Friday 4 December 2015

"We transformed digital delivery for the UK government"

You probably can't read the image above. Not easily. What it says is:

Public Digital Ltd was incorporated on 12 October 2015. It has £4 of share capital, nil paid-up, and a Twitter account with one follower.


Updated 5.12.15


Grateful hat tip: Gerry Gavigan

"... we use our ‘inside government’ experience of to advise and support governments and international institutions on practical strategies for enduring change" – that's what it says on Slide #3 of the presentation, followed by "we have ... worked on IT enabled transformation with over 30 governments, across five continents".

There are eight reasons why government IT projects fail, #2 is "lack of focus on understanding and segmenting user needs", according to Slide #5, and #4 is "lack of effective engagement with stakeholders".

Then Slide #6 comes up with a ninth reason: "IT projects fail because there is no such thing as an IT project … there are only IT-enabled business change projects".

Do Messrs Bracken et al really hope that this presentation will make governments believe that can help and cause them to get in touch,


Because it's not their presentation.

The quotations above come from a July 2006 presentation given by gov³™, government for the third millennium™.

Since you ask, "Gov3 is THE global strategic consultancy for governments ... launched in September 2004 by the core team in the UK’s Office of the eEnvoy".

Gov3 Ltd, company no. 05126620, was wound up on 28 July 2009, a liquidator was appointed and its dissolution was finally gazetted a year and a day ago on 3 December 2014.

You can find all the relevant documents on the Companies House website. The old Companies House website. Not the new Companies House website, which has been transformed under the influence of GDS and no longer shows the documents. On the old website, you have to pay £1 for each document. The documents are free now. But there aren't any documents.

The bad old days


Updated 10.12.15

"We transformed digital delivery for the UK government". That's what it says on the web page. That's the shoutline. offers consultancy in leadership, strategy, transformation and design.

One of the £4 company's four shareholders is Tom Loosemore.

Whether Mr Loosemore was wearing his leadership hat at the time, or strategy or transformation or design, whichever, he told the Australians six weeks ago that he and his colleagues didn't transform digital delivery for the UK government. Not a bit of it. What they actually did was to "put lipstick on pigs":

This is a more than cosmetic transformation of the company's shoutline:
  • What can his fellow shareholders make of Mr Loosemore's hand-brake turn?
  • How do the staff left behind at the Government Digital Service (GDS) feel about this revelation by their sometime leader?
  • What is the correct response for all the UK ministers and officials who have been lured in the past into effusive endorsements of GDS's putative transformational successes?
  • Will a lot of journalists have to publish/broadcast retractions of their earlier pronouncements?
  • It's a quandary for the digital services of other governments the world over who have based their business cases on the shaky platform of GDS's achievements.
  • And what are the prospective clients of supposed to think?

Updated 12.12.15

Rocket science. But not as we know it.

Thursday 10 December 2015 saw the news from Argentina begin to surface on Twitter. They're starting their own government digital service, modelled on the UK's GDS.

Just supposing the Argentinians approached for a bit of advice, what do you think Messrs Bracken, Loosemore, et al would say? Apart from woooop.

Synchronicitously enough, the next day saw an interview with Tom Loosemore published in Computing magazine.

The interview includes all his usual aperçus on Victorian London's sewage system. First he told the Americans. Then the Australians. Next the Argentinians?

No doubt. But this time there's more. Mr Loosemore has noticed that, whereas politicians come and go, public officials are permanent:
"If you're a minister you've only got one or two people that really support you - your special advisers. Civil servants are there for the duration. Most of them are brilliant by the way but bureaucracies exist to protect bureaucracies. It takes a war or a space race to change institutional shape and allow the introduction of new institutions with different roles" ...

In August GDS director Mike Bracken left the government to join the Co-operative Group, and his erstwhile colleagues Russell Davies, Ben Terett and Tom Loosemore soon followed. Loosemore cites slow progress and the bureaucracy described above as being behind this decision.
Would advise Argentina to form a co-operative? Maybe.

Would they advise Argentina to go to war? Unlikely. War isn't really their bag. "Internet jibba jabba". That's what they're into:

That leaves just one option – expect the announcement of the Argentinian space programme any day now.

Updated 18.12.15

Awfully good of him, of course, to try to "educate parliament". Perhaps the UK parliament really was too ignorant to understand the dangers of the "database state". That seems unlikely but it's irrelevant anyway as aren't marketing in the UK, only abroad. What they're looking for is ignorant overseas governments.

