Friday 1 December 2017

RIP IDA – the Whitehall user research lab

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but,
just in case it isn't obvious to all,
IDA is dead.

IDA, now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)",
is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme.
And it's dead.

"If Verify is the answer, what was the question?"

The Law Commission: "Verify does not currently ensure that the person entering the information
is in fact the person he or she is purporting to be;
rather it focuses on verifying that the person exists" (para.6.67/p.119)

The Government Digital Service (GDS) have a user research lab, in which they "carry out research into all the things we deliver [?], from guidance and standards to common components, such as GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Verify [RIP]".

Despite the user research lab, "deliver" is just what GDS haven't done with GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

It's not just DMossEsq who say that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is a failure.

Back in June, Computer Weekly magazine noted that GDS lacks strong and stable leadership. They quoted Rob Anderson, of whom more anon, who believes that GDS are "haemorrhaging senior management and losing more credibility with operational departments".

Computer Weekly remind us that GDS is supposed to make savings of £3.5 billion across government in return for its £450 million budget but "it seems unlikely GDS will ever meet that rather ambitious savings target".

Why so sceptical?

Partly because the common technology services project has been "mothballed" and partly because of low take-up for Government as a Platform (GaaP) but mostly because of the failure of GOV.UK Verify (RIP), a failure identified not just by Computer Weekly but also by the National Audit Office: "The NAO said there was little incentive for departments to adopt Verify".

Julian David, the CEO of TechUK, is quoted in further support of Computer Weekly's position and so is the Institute for Government.

This Rob Anderson man, he's a "principal analyst, central government, at GlobalData (formerly known as Kable)", according to Computer Weekly. He's got an article in Government Computing at the moment, GDS: Now we are Five. "Such a landmark anniversary often provokes a review of achievements in those formative years," he says, "but this was not obviously forthcoming, possibly because big ticket projects like Verify, the wider GaaP portfolio and examples of cogent joined-up public services are still few and far between".

Mr Anderson notes that GDS keep signing contracts with third party suppliers in the hopeless bid to enrol 25 million people in GOV.UK Verify (RIP) by 2020. Meanwhile, their success with GovWiFi is underwhelming, in Mr Anderson's eyes, and "GDS is but a sideshow, albeit a mildly entertaining one".

Government Computing also report on the European Commission's annual survey of eGovernment, UK slips to “European average” in terms of digitising its services, EU study shows. Oh dear. What now?
According to the report, the key challenge for the UK is to increase availability of key enablers such as electronic identification and authentication sources. The UK’s score for key enablers is 22% compared to a 52% EU average.
So, let's see, that's Computer Weekly, the NAO, TechUK, the Institute for Government, GlobalData/Government Computing, the European Commission and DMossEsq among others all expressing scepticism about GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

And on the other side?

Here's a comment from someone at the 17 November 2017 Economics of Identity conference hosted by OIX, the Open Identity Exchange: "Verify: the only standard for digi identity in the UK. has kicked started it - we have to pick up the mantle".

The other side's response looks like self-deception. GOV.UK Verify (RIP) isn't a standard and it doesn't have a mantle. Government Computing have collected together a number of these strange responses here, in OIX meeting weighs up the economics of identity.

Don Thibeau, the head of OIX, spoke at another conference, on 8 November 2017, where his chosen subject was Identity Systems at Scale. You can watch the video (particularly between 1'37" and 2'50") and be amazed at his assertion that Europe, Australia, Japan and the US are all spellbound, watching the progress of GOV.UK Verify (RIP) and hoping to learn some tips from the global masters of open banking.

His own organisation, OIX, has already demonstrated several times that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) has precisely nothing to offer the financial sector. Is he in denial? It is beyond the scope of this blog to explain his behaviour at that conference.

What we can do is to point at Whitehall itself as a user research lab. How do the participants in a failed project respond to the stream of facts as they come in, one after another, each one confirming failure more and more clearly? Answer, they ignore them. GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is the only game in town, they say to themselves, and they believe that the rest of the world is agog at its success.

