sustainable digital transformation are given but CloudStore has been unavailable for eight of the 14 days leading up to the awards' being announced on 12 November 2013.

Updated 15 November 2013:
Back in May, G-Cloud won the Public Cloud Project of the Year Datacentre Solutions Award 2013. Few people noticed ...

... but one wag did (@LazBlazter), and retweeted the following on 9 November 2013, just after CloudStore's October outage, on day #2 of the November outage:

Updated 8 December 2013:
Only one way to go from here, two weeks at the top, ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken tumbles to sixth position in the Computer Weekly UKtech50 awards, "our definitive list of the movers and shakers in UK IT".

No.1 now is Liam Maxwell, chief technology officer, HM Government.

And what did ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken tell us about technology in his speech to Code for America? "Technology is a fourth-order question in government", he said. 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 said, "is putting technology in its place".

Clearly the awards panel disagree.

Updated 21 January 2014:
In Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude Decries 'Old Style' Obamacare Insurance Website, published in the Huffington Post, 9 January 2014, Mr Maude makes the uncontentious claim that the US government is useless at IT, unlike the UK government, which has GOV.UK and IDA. At one point we read:
Noting the success of the site, a portal that brings the government billions in revenue from countries such as New Zealand that have paid for the source code, Maude said ...
Is this true, does anyone know? Have New Zealand or anyone else paid billions to use the GOV.UK source code?

Updated 26 January 2014:

2013 GovFresh Awards winners
by Luke Fretwell / January 21, 2014, 6:00 am:
Updated 18.6.14

Since we last looked (15 November 2013) the Digital Leaders 50 awards have become the Digital Leaders 100 awards – twice as good.

All change?

No. Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE, executive director of GDS and senior responsible owner of the identity assurance programme (RIP), is still top:

Not only that but the Skyscape express rolls on ...

... as does the Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox revolution:

Updated 10.9.14

The awards just keep coming in.

One breathless encomium ...

... after another ...

... and another ...

... and another ...

... and another:

Sometimes even Anna and Katie and Rachael and Emer and Alexandra must get tired. At which point there's a praise-generating engine in GOV.UK's armoury that takes over:

But today, new heights were scaled, when an awards body contacted GDS and begged them to apply so that they can be given an award:

What next?

Can GDS write an app that generates GOV.UK award-awarders?

Updated 31.10.14

Still the praise keeps coming in – is there no end to it?

Updated 4.12.14

Now Computer Weekly have published UKtech50 2014 - The most influential people in UK IT and the first question must be "where have Skyscape come"? You will remember that Digital by Default News rated Skyscape the number 1 digital leader in the Industry category back in June. Six months later, and Computer Weekly ... don't mention Skyscape.

Still, we know from Simon Wardley that:


But no award for accuracy.

Actually they came fourth and fifth, not third and fourth, if you care to look.

Liam Maxwell, the government's chief technology officer who comes in at number 4, is "attempting to break the stranglehold of the oligopoly of large companies that have dominated government IT". That's what Computer Weekly say.

How's that going?

In its first 2½ years of existence, G-Cloud, the government cloud project, has placed 53.2% of £346 million = £184 million of business with SMEs (half of which goes to Skyscape alone, according to Skyscape).

£184 million. £0.184 billion. Spread over 2½ years. And how much does the government spend on IT every year? About £20 billion? Some way to go before Mr Maxwell can expect to come third.

Which brings us to fifth, Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE CDO, executive director of the Government Digital Service and senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme (RIP). As Computer Weekly say: "Bracken is the figurehead for a cultural change in how public services are delivered in a digital world".

And how's that going?

As every fule kno, you can't have digital-by-default public services unless you can identify your parishioners. That requires identity assurance.

GDS are several years late starting a small beta test of their offering. The users are finding it hard. No alternative, non-digital registration system is provided. And GDS are breaking their own rules.