If you are an overseas government, the question is do you want to govern a database state or not? If you don't then, judging by the tweet above, Tom Loosemore is your man. Him and They clearly wouldn't advise Estonia, for example.

But it's more complicated than that. Take a look at the picture below. What is it, if not the very picture of the "database state"?

That layer at the bottom, the Registers layer, is what Mr Loosemore himself calls the "single source of truth".

It's his picture. His picture of the ideal state, where benevolent decisions are made on the basis of knowing everything about people.


"Platform". This is Government as a Platform (GaaP). This is's premium product. This is what the Victorians would have deployed if only they hadn't got bogged down with sewers. This is what any innovative administration would do if only it was bold enough, you have to be bold, it's a mistake not to be, that's what Mr Loosemore says. To everyone. The Americans. The Australians. Everyone, maybe even Argentina.

"Hang on a minute", you may say, "that's unfair, Mr Loosemore insists on a Trust and Consent layer in his picture. Trust and consent are to be enforced by parliament. To object that that wouldn't work is to say you don't believe in democracy".

That argument is worth consideration. It's still an argument in favour of the database state. of course. But it's a database state by consent.

Consider this. Who would give their consent? Not Mr Loosemore. That's for sure. He had to warn an ignorant parliament in the 1990s about the dangers of the database state. He must think that consent is for other people. Inferior people. That's not very democratic of him.

He's got a credibility problem. Look at his survivors in the Government Digital Service (GDS). Like Paul Downey, the author of Linking Registers. Barely is Mr Loosemore out of GDS's doors than Mr Downey produces this picture:

A Registers layer and a Services layer and nothing in between. No Trust and Consent called for and none offered. GDS aren't serious about trust and consent. All they can see is a state that knows better what you need than you do. Which is why there's no need for trust and consent.

For the rest of us, the database state picture is wrong for another reason. A state that thinks it needs all that knowledge about us is a state that has exceeded its remit. There are places where a democratic state doesn't go. Total knowledge is only sought and required by totalitarian states.

Mr Loosemore has a fond but unjustified belief that the database state would lead to "efficiency".

Call it what you like but no thank you.

Updated 6.2.18

"Right now, we are Mike Bracken, Russell Davies, Tom Loosemore and Ben Terrett". That was then. December 2015. A year ago today Russell Davies resigned as a director of Public Digital Ltd according to Companies House. Fair enough. People move on.

18 December 2017, Andrew David Greenway was appointed a director, Merry Christmas Mr Greenway.

Mr Greenway is one of the banshees who always seem to be upset by changes at the Government Digital Service (GDS) but can never explain why. "Meanwhile, GDS is following the course charted by other successful centralised reformers in government. Icarus-like soaring for a few years. The occasional flutter of feathers. Then a headlong dive into the timeless, inky depths of the bureaucratic abyss. The sun always rises, Whitehall always wins". That's what Mr Greenway said in August 2016.

He was at it again yesterday in Civil Service World magazine, The dismembering of the Government Digital Service is underway.

That follows two articles last week by our favourite banshee, Derek du Preez, Exclusive – GDS to lose control of Data Policy, being handed to DCMS and DCMS wants GDS lock, stock and barrel – Manzoni fighting to retain control. Both articles centre on GDS's loss of influence and the attempt by the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) to supplant them, news to Mr du Preez but noted by DMossEsq last December.

The banshees are excoriating about the lack of leadership and direction at GDS and DCMS. Nothing is being delivered by way of digital government. It's all just talk, talk, talk and no action. That's what Messrs du Preez and Greenway both say.

But in that case, what is there to bewail in the demise of GDS? Disruption is a good thing according to the revolutionaries who set up GDS and disruption begins at home. If GDS has turned out to be a damp squib, let it sink. The faster the better. That's how a healthy ecosystem deals with its failed adaptations.

(An unhealthy ecosystem prolongs their existence for years at a time by extending ludicrously cheap credit with the result that the final collapse is more painful than it could have been. But that's another Carillion-type story.)

Messrs du Preez and Greenway must know that. Mr du Preez could say it. Mr Greenway, as a recently appointed director of Public Digital, probably has to be a little more circumspect.

