Government Procurement – Ideal Government What do we want from Internet-age government? Wouldn't it be better if... Sun, 12 Aug 2012 09:49:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Time to say what we want from government IT Fri, 18 Dec 2009 10:54:19 +0000 It’s time to say what we want from government IT.

Let’s do this together. Let’s say “wouldn’t it be better if” about how tech affects transparency, costs and the quality of public services and how they affect our lives.

@ntouk and I have long since been fed up with what one senior Whitehall official yesterday called “this £trillion attempt to drag us into 1983”. Many of us have had a go at the draft government IT strategy on the Opposition’s makeITbetter site. Officials across Whitehall are now furiously revising it, so let’s hope the final published version is better.

Meanwhile we can speak freely. We can look to the realities of the wider world, and we don’t have to pretend that everything to date has been fine. Now it’s time to find our voice and say what we want.

The Centre for Technology Policy Research and IdealGov are launching a six-week competition, which everyone wins. Everyone who contributes is invited to a party. And everyone can, like, bring stuff (as we did to mypublicservices).

Practicalities. Please add any comments of suggestions about the process to this post. The final crowd-sourced “White paper of Wibbi” will be created on an open wiki here. Please feel free to register and edit, or to add comments at the end.

Party: IdealGov and CTPR are chipping in £1000 to the launch party to which everyone who has contributed is invited. There will be prizes including signed photos of our very own tech mandarin Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom.

Political engagement:An Opposition front bench team has already agreed to listen attentively to our results. We have also extended invitations to Labour and LibDem leaderships and to officials to attend the party or have the results presented. [UPDATE: Big news: still on day one and we’ve now also heard back that this will get presented to a LibDem front bench team and to the people drafting the Labour manifesto. This is subject to the project attracting enough substantial input of quality. So this is now definitely an opportunity to put good ideas in front of all three main UK parties. We’re also up for inviting SNP, Plaid & Greens to launch party. Everyone needs a good government IT policy.]]

This initiative is formally adopting the principles of #CMRD, the “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” called for last week by Michael Wills and first practised at an Intellect/Identity and Passport Service event this week.

Above all, we need to state in plain lay terms the role of contempory technology in future public services should be. Specifically, our work will need to cover off the main headings:

– governance of public-sector IT
– technical architecture which supports the real-world intention
– procurement of technology and tech-based services
– design that works for front line staff and users
– basis for participative public services
– public data
– personal data
– trust, dignity & legality under human rights & DP law
– political engagement, openness and trust in the political process
– and above all saving vast, vast amounts of money.

This is not a time to splash out. The country’s broke. So first we need to spend less on IT, existing contracts notwithstanding. But then it’s two orders of magnitude more important that our IT plans support far more efficient public services.

Suggesting we deploy hundreds of PA consultants (or Deloitte or whoever) to mooch around filling out timesheets and expense claims for absurd day rates is not going to get you invited to the party. But any suggestion that draws the best expertise available into the gift economy (and by no means are all consultants nitwits) is most welcome.

This project is not a platform for venting anger at wrong headedness or past mediocrity (whoops! did I just do it? Old habits…) Take that frustration but use it to say what you want in the spirit of the #CMRD. Please bring your beliefs, principles, and passion, but the IdealGov and CTPR moderators will give short shrift to anything actionable or which reeks of partisan preconceptions. Scepticism is justified, but cynicism not.

We may need a “babies and bathwater” section to set out for controversial systems such as CfH or the ID Scheme what must go but what also should be retained. We should give praise where due, eg for Power of Information work. And our suggestions must be practical enough to keep the lights on, ie to keep essential services running uninterrupted while new and better plans emerge.

Contributions from all stakeholders are welcome: officials, industry, front line staff, anyone who speaks from personal experience of public services. Pertinent Art is always welcome, because it can speak to our condition so powerfully.

We last did this in 2004, remember. Now its time to do it again.

