Sunday 8 November 2015

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Mark Thompson 1

Earlier wrinkles:
14 October 2011Francis Maude
14 October 2011Oliver Letwin
14 October 2011Ian Watmore
14 November 2011Mike Bracken
Mark Thompson believes that 1½ million public servants could be laid off and £35.5 billion could be saved as a result, if only the UK civil service followed the example of Spotify, eBay, Airbnb, Rightmove, Uber and Amazon.

Any number of people believe the same thing. Douglas Carswell MP, for example, the UK Member of Parliament who wrote The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, reviewed here in February 2013.

Even HMRC may believe it. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs are trying to break their giant ASPIRE contract into lots of little ones which is part of the Mark Thompson prescription. ASPIRE is unwieldy and ponderous. And expensive. Replace it with a lot of nimbler and more innovative contracts, and the result might be more efficient and cheaper. The question is, how do you get from ponderous to nimble?

HMRC have hired Bain & Company, the management consultants, to answer that question. Mr Thompson thinks that it's management consultants who got HMRC into the ASPIRE mess in the first place.

He may be right to be pessimistic about Bain's assignment. But if Mr Thompson had specified how to achieve his £35.5 billion of projected savings, then HMRC wouldn't have had to call in Bain.

Mr Thompson rejects that criticism, ruefully asserting that HMRC and others don't listen to people like him. You may get the impression of Mr Thompson as a lone thinker coming up with great ideas that Whitehall are too hoity-toity to listen to, a powerless Mr Thompson signalling to distant central government departments while trying to stay afloat in a sea of pathos.

But, there's a wrinkle.

Mr Thompson is a "University Senior Lecturer in Information Systems" at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and according to his profile on their website:
Mark has 22 years of information and systems and change management experience and is currently Strategy Director & Co-owner, Methods Group, where he has created two thriving startups since 2011 (Methods Advisory and Methods Digital). He is a member of the National Audit Office's Digital Advisory Panel, and was until recently a Main Board Member, Intellect UK (now TechUK), and is also a member of the CBI 21st Century Public Services Task and Finish Group. Prior to Methods, Mark was a Change Management Consultant at Accenture.

Mark is acknowledged within the public domain as one of architects of Open Innovation thinking within the UK public sector. In 2007-8 he was a senior adviser to UK Shadow Cabinet under George Osborne, for whom he delivered an influential report proposing widespread adoption of open standards in government IT that has since become policy, helping to create a sea-change in the way the government approaches and uses technology. Mark was credited by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude as having laid the foundation for the government's current technology procurement strategy and has subsequently authored, co-authored, or significantly influenced a series of white papers, policy documents, and a parliamentary report. Such papers include a think-tank document, Better for Less with Liam Maxwell, which formed the strategy for Cabinet Office's Efficiently and Reform Group, a journal article that has been widely shared in government, the Government IT Strategy and Strategic Implementation Plan.

Mark is a regularly invited industry and government speaker, and is pioneering these ideas in practice through London-based Methods Group, where he is delivering radical, often disruptive transformation with over 15 pathfinding government organisations. He has appeared in digital panels at both Labour and Conservative Party conferences - as well as critiquing some of the early policy developments for the coming manifesto period.

Mark is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a Visiting Professor at Surrey Business School.
Far from helpless, he is keen to make it clear in his profile how much he has the ear of the very most senior members of the executive.

Then. And now. Only the other day, the Cabinet Office Minister appointed Mr Thompson to a "Steering Group of digital and data visionaries" who will guide the UK's move to "data-driven government".

Is it really the case that HMRC won't listen to Mr Thompson?

His company, Methods, lists the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office among its clients, who presumably pay to listen to him. The National Audit Office listen to him, as do the CBI and TechUK. George Osborne, Francis Maude and Liam Maxwell listen to him. That gets him HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office plus maybe the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. His students at the Judge Business School and the Surrey Business School must listen to him. Etc ...

No. More likely, HMRC listened to Mr Thompson advocating his Airbnb idea for Whitehall, there was a gap where there should be a clear plan and they decided they'd better get Bain in to make sense of it.

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