"We transformed digital delivery for the UK government"

You probably can't read the image above. Not easily. What it says is:

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":

"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.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Ear tags for goats and the case of the missing platform

One week to go before the Chancellor's Autumn Statement and we know just two things about Government as a Platform (GaaP):
And that's it. There are four platforms, according to GDS. And no others.

Or are there? Are there some other platforms knocking around which GDS for some reason fails to mention?

Take a look at the Government Gateway.

And take a look at the screen shot below which lists the six public services DMossEsq is enrolled in via the Government Gateway and the 62 others he could be enrolled in (including the Sheep and Goats Ear Tag Allocation System for Animal ID Manufacturers).

Through this one gateway, we can all transact with many UK government departments including DEFRA, DVLA, DWP, HMRC, and so on. The Government Gateway is a platform. Individuals can use it and so can organisations. We've been able to use it for the past 15 years. HMRC relies on the Government Gateway to collect PAYE and National Insurance and VAT and Corporation Tax. And the UK relies on HMRC collecting that revenue to pay for public services.

And yet if you poke around GDS's performance platform, there's no sign of it. The Government Gateway isn't mentioned. How many accounts are there? No idea. How many transactions have been completed to date? No idea. What is the value of those transactions? No idea. How much does the Government Gateway cost? No idea.

The Government Gateway has been starved of funds for years. It's amazing that it still works. The UK depends on it. But all GDS want to talk about is their four home-grown platforms, two of which aren't live. They've framed their bids to the Chancellor in terms of those four platforms. And they may thereby have misled the Chancellor by excluding the Government Gateway from their briefing.

What the well dressed ram about town is wearing this season
When HM Treasury come to consider GDS's bids, they may want to know why GDS have spent the past four years not maintaining the Government Gateway. Why have GDS instead spent four years on not producing GOV.UK Verify (RIP), an identity assurance system that has trouble registering people, can't register companies or partnerships or trusts, and is nowhere near putting ear tags on the UK's sheep and goats?

  • DMossEsq has several Government Gateway accounts.
  • Listed below are the six public services he is enrolled in via just one of those accounts ...
  • ... and the 62 other public services, some of which he may well be enrolled in via other accounts.

Updated 19.11.15

The Government Digital Service (GDS) took the decision very early in its young life to get rid of the Government Gateway, which they still haven't done, and to replace it with a new identity assurance system, which they also still haven't done.

4 November 2011, and ex-Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE ex-CDO ex-CDO, ex-executive director of GDS and ex-senior responsible owner of the identity assurance scheme now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)", publishes Establishing trust in digital services:
... a lot has moved on in the dozen years since Government Gateway was developed and we have a lot of work to do to develop solutions that work for users in the many contexts that they'll need them.
Ten days later, 14 November 2011, and someone posted a comment on the GDS blog post with two questions for Mr Bracken:
Presumably you want to build a brand new replacement [for the Government Gateway]. But why? Isn't that wasteful? That’s question 2.
It's not as though he wasn't warned. Quickly. Four years ago. And several times since. Once, 16 October 2012, we even drew a map, to help. But question 2 has never been answered.

Mr Bracken has gone, the Government Gateway platform is still there working for users in 68 of the contexts in which they need it, GOV.UK Verify (RIP) still isn't, and it has no replacement senior responsible owner.

Updated 20.11.15

The current state of the art of UK Government as a Platform according to the Government Digital Service (GDS)  is shown in this table and, less easily readable, below.

GOV.UK Verify (RIP) gets a lot of publicity but is still in test mode and faces all the well-rehearsed problems including a low level of identity assurance. The performance platform and the digital marketplace are also still in test mode, the transformation platform has sunk and the payments platform doesn't exist at all.

That leaves the publishing platform, GOV.UK, as the only live platform created by GDS and several other live platforms that GDS never mention including the all-important Government Gateway:

