Friday, 3 May 2013

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.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The "democratic panacea" – elections and the McCormick spectrum

The parable of James McCormick involved, if you remember, turning $20 toys into £27,000 security devices. As reported by the Telegraph, we are meant to believe that Mr McCormick "fooled police forces, the military and governments around the world into buying fake bomb-detection kits".


Have you ever tried to fool "police forces, the military and governments around the world"?

How stupid do you think they are in Iraq, Kenya, Egypt, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, China, South Africa, Mexico, the UN/Lebanon, Belgium and Georgia?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Public administration and the McCormick spectrum

Hooked on golf, PG Wodehouse did a good line in self-deprecating jokes about the English.

We are eternally stuck in the mud, he said, ill-equipped, unimaginative and lacking the spirituality required to understand the concept of hell except by our experience of the caniptions – "the least thing upset him on the links. He missed short putts because of the uproar of the butterflies in the adjoining meadows".

Gopher The Amazing Golf Ball Finder MKT0001782988  
It's not just the English. The frustrations of golf are suffered worldwide and it is surely in the tradition of Wodehouse's wry humour that eBay and Amazon among others, categorised as toys and collectables and novelties, sell "the perfect gift for the golfer who has everything", the Gopher, "the amazing golf ball finder", yours for about $20, complete with "instructional video", "eliminates the frustration of lost balls", "quick and easy to operate. Now its easy to find hidden golf balls! In deep rough or brush... Behind hazards, even under water! NO BATTERIES NEEDED!".

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

GDS are drowning. Time to launch the lifeboats

17 April 2013, Welcoming DWP to GOV.UK:
Today we welcome the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to GOV.UK.

DWP is the 21st department to move to the Inside Government section of GOV.UK. It has joined Inside Government with almost 900 publications, 9 new policies, a host of case studies, and detailed guidance on Universal Credit and workplace pensions.
That's what it says on the Government Digital Service (GDS) blog. What does it mean?

GDS are meant to be creating a single government domain. Taking DWP as an example, all of their web content should now appear under (known as "GOV.UK"), and their old website,, should have disappeared.

When GDS welcome DWP to GOV.UK does that mean that has disappeared?

One way to find out. Do a test.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Joined up government – national identity register rejected, and will be compiled this summer

What was it Mr Maude said? Oh yes:
We want people to be able to interact with government online, for example, in applying for benefits or a disabled parking permit, in a way that is quick, easy and secure. To do this we need to give them a way of proving their identity online, but only if they choose to. This would be done without a national, central scheme.
That was back in April 2012 when he was angry with the Guardian for misrepresenting him:
This is not a question of increasing the volume of data-sharing that takes place across government, but ensuring an appropriate framework is in place so that government can deliver more effective, joined-up and personalised public services, through effective data-linking.
There it is. Government policy:
  • No single, central, national identity register.
  • No increase in data-sharing between government departments.
  • Effective data-linking, on the other hand, is a good thing because it will allow people to identify themselves on-line when transacting with the government.
Here we are now a year later and what do we find?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

GDS: not governance as we know it

Still no progress on identity assurance, but the Government Digital Service (GDS) have now published From the centre and here to help.

GDS have produced the Government Service Design Manual and the question is, how can they enforce these standards across Whitehall and local government?

That governance question is tackled by ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of GDS and senior responsible officer owner for the pan-government Identity Assurance programme (IDAP). He abjures the old-style "dead hand of bureaucratic overkill". (Who doesn't?) He recommends instead a more collaborative form of governance, "help from the centre".

How does that work? What will GDS do if a department of state ignores the new Government Service Design Manual?

Monday, 1 April 2013

Cloud computing – away with the fairies

We all know that the present arrangements for government computing in the UK can't go on. We're in the pan fat.

Instead, we should adopt cloud computing. That would solve the problem, say many commentators. They're well-meaning, no doubt. But wouldn't cloud computing simply move us into the fire?

It certainly looks like it. Cloud computing is meant to be a sort of utility – you get rid of the overheads and only pay for what you use. It sounds eminently sensible until you remember what's happening to your utility bills right now – they're going through the roof.

But that wouldn't happen with cloud computing, say the well-meaners. The G-Cloud people in Whitehall, for example, claim to believe that the suppliers of cloud services want nothing more than to cut their prices and increase the quality of service.

Amazon, for example. They're the biggest suppliers of cloud in the world. They wouldn't put their prices up. Would they?

Martin Sorrell: if you don’t eat your children, someone else will

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph a few weeks back, Mr Sorrell explained quite openly what he means when he says that Business must embrace this digital revolution:
How can legacy businesses keep their traditional, profitable operations going, while the new digital upstarts bite into their businesses? It’s the old cannibalisation argument – if you don’t eat your children, someone else will.

Google and The Economist

... what sort of a twerp would agree?

Google Reader is a service that was offered by Google which has now been discontinued. Or as the Economist put it on 21 March 2013:
GOOGLE is killing Google Reader ... Google Reader has been mourned over, angrily at times, ...
"Killing"? "Mourned"? "Angrily"? A bit melodramatic, surely. But not as melodramatic as one Google Reader murder report quoted in the Economist article:
Google is in the process of abandoning its mission. Google's stated mission is to organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. RSS is a way that a small number of us organize our information. Google no longer cares. It seems what they care about is mass-markets...
"Abandoning its mission"? "Google no longer cares"? Any minute now, you sense, someone is going to accuse Google of not understanding them, before stamping their foot, walking out and slamming the door behind them, their lip quivering with helpless indignation at the unfairness of Google's behaviour.