GDS claim to lead the UK government digital, data and technology professions. Maybe they haven't noticed yet but, because GDS know nothing about the economics of identity, responsibility for the operation of the UK digital economy has been taken away from them and given to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

"Matt Upson and Mat Gregory are data scientists at GDS". That's what it says in Transforming the process of producing official statistics. Matt and Mat have been working on RAP, reproducible analytical pipelines. The two of them have been telling the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice all about RAP, teaching their grandmothers to suck eggs.

How successful have they been?

"We have celebrated the achievements so far with a laptop sticker". Official statistics? Done.

14 November 2017, and we learnt that More than 100 services are now running on government common platforms: "over 100 services across 26 departments and agencies are now using GaaP tools, guidance and components. From GOV.UK Verify [RIP] to GOV.UK Notify, GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Platform as a Service, Government as a Platform is becoming a reality, and that’s a great thing for taxpayers and citizens".

There's even a sticker to prove it:

GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is connected to just 14 on-line public services according to GDS's own performance dashboard. HMRC don't use it for anything important, neither do DWP and neither do the NHS. GOV.UK Notify is connected to 115 on-line public services, again excluding the big players, but isn't it a decade or two too late to claim a noteworthy success when a government department uses email and texts? The GOV.UK Pay performance dashboard doesn't list any services connected to it. And GOV.UK Platform as a Service doesn't have a performance dashboard.

Is that what you understood by "more than 100 services are now running on government common platforms"?

That's a tendentious way of reporting the facts. The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics would be down on any minister like a ton of bricks, quite rightly, if they misused statistics like that.

It was never clear why GDS were given responsibility for the data profession. They have never done anything with that responsibility and there are signs now that that, too, will be taken away from them.

While its responsibilities shrink, though, GDS continues to recruit as though there were no tomorrow. There are currently 19 GDS jobs available for your delectation on the civil service jobs website. You, too, could join the 900 or is it only 700 people already in this giant user research lab.


Updated 4.12.17

How many people are there in GDS? That was the question we finished on in the blog post above. The answer is given in the NAO's report, Digital transformation in government (p.19):

This year, 2017-18, there should be 834 of them, all beavering away.

But just what do they all do?

As far as GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is concerned, the answer must be "not a lot". The front end hasn't changed for months, there's very little activity on Twitter, none on the identity assurance blog and 65% of attempts to access public services using the wretched system fail.

In the absence of any answers DMossEsq has taken a look at the UK government's Contracts Finder service. And you won't believe it – we've been asking the wrong people. GDS don't seem to have anything to do with GOV.UK Verify (RIP) any more. Now, it's all our old friends the Methods group.

You remember the Methods group. We came across them first in GaaP – 1½ million useless public servants out the door and 35 billion quid off the deficit. What's not to like?. And when GDS's 25 exemplars failed, Mike Beaven, their transformation director, left and joined Methods, please see @gdsteam, success and ... candy floss.

Two companies in the Methods group have been promised £1,307,000 since April Fool's Day 2017 to make GOV.UK Verify (RIP) work, please see the table below and/or this easier-to-read spreadsheet. And since 9 October 2017 Methods Business and Digital Technology Limited have been the Lead Commercial Delivery Manager for GOV.UK Verify (RIP):

Fuller Contracts Finder findings are available in another spreadsheet here. You thought GDS did the work on GOV.UK Verify (RIP)? Think again. Those 834 GDS staff have got something better to do.

Such as ensuring diversity across the civil service? No. Methods Digital Limited were paid £208,000 to work on "race disparity data across the public sector".

Such as working on GaaP? No. Methods Professional Services Ltd were paid £143,000 to provide "a WebOps service to deliver the GaaP Programme".

Such as working on the common technology services project? No. Methods Digital Limited are being paid £2,000,000 (sic) to "define the strategy of CTS and support collating and analysing commercial ICT information across HMG".