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What of long-term IT contracts still being signed under Labour administration? Sun, 06 Dec 2009 12:09:47 +0000 From The Times

Francis Maude, the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, has written to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, calling for a moratorium on the £100bn of government IT contracts in the pipeline.

This raises a load of questions. What’s the list of contracts? Is it complete and definitive?

One can imagine suppliers are lobbying hard to to rush through signing contracts for all they’re worth, before the party’s over. But what is the sense of urgency of Labour Ministers? Do they perceive a “moral duty” to press on with ContactPoint, CfH or the ID Scheme? Or is there a deliberate “scorched earth” policy to make life as difficult as possible for their likely successors, to maximise their political discomfort?

How are the officials behaving, I wonder. Would they press on with their pet schemes, or merely implement what remains of the will of the present administration? Clearly signing major contracts ties the hands of the likely new administration, unless there are break clauses in the event of an election (and I’ve never heard of such). Clearly, too, it’s likely to embed the politically controversial tendency towards a centraslised, authoritarian database state. So an incoming Tory administration could truthfully say “our hands are tied”.

The authoritarian control phreaks will have won, and PA et al will have walked off with our cash. Both would be irreversible.

UPDATE: As I was writing that the Beeb carries a story saying they reckon Labour will axe CfH

Chancellor Alistair Darling said he would be halting parts of the scheme in Wednesday’s pre-Budget Report as it was “not essential to the frontline……You know, for example, the NHS had a quite expensive IT system that you know, frankly, isn’t essential to the frontline…It’s something that I think we don’t need to go ahead with just now.”

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Do we have a government IT “fat cats” issue? Fri, 27 Nov 2009 14:13:41 +0000 The storm clouds that lashed the fat-cat bankers and expense-extracting MPs may now be shifting over to government IT suppliers with excessive profit margins and senior government IT staff with over-generous pay packages. The Daily Mail had a pop at Mike Mackay of the Youth Justice Board in August (and fair enough, I’d have thought, the country would be a better place if taxpayers paid him £350k NOT to push forward the “wiring up youth justice” plans). Now it may spread, to judge by some questions put to me recently (not that I know any answers).

One of Gordon Brown’s favoured efficiency czars muttered to me once over breakfast that what Whitehall called CIOs were, as a rule, merely overpaid IT project managers. Seems a bit harsh: surely these people sit on the Board, and are in a position to make services vastly better and contribute immense savings?

What’s the evidence? Do IT suppliers make excessive margins, or get paid for work that serves no useful purpose for the taxpayer? Are government CIOs overpaid for their level of responsibility, or by comparison to private-sector counterparts? Or is this all bar-room grumbling by disgruntled competitors and people with less successful careers?

Leave a comment or drop me a line if you want to be more discreet.

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RB Windsor & Maidenhead’s transparency drive Wed, 25 Nov 2009 11:49:38 +0000 Interesting post on transparency in government by Liam Maxwell on the Conservative local government blog:

…Once you have gone through the obvious and straightforward, many of the sustainable cost savings we need to generate come through changing peoples’ behaviour: to become more cost effective, to continually recognise and eliminate even small amounts of waste.

That requires personal responsibility and that requires visibility of the problem – hence our push for transparency.

The Transparency Initiative

The Royal Borough Windsor & Maidenhead council has embarked on a process of continuing, increasing transparency and openness.

Some of the initiatives are:

* Procurement: every piece of expenditure over £500 is published (except things like individual residents’ payments for personal care).
* Smart Metering allows residents to see, in real time, how much power is being used in public buildings – you can see this in action here.
* Tables are published of what meetings Councillors attended and which they missed.
* We’ve expanded the number of Overview and Scrutiny Committees from one to five and every Cabinet decision has to be commented on by them.
* Expenses: every expense claim by councillors is published, no matter how small.

Liam’s author of the CPS It’s Ours paper which proposed broadly VRM-like solutions for public-service IT. While he’s putting these principles into practice in RB Windsor & Maindenhead, he’s also clearly signalling that he thinks they have a role to play in opposition IT policy for Whitehall.

