Monday 30 November 2015

"The organisation you join is not the organisation you will work for"

On 16 October 2013 ex-Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE ex-CDO ex-CDO, ex-executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and ex-senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)", delivered an astonishing lecture to the Code for America Summit. But you know that.

What you may not know is that his deputy, Tom Loosemore, delivered the same lecture to the same audience a year later, 23-25 September 2014:

Mr Loosemore's was more or less congruent with the Bracken script.

There was one slip, between 5'18" and 5'42", when he promised that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) was going to go into public testing "in a few weeks" – the previous year, delegates had been led to believe that it was already live with 45 million users.

Otherwise, the same buttons were pressed. Particularly the Whitehall button. Whitehall wouldn't know how to modernise its services even if it wanted to, Mr Loosemore said, 2'40"-3'02".

The only component Mr Loosemore added to the speech was "the GDS dream":

It doesn't work, does it, even on its own childish terms – if there were a government or a computer system that could magically sort out all your problems without your even having to specify them, you wouldn't have to specify your name and address either.

Nevertheless, that was GDS's dream.

That's why, a year later, the grown-ups had to restore order. By 30 September 2015 Messrs Bracken and Loosemore were no longer at the top of GDS.

And that in turn is one reason why, in his Autumn Statement last week, the Chancellor was able to promise GDS £450 million.

We still don't know what GDS are expected to do for that money. But we can be sure that the dream will be more adult and that GDS will stop defining itself by slagging off the rest of Whitehall while trying to disguise a distinctly patchy delivery record of its own.

"The organisation you join is not the organisation you will work for", as we warned prospective recruits back in September, and a good job too.


Updated 1.12.15

GDS's dream was based on the internet and amounted to users having their problems resolved without even having to tell the internet what those problems were.

That was the dream.

How far was it from reality?

The National Audit Office (NAO) report on the rural payments débâcle suggests that the answer was ... miles.

We have covered the rural payments matter before, please see Agile@DEFRA and The system is fine. It's the users that don't work. GDS failed to satisfy user needs – indeed, the users ended up being blamed for the failure. That's what we said. What do the NAO say? Among other things:
19 GDS did not provide the support the Department needed. GDS committed to reducing overall costs, improving delivery confidence and building the Department’s digital capability to support approval of the business case and the adoption of new approaches unfamiliar to the Department. Through the Programme:
  • formal estimates of cost reductions were not provided;
  • the Major Projects Authority’s delivery confidence assessments did not improve; and
  • although GDS provided resources to the Department, its support was reported to be patchy. GDS provided limited continuity and insufficient insight into how to adopt agile on this scale. It was not able to identify and provide the systems integration skills required ... (p.9)
Conclusion on value for money

22 The Programme is a combined effort between the Department, the RPA, other delivery bodies and GDS to develop new systems and processes to support the implementation of the new CAP in England. But ineffective collaboration between these bodies undermined their ability to deliver a successful rural payments service. The Department and the Cabinet Office did not ensure a clear and consistent vision for the Programme with a manageable level of innovation. Nor did they effectively manage competing priorities. The result is that the Department expects higher levels of disallowance penalties, increased Programme costs, poorer customer experience and difficulties paying farmers accurately at the earliest opportunity. The Programme has therefore not provided value for money at this early stage. (p.10)
Personal rifts at the top

3.10 There were deep and persistent personal rifts at senior levels and at times these led to counter-productive behaviour by the Programme’s leaders. The differences in strategic vision in the design phase (paragraph 2.4) were not resolved. Senior people told us that they found it almost impossible to work together at times. Interviewees reported confrontational behaviour between senior Programme staff at the RPA and GDS.

3.11 Rifts between senior Programme officials went beyond the creative tension that is to be expected in a multi-organisational programme, and impacted on implementation and delivery as well as staff morale and stress, especially from mid-2014. The dysfunction and inappropriate behaviour at the top was very apparent to Programme staff at this time, and created a frustrating working environment for them, preventing the culture of trust and collaboration needed to deliver a large and complex programme. (pp.28-9)

Updated 4.12.15
"The strategy is delivery" is one of GDS's old mottos. It doesn't bear inspection. They promised that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) would go live in the spring of 2013. It didn't. And two-and-a-half years later it still hasn't.
That's what we said back in September. GOV.UK Verify (RIP) hasn't been delivered. And as the National Audit Office (NAO) remind us, please see above, neither has the Rural Payment Agency's digital Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
I go weekly now. I go to the meeting of the Common Agricultural Policy Reform Group. It's the RPA. It's the Rural Payments Agency.