UK government platforms – the state of the art according to GDS
Platform Purpose Status* Mentioned by GDS ID #
GOV.UK Publishing Live Frequently, normally in the context of being "award-winning". 1
GOV.UK Verify (RIP) Identity assurance, for transacting with government and for use by private sector entrepreneurial apps Public beta Frequently and, so they say, openly, in order to build trust. 2
Performance Performance measurement of public services Public beta Rarely, but please see for example Telling stories with data: the Performance Platform as a tool for digital engagement. 3
Pay Payments (unidirectional, from people to government) Alpha With growing frequency, please see GDS to handle Govt payments? What could possibly go wrong?. 4
Government Gateway Transacting with government Live Sparingly and only ever to criticise despite the fact that the Government Gateway must by now in its 15-year life have been instrumental in raising several trillion pounds in tax to fund public services. 5
DirectGov Transacting with government Live Frequently mentioned in the past, normally in the context of having been replaced by GOV.UK. It hasn't been replaced by GOV.UK, that claim is false, try applying for a blue badge for example, you'll find yourself on The false claim that DirectGov has been replaced by GOV.UK has now, after several years, been removed from the GOV.UK home page. 6
BusinessLink Transacting with government Live Frequently mentioned in the past, normally in the context of having been replaced by GOV.UK. It hasn't been replaced by GOV.UK, that claim is false, try registering as an employer offering a job on the Universal Jobmatch service, you'll find yourself on DirectGov's The false claim that BusinessLink has been replaced by GOV.UK has now, after several years, been removed from the GOV.UK home page. 7
Transformation Transforming government Dead Frequently mentioned in the past, subsequently archived, after which the GDS director of transformation transferred to Methods Digital, a consultancy providing services to government. The Methods Group, of which Methods Digital is a member, "came up with the concept for NHS Jobs which was the first national ‘open’ web platform for public sector services in the UK, and has saved the NHS over £1Billion". GDS sometimes float the idea of a pan-government prison-visiting platform. But they never mention the NHS Jobs platform. 8
AdServer Serve relevant advertisements to people while they're transacting with government or afterwards None Never. But. The attempt to identify cross-government platform services pre-dates GDS's birth in 2011. The G-Digital Programme, for example, conducted a survey and published their findings in January 2010. They produced a list of Business Services (please see p.9), candidates to be shared across government, including for example an email alerts service, case management, complaints-handling and ... an ad server. That's one of the platforms the respondents to the survey wanted even if GDS don't mention it. C.f. Verizon, one of GDS's "identity providers" for GOV.UK Verify (RIP), quoted on "Ultimately, we don’t see ourselves as a data provider; we see ourselves as an ad platform that helps brands and consumers connect". 9, 10, ...
Please see GDS's Service design phases. *

With regard to DirectGov and BusinessLink, this is what the GOV.UK home page looked like two years ago on 11 November 2013:

Zoom in, and this is what you saw:

That false claim to have replaced DirectGov and BusinessLink has now at last been removed from the GOV.UK home page. It wasn't true two years ago and it still isn't true now.

Updated 24.11.15 1

The alert reader will have spotted that there is a reference to the Digital Marketplace in the 20 November 2015 update above but that the Digital Marketplace doesn't appear in the accompanying table.

How did this happen?

Clearly DMossEsq forgot about the Digital Marketplace until the last minute before publication and inserted a quick reference into the text even though it was too late to update the accompanying table. Not good, but there is some excuse – GDS themselves tend to forget about the Digital Marketplace and that failure is catching.

Take for example this blog post by ex-Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE ex-CDO ex-CDO, ex-executive director of GDS and ex-senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)", Government as a Platform: the next phase of digital transformation.

He remembers to mention GOV.UK and GOV.UK Verify (RIP). He omits to mention the Digital Marketplace.

Which is odd, because the Digital Marketplace (previously known as "G-Cloud") is actually live, unlike GOV.UK Verify (RIP), and it's even quite successful.

Although not as successful as its current boss Tony Singleton OBE claims:

Spot the 2,433% rise

"Astronomical growth"? "Rise of 2,433%"?

It is tempting to describe that figure as misleading. If a public company calculated its turnover growth to date the way Mr Singleton does and printed the result in its accounts, it would be caned. And any investment manager claiming to have achieved a return calculated that way would be fined ...

Updated 24.11.15 2

... which brings us to the question of analytics.

The Digital Marketplace/G-Cloud is used by central and local government to buy digital services. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the government procurement of digital services was growing astronomically and had risen by 2,433% he would be the butt of excoriating derision.

Measuring the performance of the executive branch of government is the subject of Whitehall Monitor 2015, recently published by the Institute for Government (IfG). The data used in these measurements needs to be "complete, consistent and accurate", the IfG say, it needs to amount to information, i.e. it needs to say something meaningful and help us to understand what is happening, and it needs to be usable as evidence, i.e. we should be able to base executive decisions on this data.