Is this working in Windsor? Is the same (or more) being done elsewhere? Does it translate to the national scene? Very glad of your comments.

Jerry Fishenden on how we “force quit” the Benighted ID Scheme Fri, 19 Jun 2009 18:21:01 +0000 http://jerry_fishenden_on_how_we_force_quit_the_benighted_id_scheme Oh hurrah. Jerry “The Thunderer” Fishenden is a free man. His NTOUK blog no longer refers to Microsoft UK’s national technical officer, but to Jerry’s own New Technological Observations from UK perspective.

He’s also serving up it with hot salsa in The Register. Topic One: the Benighted ID Card Scheme:

UK Identity Card 1.0 is in deep trouble. It’s running late, and if the Conservative Party wins next year’s election it’ll be scrapped. Its original architect has changed his mind, and even some Cabinet members are starting to see it as a needless expense. But if we pull the plug, what then?

The cards may go away, but the issue won’t. Problems associated with identity, privacy and security will remain burning issues facing both the technology industry and wider society. But the irony is that the UK is well placed to develop a model identity framework for the 21st Century. Unlike many other countries, we don’t have the problems of any existing, legacy national identity scheme to encumber us. We have a clean slate. We could have got this right and shown the art of the possible.

Read the whole thing.

Jerry is a former public-service IT director, former officer of da House, well connected politically and brainier and more creative than most people you come across in a lifetime. He’s always been pretty to the point. Now the constraints of corporate-speak are cast aside I’m looking forward to many more instalments.

This first issue he hits is right on the money. His former employer (along with BT and very few others) have consistently talked sense on it. The axis of Home Office-Intellect is locking down big contracts for bad systems destined for technical, social and political failure. But the answers have long been there, if only people were to ask the right questions.

So let’s hit Control-Alt-Delete on the current system and get that reboot started.

Great start Jerry – thanks.

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Reflections on the Wikileak of the Benighted Scheme’s NDA Mon, 08 Dec 2008 01:41:01 +0000 http://reflections_on_the_wikileak_of_the_benighted_schemes_nda In a week that has seen the launch of the wonderful Us Now film and fallout from the Damian Green arrest it’s fair to wonder:

How will the porous information-sharing made possible by the internet affect those in power?

To put it differently:

As we increasingly get our act together by self-organising, how are we going to coexist happily with the legacy of coercive control freaks?

The latest leak to come through Phil “hardest man in NGO-world” Booth takes us deep into the power and control-crazed vision of group-think-world. Behing the mind-guards lurks a fearful and paranoid community whose arrogant power seems to run unchecked by reality, and therefore somehow impotent.

It’s the Home Office/IPS non-disclosure agreement. The Benighted System’s anti-leaks provisions are already leaked to Wikileaks.

For years I told suppliers to think very carefully before taking on the business and political risk of dealing with people who didn’t know what they were doing and were wilfully blind to how unpopular it would be. I should have added: the suppliers should also expect to be treated with contempt, corporately and as individuals.

There’s a dark humour in this. The more the control model fails, the more desperate the attempts to exert more control. It’s well worth a read, and it does make for desperate reading.

If a court requires disclosure about the Benighted Scheme (think BAe/Saudi Arabia, illegal immigrant security guards in Home Office etc) suppliers are required by the NDA to be as uncooperative as possible with the request. Instead they must co-operate with Home Office/IPS agencies to challenge the validity of any requirement to disclose. This sums up the Home Office’s open government philosophy.

The Home Office will pick up half the tab of the legal challenge. Who cares? It’s only taxpayers money, and what better activity to spend it on than contesting legalistic do-gooders trying to be open about the Benighted Scheme?

Company premises, and the premises of individuals working for the companies, can be searched without warrant on the sayso of the Home Secretary. Who cares? These are but filthy profit-grubbing private sector people, barely worth getting a proper pension. They take the generous patronage of the Home Office IPS, and can expect to forego some basic rights for 25 years.