Why I'm so excited about that is because they've embraced agile completely. They're going with an agile build out of a whole new programme. That's going to affect everyone in this country, and how they deal with land management, all the farmers, all the people who deal with crops, all the data. It's going to create, I think, a data industry around some of that data.

It's going to help us deal with Europe in a different way, and quite rightly we're building it as a platform. It's going to be another example of government as a platform.
That's what ex-Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE ex-CDO ex-CDO, ex-executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and ex-senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)", said on 11 January 2013.

Two years later, despite embracing agile completely, GDS's digital BPS had to be scrapped and UK farmers now apply for their money using pencil and paper. Or as the NAO put it, more elegantly:
In March 2015, in response to serious failings of the system, the online application system was withdrawn and replaced by ‘paper-assisted digital’ applications for the 2015 schemes. (pp.7,10)

The Department responded quickly by reverting to a ‘paper-assisted digital’ approach. (p.35)

... disallowance risk has also increased due to delays implementing the Land Management System and the decision to revert to a paper-assisted digital approach for 2015, with an increased risk of error arising from manual input of changes to land data. The combination of these factors could lead to disallowance penalties for the early years of the new CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] of 10%. (p.38)
 We must now, presumably, refer to GDS as the "Government Paper-Assisted Digital Service" or "GPADS" for short.

On their UK government performance platform GPADS continue still to this day unaccountably to list BPS as one of the eight digital public services we hoi polloi can connect to using GOV.UK Verify (RIP). This is misleading. There is no digital rural payments service to connect to, as the NAO among others have made clear.

It must be an oversight. No doubt in their mission to build trust by being open GPADS will soon correct their performance platform, just as they have at last removed the patently false claim which they used to make that GOV.UK replaces Directgov and Business Link.

The world according to the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) dashboard on the GDS Performance Platform

Updated 6.12.15

The delegates to the Code for America Summit back in September 2014 could legitimately ask Mr Loosemore how the GDS dream was supposed to be realised. "Just sort it all out for me". But how?

The question became more insistent six months later when GDS's agile Basic Payment Scheme had to be scrapped and UK farmers had to sort it all out for themselves with pencil and paper. Nightmare.

Mr Loosemore's answer was delivered at the Code for America Summit 2015 – sewers. That's his answer. Sewers. The London sewage system was modernised in the nineteenth century by innovative civil engineers operating through a new sort of organisation, a municipal board of works.

By analogy, the GDS dream will be delivered by innovative software engineers operating through GDS. That is the burden of the speech he gave at the summit, Government as a Platform: How New Foundations Can Support Natively Digital Public Services:

Out goes the scrappy old dream graphic above and in its stead we get:

Government as a Platform (GaaP). That's the dream machine. Just turn the GaaP handle and it will all be sorted out. Magic.

That result, Mr Loosemore tells us in his lecture, is the output from a research project he set up using the "most talented and experienced group of public-spirited internet thinkers and doers that I will ever work with" (10'45"-11'22") including Richard Pope, pictured above. Their job was to invent "public services so good they were previously unimaginable" (11'32"-11'52").

And Mr Loosemore goes on in the lecture to sketch an ideal future in which, thanks to those registers at the bottom of the graphic, we will all be able to set up companies on-line, using our mobile phones. Dreamy. But innovative?

Only if you ignore William Heath's 12 September 2009 post on the now discontinued Ideal Government blog, Does IBM’s Identity Grid idea show us the future for online public services?:
... Companies House web site sends a prompt to your card reader, you authorise [Companies House] by PIN to get your details from the NIR [the National Identity Register], and you have a company, simple as that. .. [Next], you set up a company bank account ... the bank asks you to authorise Companies House to release a set of your details. You OK this via PIN, and you have a company. Simple as that. I didnt time the demos but the whole thing took maybe five minutes ... it works online. It’s quite different from what we've seen before.
Who knows what Tim O'Reilly made of Mr Loosemore's lecture? Mr O'Reilly was speaking at the Summit as well and his is the name normally associated with the invention of GaaP, not Mr Loosemore's or Mr Pope's.