You thought GDS worked out GaaP themselves? No. It was the Methods group. And McKinsey, who were paid £2,200,000 (sic) back in the spring of 2015 to "assist GDS to analyse the potential for digitally-enabled improvement of public services through the adoption of the 'Government as a Platform' approach".

The common technology services project (iPhones for all civil servants) is costing a fortune in external fees. Methods Digital Limited got their £2,000,000, as we have seen. Not bad, but Computing Distribution Group Limited picked up £5,000,000 to "provide application, cloud and infrastructure design, standards and good practice guides for the common technology service team". GDS are meant to be the go-to consultants for the whole civil service and, on a good day, local government as well and they have to ask Computing Distribution Group Limited for design, standards and good practice guides?

Entech Limited settled for a modest £325,000 for CTS work. Zeefix Consulting Limited are getting £2,000,000, like Ergon Limited, and DMSG Limited are members of the £5,000,000 club. PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP just missed. £4,000,000. Unlucky.

M4 Managed Services International Limited are getting £5,000,000 for providing "application and infrastructure design services (?)". ThoughtWorks Limited picked up £791,000 for four months' work this year on "agile iterative support consultancy services to develop and continually improve" a few things, including GOV.UK Verify (RIP). That's on top of their £1,300,000 to "drive the adoption of Verify ... working in pair and mop programming in the listed areas".

And then there's IXYDO Limited, who have amassed five contracts worth a total of £553,000 to help migrate GOV.UK Verify (RIP) from VMWare across the Styx to Amazon Web Services. Part of our national infrastructure, IXYDO had one director who owned the one share in the company until recently, according to Companies House, and the latest accounts show that he has almost managed to repay the £28,000 or so that he borrowed from the company. Don't worry, this won't make it any harder for Methods Professional Services Ltd to get GOV.UK Verify (RIP) taken seriously by our European partners in eIDAS.


Updated 30.1.18

As we were saying above, "maybe they haven't noticed yet but, because GDS know nothing about the economics of identity, responsibility for the operation of the UK digital economy has been taken away from them and given to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS]".

Also, "it was never clear why GDS were given responsibility for the data profession. They have never done anything with that responsibility and there are signs now that that, too, will be taken away from them" ...

... signs like DCMS launches research project into data portability. DCMS have got £250,000 burning a hole in their pocket and the Government Computing website tell us that "according to a tender notice issued by the department earlier this month for a £250,000 contract , DCMS is looking for analysis and practical research on data portability".

Despite having 834 staff and £450 million to spend and despite being in charge of digital, data and technology GDS are clearly not the first port of call if you want a spot of analysis and practical research on data portability.

Bit of a poke in the eye for GDS.

Just to rub it in, Government Computing also report that DCMS launches search for new Data Ethics centre leader: "The government wants the centre to advise on the measures needed to enable and ensure safe, ethical and innovative uses of data-driven technologies".

GDS did some work on data ethics, please see "Data Science Ethical Framework" – contempt for the public. Fail. Over to DCMS.

Updated 24.4.18

The Government Digital Service (GDS) have 860 staff at the moment. They can't possibly need to use contractors for software engineering work, can they?

Their last contract – with the Methods Group – for software engineering work on GOV.UK Verify (RIP) ran out on 6 April 2018. Verify is dead. GDS can't need to spend any more money on it, can they?

Wrong. Yesterday, 23 April 2018, St George's Day, GDS published an invitation to tender for six months' work on Development Capability for GOV.UK Verify [RIP].

Updated 31.5.18

It is six months since we said, please see above:
You thought GDS worked out GaaP themselves? No. It was the Methods group. And McKinsey, who were paid £2,200,000 (sic) back in the spring of 2015 to "assist GDS to analyse the potential for digitally-enabled improvement of public services through the adoption of the 'Government as a Platform' approach".
The McKinsey Center for Government have now published Delivering for citizens – how to triple the success rate of government transformations.

What do they have to say about GDS?


GDS don't get a mention.

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