When I’m really gobsmacked by the ways of the world, and trying to react constructively to it I find a Sunday morning with the local Quakers helps calm me down. These words form 1919 were helpful today:

Evils which have struck their roots deep in the fabric of human society are often accepted, even by the best minds, as part of the providential ordering of life. They lurk unsuspected in the system of things until men of keen vision and heroic heart drag them into the light, or until their insolent power visibly threatens human welfare.

Let’s drag these secretive, disrespectful and probably illegal practices into the light. I hereby give an Ideal Government “men of keen vision and heroic heart” award to
– Phil Booth of No2ID, who is far smarter than his critics in government have ever considered, and also far more constructive. (And funnier)
– Ross Anderson of FIPR. Yes, you can be cantankerous, but it’s a pleasure working with you sir.
– all the FIPR posse working on an imminent report for JRRT: Terri, Angela, Ian, Philip
– Becky Hogge, not merely to show than the masculine can be taken to include the feminine in this quote but mainly for a wonderful stint at Open Rights Group
– Kim Cameron, Stefan Brands, Caspar Bowden, Jerry Fishenden, now all at Microsoft but all thinking globally
– Jeff Jonas and select IBM colleagues ditto; Robin Wilton and select Sun colleagues ditto
– David Davies, Clare Short and all politicians who are taking this stuff seriously
– Henry Porter, Simon Jenkins and all other journalists ditto
– everyone at the Reg except for that chippy nitwit whose name I’ve forgotten
– the officials inside Whitehall who are concerned but should not be named
– the Wikileaks team
– everyone who helps or supports FIPR, ORG, No2ID, ARCH, Liberty Alliance
– Doc and the new VRM colleagues working to deliver a more constructive approach which empowers humans to deal with the organisations’ big machines

IdealGov ethnographers: feel free to nominate more!

Hey! We’re a posse! What a wonderful group to hang out with. It’s so invigorating and exciting to be trying to bring constructive change to something so sinister and stupid. We’ll get through this. And remember: the people throwing up this sort of dismal rubbish may be our foes today but they’l be our friends tomorrow. Each one is (as Bazza O’Bazzer’s critics would never call him) a child o’ God.

But it’s going to be difficult for a bit.

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Sensible health-records option #3 emerges as CfH stretches to infinity and beyond Sat, 17 May 2008 01:36:00 +0000 http://sensible_health_records_option_3_emerges_as_cfh_stretches_to_infinity_and_b The UK’s expensive and dysfunctional clunking great fist of a centralised health records system is going to take four years longer than expected, says the NAO. According to Kable’s mothership The Guardian

A £12.7bn upgrade of IT systems throughout the NHS in England will not be completed for at least another six years, four years behind schedule, parliament’s spending watchdog disclosed today. Revealing that the scale of the delay to the system was worse than previously thought, the National Audit Office said plans for a national electronic record of the medical files of 50 million patients might not come to fruition until 2014-15.


Meanwhile the real world moves briskly in a far more attractive direction. An IBM-Hipaat alliance is the latest – after Google-Cleveland Clinic and Microsoft Healthvault – to offer user-controlled online health records. They send me a press release:

The IBM-HIPAAT collaboration extends patient-driven privacy to Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), Electronic Health Records (EHRs), Personal Health Records (PHRs) and Health Information Exchanges (HIEs). Combined IBM and HIPAAT technologies allow patients to easily specify who is granted access to their personal health information (PHI), what information can be accessed and when. They enable caregivers to implement and enforce patient consent directives, providing “break the glass” access to PHI and EHR data in emergency-care situations, where appropriate.

This commercially-available patient-directed solution is a privacy-based approach to securely controlling PHI access across diverse healthcare applications and settings. When installed in HIE environments as the “consent engine,” Privacy eSuite empowers patients and designated providers to create and record privacy directives. The software then evaluates a provider’s authorization to access a patient’s PHI based on such directives. With the combined offerings, a patient can restrict a particular clinician from accessing PHI, even if that clinician – based on medical role – would typically be granted such access. All access requests are recorded and an audit trail is created.