Mr O'Reilly didn't remonstrate in any way that we know of but, if you watch the question and answer session at the end of the recording, you'll know that Mr Loosemore's audience did. They didn't want to see a panopticon created, they said. That pile of registers, Mr Loosemore's "single source of truth" as he calls it (20'50"-21'00"), IBM's "identity grid", is sinister and the delegates weren't comforted by the trust and consent layer in the graphic.

It's all risk and no upside. You run the risk of creating an all-knowing state and providing it with the means of minute control. That's just not our picture of government in the west, is it. And for what? Why would we change our picture of government? Why run the risk? We can already create companies. What's the benefit?

According to Mr Loosemore we, or at least our nation, would "win big" (5:35"-6'29"). What's that supposed to mean? How big? No numbers. When? No dates. What would it be like to live under an all-knowing state? Mr Loosemore doesn't ask the question, let alone answer it. Could a state become all-knowing? A state that can't even computerise payments to farmers?

We're back in dreamland.

Which could explain why Mr Loosemore no longer works for the UK government. As he tells us early on in his lecture (1'56"-2'44"), a mandarin somewhere high up in the UK civil service told Mr Loosemore that he'd had enough of his "internet jibba jabba".

There is some hope that the organisation you joined, if you work for GDS, is not the organisation you will work for.

Updated 9.12.15

"We'd put lipstick on pigs"

The Code for America Summit 2015 was held in Oakland, California, between 29 September and 2 October.

Tireless Tom Loosemore was next in Sydney, Australia, for web directions 2015, 27-30 October, where he gave the same lecture. Only, this time, instead of being called Government as a Platform: How New Foundations Can Support Natively Digital Public Services, it was called Enough lipstick on pigs:

Keynote at Web Directions 2015, Sydney

There's no freely available video this time, but you can flick through his slides. Between the inception of the Government Digital Service (GDS) in 2011 and Mr Loosemore's departure in 2015, "we got some stuff right", he said (Slide #19). "But" (Slide #46), "we'd put lipstick on pigs" (Slide #53) ...

... and he still doesn't seem to have worked out why he and Mr Bracken were fired ...

... what we need is to start again, he said, "new public infrastructure requires new public institutions" (Slide #63), Victorian sewage, start a company on-line using a mobile phone, etc ...

They weren't hired to put lipstick on pigs in the UK. The US is unlikely to want lipstick on its pigs and ditto Australia. If any of those countries want to create "new public institutions", they'll probably ask someone who (a) understands the existing institutions and (b) has some experience creating new ones.

The £4 consultancy started by Messrs Bracken and Loosemore claims that "we transformed digital delivery for the UK government", while making no mention of either lipstick or pigs.

Quite how Mr Loosemore holds down his job at the Co-op is unclear. He was away from the cosmetics counter again yesterday, speaking at the Personal Information Economy 2015 jibba jabbafest ...

... along with our old friend Peter Vander Auwera ...

... but that's his problem and the Co-op's, not GDS's.

GDS's job now under Stephen Foreshew-Cain, its new executive director, is to "pivot", or turn over a new leaf.

Out goes ...

... they weren't fired because they're giants. And out goes ...

... you're not reporting to Mr Bracken any more, he's gone.

Sir Jeremy Heywood is the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the UK Civil Service and he reminded GDS yesterday that:
Digital in the Spending Review

The digital transformation of government is one of my key priorities as Head of the Civil Service, and one of the three priorities the Civil Service Board has agreed for this Parliament.
Him, Mr Manzoni, Mr Hancock and Mr Osborne. They're serious.

They've somehow got GDS £450 million extra for the next four years. They're serious.

No more jibba jabba. No more candy floss. And leave the pigs alone. They're serious – the organisation you joined cannot be the organisation you now run.

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