Measuring the performance of the executive branch of government is, in other words, a serious matter. How serious are GDS in their post Telling stories with data: the Performance Platform as a tool for digital engagement which appears on their Digital Engagement blog?

The rubric of GDS's Digital Engagement blog says: "On this blog we share how we use digital channels to engage with users ...; plus a candid view of what’s worked for us and what hasn't".

Is that true?

DEFRA's digital rural payments system collapsed. Farmers are having to use a manual system to apply for their basic payments. Digital engagement failed. Does the blog provide "a candid view of what’s worked for us and what hasn't"? Not a bit of it. The GDS/DEFRA débâcle isn't mentioned. And yet the blog post says "at GDS we want our communications to be open, agile and user focussed. Transparent communication builds trust with users".

It also says: "Sometimes we publish statistics that can lead to a bad news story. We have to, that’s just another aspect of being transparent". It would have been transparent to discuss the DEFRA system. But GDS haven't. And public trust is impugned as a result.

"The Performance Platform is really helpful ... as on it you’ll find a lot of data about GOV.UK services. It’s a tool that allows us to communicate the progress of public service development with greater transparency, as the service dashboards provide a clear record of the life of a service."

Really? There is no dashboard for the the Government Gateway, Nor for the Digital Marketplace, "The Performance Platform makes public the data we have about how services are working. It can be a fantastic starting point for reports, presentations, and blog content" – but not for stories about the Government Gateway or the Digital Marketplace.

"Reporters can get overview of the digital transformation work that’s underway from a reliable source, at any time". Can they? The Performance Platform says that the identity assurance platform GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is being used by 8 public services whereas the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) team say it is being used by 13. Which source is reliable?

"Sometimes there will be a situation where the statistics are not enough by themselves. You still need to figure out what story best goes with those facts."

That's true.

Look at the VAT dashboard. There are about 5 million "transactions per quarter". Does that mean that HMRC receive about 5 million VAT returns per quarter? Yes. But there's a wrinkle. The Performance Platform includes new VAT registrations in that figure of 5 million – "Data for declaration form submissions, amended submissions and registrations". Why confuse these two categories? Why not be transparent, reduce confusion and have two separate informative dials on the dashboard, one for VAT returns submitted and one for VAT registrations?

3 November 2015
The Minister for Cabinet Office Matt Hancock spoke about data-driven government at the Open Data Institute (ODI) summit

The digital platforms we’re building, led by the brilliant GDS, will depend on strong data foundations.
Or look at the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) dashboard. There have been 757,000 verifications (or "authentications") since inception. That figure comprises 185,000 "basic accounts", 314,000 "verified accounts" and 257,000 "sign-ins".

The platform is mixing up registrations and verifications. 499,000 user IDs have been registered (185,000 + 314,000). But the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) team have stopped talking about "registrations". Possibly because that word implies that there is a register. They refer instead to "verifying your identity for the first time". But registration is different from the subsequent use of your on-line ID to claim a redundancy payment, for example, and the two should have separate dials on the dashboard.

Claiming a redundancy is one of the "government services" the dashboard claims that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) can be used for. It also lists "rural payments". But there is no digital rural payments system, see above.

"Basic accounts" are by definition accounts that haven't been verified. Why are they being mixed up with "verified accounts"?

Do the 257,000 "sign-ins" include people signing in with a basic account? We don't know. The Performance Platform doesn't tell us.

In the week to 22 November 2015 the "authentication creation success rate" was 67%. Does creating a basic, unverified account count as a success?

In the same week, the "authentication success rate" was 77% but the "authentication completion rate" was only 28%:
  • How is a journalist supposed to use this dashboard to tell a meaningful story?
  • Would the IfG consider that this data amounts to information?
  • How could an official make a policy proposal based on this data?
  • And how on earth is a minister supposed to make a decision?
The Performance Platform has been open for business since April 2014. It's supposed to provide a new operating model for government. They may call it a "platform". But as platforms go it seems awful unsteady.

Ear tags for goats and the case of the missing platform

One week to go before the Chancellor's Autumn Statement and we know just two things about Government as a Platform (GaaP):
And that's it. There are four platforms, according to GDS. And no others.

Or are there? Are there some other platforms knocking around which GDS for some reason fails to mention?

Thursday 12 November 2015

Warwickshire and the missing attribute – progress

It is just over a month since we last reported on blue badges.