Nothing on pricing but I bet it wont be costing UK taxpayers anything in tne £6bn-30bn price range bandied about for Connecting for Health.

Wibbi we canned our daft centrally-controlled electronic health records system and the D’oH! just asked Google, Microsoft and IBM-Hipaat to confirm to a standard the NHS was prepared to work to. Then we could choose which sort of electronic patient record we used, and our data wouldn’t be subjected to bossy fishing expeditions from national terrorist-prevention services trying to work out whether we eat the right amount of fruit and veg, or the wrong sort of shellfish. Why will it take so many years and so many billions of pounds before we come to our senses?

I suppose the four year delay gives people more time to opt out of centralised health records. I hope our opt-out is final; it would be a drag to have to renew it every year like a pointless TV licence or car tax disk.

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ID: bid risk and the vulnerability of IPS Sun, 13 Apr 2008 18:37:00 +0000 http://idf_bid_risk_and_the_vulnerability_of_ips According to an August 2007 article in the FT, contracts will be awarded for suppliers to the NIS this Spring. Now. But will any suppliers bid? After all:

• The NIS may turn out to be a smaller system than suppliers expected and there may be less money to make out of it as a result. Crosby has ruled that the high volume of transactions that go through the banks and the big retailers are not on the menu. There is no reason for suppliers to expect the NIS to be involved in DWP benefit claims nor in the health service nor education. Scotland may refuse to use the NIS, and Wales, too. Its advocates always claim that the NIS will be used to prove everyone’s right to work in the UK but IPS failed to provide the ID checking service they promised. And it may be that, far from everyone aged 16 and over, only certain sections of the population will be fingerprinted.

• The timescales are stretching. Far from starting at the end of 2009, as previously planned, the NIS will not start to be rolled out in earnest now until 2012. And given IPS’s track record, suppliers would be well advised to allow for more delays.

• As the economy dips, people will want more assurance that their stealth tax money is being well spent. Hard to provide that assurance, when a number of prospective suppliers have already pulled out of the bidding, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee are just as unimpressed with IPS’s plans as Crosby and the biometrics on which the NIS depends are unreliable.

• There are alternatives to the NIS. Identity assurance could be provided by the banks and/or the mobile phone companies and/or the utility companies and/or the credit referencing agencies. The NIS could become irrelevant. These other systems could be more effective and could come on-stream earlier than IPS’s 15-year timetable – a surprisingly relaxed timetable, given that we’re talking here about the UK’s response to crime and terrorism.

• Suppliers to the NIS would be victims of the lack of trust in the government identified by Crosby – they would be tarred with the same brush.

• IPS is not some unstoppable behemoth with a mandate to monitor everyone in the UK. On the contrary, it is a supplicant, in sales talks with prospective customers, and it hasn’t closed a single deal yet.

• Suppliers will be dependent on IPS and IPS are vulnerable. They are dependent on Labour and Labour treat the NIS like a political football. If the Lib Dems or the Conservatives come to power, the NIS will be cancelled, as its equivalent was in Australia, and suppliers cannot expect to be bailed out.

So now how sensible does it look for a supplier to invest in this project? Which sensible chief executive would commit the funds? Why? What return is sensibly to be expected? What price risk?

(This article is the summary of a longer paper on the subject, ‘A risk assessment for prospective suppliers to the UK NIS’, which first saw the light of day on in November 2007.)

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OGC feedback service: anyone tried it? Sat, 02 Feb 2008 23:57:02 +0000 http://ogc_feedback_service_anyone_tried_it Here’ a good idea in the feedback/whistleblowing zone: a supplier feedback service by OGC, the centralised procurement-advice tribe. Beats moaning in the wine bar (and how much of that have we all had to put with?) If it were IDEAL, of course, it would be open and independent, so you could take encouragement from what others were saying. As it is, who knows what happens with the feedback, what they do with it, and how successful it is. But hey, it’s a start. Glad of any feedback from anyone who has used it. (from KableNet)

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Government: the jolly green giant? Thu, 08 Nov 2007 21:01:00 +0000 http://government_the_jolly_green_giant Sustainability and the green agenda is an idea whose time has come globally, and it affects every part of the “transformational” agenda and the work of the government technology community – or so the attendees at a recent Ideal Government dinner agreed. The government is committed to it from the PM down, all our organisations are corporately committed to it and we’re all personally committed to it, whether it’s because we’re thinking of our children or because in many cases we’ve been told to be (and we do what we’re told).

