UK Govt ICT Strategy – is that IT?

Few surprises, not much astonishment

Yesterday Cabinet Office published its much heralded ICT strategy. To their credit the document is availlable to download in ODF format it’s just a pity that they think it is application specific despite the UK Govt deputy CIO attending the recent UK ODF Plugfest where we heard presentations from all the other options.

What else?

Let’s go back to the procurement policy note published only in January this year.

Paragraph 6 helpfully defines what Government considers to be an open standard. It’s quite a good definition, however it is worthwhile seeing what the new strategy has to say (paragraph 39):

    The Government believes that citizens should be able to read government documents with the standardised document format reader of their choice. The first wave of compulsory open standards will determine, through open consultation, the relevant open standard for all government documents.

So rather than rely on its own leadership, Government is gonig to pass the problem across to you, despite solutions already existing, developed in an open manner (Oh, and by the way it already has but I don’t recall seeing quite so much publicity).

In an article an article about the underlying policy behind the procurement note I was quoted:

    “It all hinges on what you make of ‘wherever possible’,” said Gavigan in reference to the terms by which the Cabinet Office has declared that open standards should be implemented.
    And, he said it hinges on what the government plans to do in those cases where it is possible to implement an open standard but a government body chooses not to.

Let’s look at the paragraphs in the new ICT strategy setting out how things are going to be different this time (my emphasis):

      13.

Where possible

    , government will move away from large ICT projects that are slow to implement or pose a greater risk of failure. Additionally, the application of agile ICT delivery methods, combined with the newly established Major Projects Authority, will improve government’s capability to deliver projects successfully and realise benefits faster.
      15. Departments will reuse and share ICT solutions and contracts, rather than purchasing new or bespoke solutions. The mandation of specific open standards will make ICT solutions fully interoperable to allow for reuse, sharing and scalability across organisational boundaries into local delivery chains.

Government will not commission new solutions where something similar already exists.

      16.

Where appropriate

    , government will procure open source solutions. When used in conjunction with compulsory open standards, open source presents significant opportunities for the design and delivery of interoperable solutions.
      23.

Where possible

    , the Government will move away from large and expensive ICT projects, with a presumption that no project will be greater than £100 million. Moving to smaller and more manageable projects will improve project delivery timelines and reduce the risk of project failure.

Lots of hinges, then.

Those of you that remember the strategies published by the then e-envoy (2002) or under Transformal Government (2005) will recognise the importance of reusability, for example:

    45. Easy-to-use, trusted and flexible online transactional services, such as student loans or Jobseeker’s Allowance, reduce the bureaucratic and time burden on citizens. Therefore, the Government will work to make citizen-focused transactional services ‘digital by default’ where appropriate using Directgov as the single domain for citizens to access public services and government information. For those for whom digital channels are less accessible (for example, some older or disadvantaged people) the Government will enable a network of ‘assisted digital’ service providers, such as Post Offices, UK online centres and other local service providers.

Unfortunately, the strategy doesn’t reuse disintermediation despite wider policy such as the plans to end ‘state monopoly’ in provision of public services

Of course, as we said about the Institute for Government’s report System+Error the idea of building in a role for Government IT rather than building out a role is pervasive. Again, doing nothing, the first stage in any options appraisal is noticeable by its absence.

Paragraph 28 of the strategy tells us that “a Government Skunkworks has been established to develop low-cost, fast and agile ICT solutions. Skunkworks provides a new channel for SMEs and entrepreneurs to participate in government ICT with new and innovative solutions”. I first read the term skunkworks in Soul of a New Machine (1981), and it’s worth reading what happened to the participants in that project. However we don’t have to go that far back. In 2003 in as part of the proposals for disintermediation (above) the government created e-venturing let’s hope this one fairs better though I’m not encouraged by the later sentence in the same paragraph “Skunkworks is working to develop an environment for SMEs to test their solutions to ensure compatibility within government’s future standardised cloud environment.”

We’re not very excited and wonder what PASC will think. Today the Minister for the Cabinet Office has been interviewed and you could watch on line if you use one of the usual technologies.

Then again you could watch The return of the Jedi who “failed with transformational government and who then failed with the Football Association”

— Gerry Gavigan, Chair, 30 March 2011

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