For anyone who doesn't know, the UK Blue Badge Scheme "provides a range of parking and other motoring concessions for people who are registered blind or have severe mobility problems".

Tthere has been an agile flurry of blue badge digital activity in the last 24 hours. @helenolsen wants you to know that Warwickshire are working on an attribute exchange hub for blue badge applications. So do @ukalocaldigital, @UKAuthority, @LDgovUK and @localdirectgov.

Their common source is an article on the website:
Warwickshire works on attributes hub

Project with GDS focuses on more flexible approach to identity assurance

Warwickshire County Council is taking the lead on a project to develop a hub for the exchange of attributes connected to people’s identities.

Although the project is still at an early prototype stage, the council hopes it could complement GOV.UK Verify [RIP] in providing a model for all the public sector to use in proving someone’s eligibility for specific services with the minimum exchange of data ...
Warwickshire County Council have worked on GOV.UK Verify (RIP) with the Government Digital Service before. It didn't go well.

GOV.UK Verify (RIP) was still known as "IDA" at the time, Identity Assurance. And the Open Identity Exchange (OIX) reported on the Warwickshire experience. OIX are GDS's business partner and they said:
  • It was hard to match people's names and addresses.
  • There were "shortcomings in the user journey".
  • It was hard to get the level of identity assurance up from 1 (self-certification) to 2 (evidence satisfactory in a civil court) let alone the level 3 required for a criminal court.
  • Registration was a "convoluted process".
  • Users couldn't understand why their identity was being verified by private sector companies instead of the government, ...
The private sector companies involved in the Warwickshire test included three of GDS's "identity providers" – Mydex, PayPal and Verizon.

PayPal were the last of the eight "identity providers" to sign up to GDS's first framework agreement for GOV.UK Verify (RIP). No reason has ever been given why it took longer to sign them up than the other seven nor why PayPal abandoned GOV.UK Verify (RIP) after the Warwickshire test.

But they did. PayPal pulled out. No reason given. Cassidian and Ingeus had pulled out before PayPal. No reason given. And Mydex, who had always been the most voluble proponents of GOV.UK Verify (RIP), never delivered a service. No reason given.

Thus it is that GDS's corps of private sector company "identity providers" is currently down from eight members to four – Experian, Digidentity, the Post Office and Verizon. Membership should soon rise, though, to nine. Under their second framework agreement, GDS are adding five more "identity providers", including PayPal, who clearly have some trouble making up their mind about GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

The OIX report about the shortcomings of the GOV.UK Verify (RIP) user journey was published in May 2014 and was co-authored by one Ian Litton.

By October 2014, Mr Litton – Strategy, Programme and Information Manager, Warwickshire County Council – was more sanguine:
  • Writing in, please see Attribute Exchange Discovery Project, he now identified a "wow factor" when people saw, in a test, how easy it could be to apply on-line for a blue badge compared with the current postal application process.
  • People were no longer baffled by the private sector being involved in providing them with a GOV.UK Verify (RIP) identity.
  • The user journey had become limpidly clear to the vulnerable 60+ applicants.
  • There were no problems matching people's names and addresses as recorded by the "identity providers" on the one hand, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the other and the Department for Transport (DfT) on the third.
  • The level of identity assurance was adequate for DWP to confirm that an applicant was disabled and for DfT to issue a blue badge.
This is attribute exchange in action. Or rather it would be if the users had been connected to DWP and DfT. But they weren't, "we built proof of concept screens". The research results bulleted above including the "wow factor" are based on the users' reaction to a mock-up of the putative blue badge application service.

Being disabled is an "attribute" in the language of GOV.UK Verify (RIP) and, once that attribute is confirmed by DWP, DfT should be confident enough to issue a blue badge. DWP, in turn, should be confident enough that they're dealing with the right person on-line thanks to the applicant being registered with GDS's GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

Would DWP, DfT and GDS be right to feel sufficiently confident in the level of identity assurance offered for this attribute exchange?

OIX think not. They warn that the "identity providers" are having trouble reaching level of assurance 2 (civil court). And, surely anomalous, baffling in fact, GDS are currently working hard on producing "basic" GOV.UK Verify (RIP) accounts, unverified accounts, self-certification, with the lowly level of assurance 1.