The role of public-sector technology in this agenda is core to Cabinet Office’s evolving transformational government programme, to Defra as lead department, to large departments such as MoD (which already has stations going underwater). Local authorities see it as essential for efficiency and central to their duty of care to citizens. OGC leads on procurement and the auditors must assess effective stewardship of public assets.

It’s everybody’s problem and the downside is that therefore it can feel like nobody’s problem.The internal campaigners, formerly viewed with some suspicion, are now mainstream; campaigning organisations enter corporate agreements with global suppliers (cf WWF and HP). The Stern report, we’re told, had the global effect of making this a business issue, not merely a lobbyists’ issue.

There’s an argument that says the main weapon government has is its purchasing. If it sets standards and green criteria, the market will respond (cf ePeat initiative in US). The lead on this clearly lies with OGC, but OGC is not staffed or resourced to make green purchasing happen across the board.

The effect of legislation is not straightforward. The WEE directive put into law the idea that the best way to focus manufacturers on recycling and disposal is to make them take back waste electrical goods. But we hear that one huge IT supplier gets back barely 1000 tonnes of electronic equipment a year across Europe. Even five-year-old PCs have some re-sale value, and may turn up leaking toxic waste in India (as a shipload of ex-DWP machines recently did).

There’s a danger we get stuck on simple small points. Can we have ‘off’ buttons that actually turn our machines off? We have large networks configured so we can’t just turn them off. Sun says the answer is thin clients (to which Microsoft responds: what is the question?). But the cost of recasting a vast network like HMRC on thin clients would be vast; would that really contribute to sustainability?

There is a crucial question that’s perhaps being missed about public-sector lifestyle and working patterns in an e-enabled, carbon-constrained age. Overstaffed and inefficient working practices in inefficient buildings and too much travel are a far larger opportunity than ‘off’ buttons. To give a tiny example, the Cabinet Office, with 2000 staff, printed 35m pages last year – that’s 17,500 sheets per person.

One large telecoms-supplier-which-used-to-be-a-public-body which-shall-remain-nameless saves huge sums and tonnes of carbon with flexible and remote working and virtual meetings. When you have the right evidence, and know you can save £3500 per desk per year, improve productivity 21% and increase retention, it focuses the mind and provides a measurable business incentive for change. The change requires trust in staff and management. It’s a huge cultural shift; one person’s perk is another’s misery. It needs active and skilled management, and has to be introduced via HR, not the IT director.

For the public sector, ownership of the issue and governance are key. But today it takes weeks just to work out which bits of government cover elements of the sustainability agenda. Even then it’s not clear. Meanwhile suppliers are not offering the same services or promises to all departments.

The Cabinet Office project on this under the CIO reports shortly. The CTO Council, led by the big users, has signed up to a sustainable development agenda and meets soon to get serious about the IT carbon footprint. The trade association and a range of NGOs and NDPBs claim to be honing their plans for this agenda.

We need
– cleaner, better policies
– lean government with less travel and fixed office space
– effective standards and whole-lifecycle green criteria for purchasing (including IT)
– evidence about the carbon footprint and polluting effect of public-sector IT
– evidence about best practice in carbon footprint reduction and IT
– recommendations for what the IT community should do, which take into account the respective roles of buyer, seller and user.

Sustainability cannot be addressed in silos. The trio of social/political/economic levers need to be aligned and attacked relentlessly if progress is to be made, and made swiftly. We all see the need to win the race, but the question is who is going to go first?