Meanwhile, they are providing us with re-written front ends to services we already had, but with no identity assurance, and without re-designing the services first. Culture change? Hardly. The promise of government transformation is not being delivered.

Gavin Patterson, the Chief Executive Officer of BT, came sixth. When Westminster and Whitehall realise in several hundred billion pounds' time that, in digital-by-default, they are chasing a will o' the wisp, Mr Patterson may expect to move up at least one place.

Updated 28.1.15

It's not all prizes. GDS receive the odd brickbat, too. For example, Mr Craddock isn't entirely smitten:

But there's still a lot of breathless fan mail like this coming in:

And recently, the Prime Minister of Australia joined Suzanne:

The Commonwealth Government will establish a Digital Transformation Office (DTO) within the Department of Communications so that government services can be delivered digitally from start to finish and better serve the needs of citizens and businesses ...

The DTO will use technology to make services simpler, clearer and faster for Australian families and businesses.
"Simpler, clearer, faster" is, of course, the motto of GDS's GOV.UK.

It's high praise indeed when even the level-headed Australians find you worthy of imitation. "Simpler, clearer, Australia", as Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE CDO rather amusingly said.

And it's not just the Australians. The Americans, too. Look what came out of the White House on 16 January 2015:

Today, we are building on a long history of innovation and collaboration on digital technologies with the United Kingdom.  The President and Prime Minister Cameron just announced a commitment to strengthen and expand the ongoing digital partnership between our two countries.  Both countries have made real progress in working to improve how our governments use digital services to better serve citizens and businesses, and to build a stronger digital economy.  We will expand our already existing collaborations in these areas ...

In 2011, the United Kingdom created the Government Digital Service (GDS), a centralized group of digital experts who have vastly improved citizen experiences when using government digital services. This team has worked to make public services digital by default, simpler, less costly, and faster to use ...

The United Kingdom developed a comprehensive Digital Strategy ... This strategy, once fully implemented, will save taxpayers in the United Kingdom £2.7 billion per year.
Again, this is high praise indeed.

Positively intoxicating.

So much so that it's as well for Australia and the US to check the record.

Has UK government been transformed by GDS? Has UK Citizen experience of government digital services been vastly improved? Are UK public services digital by default? Is the UK's Government Digital Strategy feasible? When will it be fully implemented? And how sure is anyone that it will save £2.7 billion p.a. (previous estimates include 1.2, 1.7 and 1.8 billion pounds)?

Are the claims made for the efficacy of GDS reliable? Or do they, like the emperor's new clothes, evaporate on inspection? Which is it?

GDS's idea of UK public services becoming digital by default depends on identity assurance. Central government departments and local authorities have to be sure that you are who you say you are when you log on.

The executive director of GDS is also the senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance project and the project is late. Several years late.  He gave a talk in the US on 16 October 2013. Here's a 1'15" clip:

He claimed that GDS have eight or nine "identity providers". They have one. Experian.

He claimed that the first identity assurance services would start later in October 2013 with HMRC (the UK's IRS). The planned test did not take place. No explanation. No acknowledgement.

He claimed that identity assurance would support 45 million users. A year later on 30 October 2014 they had 741 users in a private beta test, please see Slide #14.

"I just can't get enough of's awesome @gdsteam"?

From AP to Yodlee via miiCard

Trust: miiCard foresees a new world
in which you can "grant access to your spouse ...
with a simple touch on a screen"

AP Twitter hack causes panic on Wall Street and sends Dow plunging

Wall Street collided with social media on Tuesday, when a false tweet from a trusted news organization sent the US stock market into freefall.

The 143-point fall in the Dow Jones industrial average came after hackers sent a message from the Twitter feed of the Associated Press, saying the White House had been hit by two explosions and that Barack Obama was injured. The fake tweet, which was immediately corrected by Associated Press employees, caused a sensation on Twitter and in the stock market ...
That was the Guardian, last week, 23 April 2013. Very unpleasant.