GOV.UK Verify (RIP) may become a hub of verified unverified accounts but Mr Litton was optimistic enough a year ago to announce that:
Warwickshire and GDS are now working on an Alpha project with two of the identity providers, Verizon and Mydex, to deliver a working prototype of attribute exchange.
And he was still smiling optimistically in yesterday's article which is where we came in, please see above, Warwickshire works on attributes hub.

How far have Warwickshire progressed beyond their "proof of concept screens"? The "Alpha project" announced by Mr Litton a year ago is "still at an early prototype stage" a year later.

Are Mydex still involved? Are Warwickshire relying on personal data stores (PDSs) to support attribute exchange? There are problems with PDSs. Security. Control. Convenience. Irrelevance. PDSs could be slowing down progress on attribute exchange.

It's difficult to get identity assurance working. More difficult than Russell Davies thought a year ago when he said: "Government thinks it's really complex, but digitally it's about the complexity of a medium-sized dating site". Also known as @undermanager, Mr Davies was GDS's director of strategy at the time. He's gone now.

There doesn't seem to be any progress for @helenolsen, @ukalocaldigital, @UKAuthority, @LDgovUK and @localdirectgov to enthuse about. It looks more as though last year's article on attribute exchange has merely been reprinted.

"We’re trying to engage with the private sector to show how it can work for them", says Mr Litton in yesterday's article. Good luck with that. The first attribute the private sector are going to look for is how it works for local government. And as far as we know it still doesn't.


Updated 29.3.16

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) runs a Local Digital campaign.

Most government is local government. Local authorities do the work. Local authorities man the front line. It's local authorities who deliver services, in the main, not central government.

Local Digital aims to improve local government through the use of IT.

Fair enough.

But why are they looking to central government for their lead? They're looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

They had a Local Digital boondoggle on 16 March 2016.

First the head of policy and departmental engagement from the Government Digital Service (GDS) explained to the assembled delegates how to solve problems by using buzzwords. That was central government.

Then Ian Litton spoke on the subject of Developing a local role for [GOV.UK Verify (RIP)]. He's local government ...

... and he's been working with four central government satrapies – GDS, DWP, DfT and DCLG – for 2½ years to try to get blue badges working, please see above.

2½ years and the poor man still only has a prototype.

Local government has nothing useful to learn from GDS. Turn the telescope round. It's GDS who need to learn from local government.

Updated 1.5.16

Hard to believe, but the Government Digital Service (GDS) continue to tour the country lecturing local government about identity management:
Second GOV.UK Verify [RIP] workshop for local authorities
by Louis Stockwell | Apr 28, 2016 | Identity and Attribute exchange | 0 comments

24 representatives from 18 councils attended the second GDS GOV.UK Verify [RIP] workshop for local authorities on 19th April 2016, hosted in Warwick ...
It is dutiful of local government to put up with these sessions, and polite of course, but do they really have the time to spare?

It's a problem – local government needs identity management. Local government in many cases has a selection of solutions in operation. Local government is best placed to work out its own solutions.

As of Friday 29 April 2016 it has become more obvious than perhaps it was before that GDS have nothing to offer local government.

Updated 15.7.16

"Today we held the first of 2 discovery days to examine how local authority taxi licensing, concessionary travel and parking permit services might be improved using GOV.UK Verify [RIP] and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) services ... this is the first opportunity we’ve had to bring together more than 40 colleagues from 27 local authorities across the country". That's what the Government Digital Service say about their latest GOV.UK Verify (RIP) boondoggle.

GDS also said:
Lessons from an authority that’s done it all before
Participants heard from Ian Litton from Warwickshire County Council.
"Real time attribute exchange builds trust, increases transparency, and reduces the complexity of services for users and for service providers."
Ian worked on a project with the Open Identity Exchange looking at attribute exchange as a common way to transform multiple services.
The casual reader, on seeing that Warwickshire County Council has done it all before – where "it" takes the values real time attribute exchange and trust and transparency and reduction of complexity – might rashly conclude that Warwickshire County Council has done it all before.

It hasn't.

Warwickshire County Council and Ian Litton and the Open Identity Exchange are the first to tell you that they were only using prototypes: "During the course of this project we built prototypes of the Blue Badge and Residential Parking Bay services and tested these with citizens" (p.3).

Knocking up a prototype is nothing like having a real service available. It does not amount to having "done it all before" and it is confusing to suggest that it does.

GDS will no doubt wish to clear up this unfortunate confusion at the first opportunity.