Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Government ICT Stratagy

I have just had the "delight" and "joy" of reading the Cabinet office paper on Government ICT Strategy.


These sort of papers are rarely a good read I know and I'm sure many of you have felt heavy lidded whilst reading one.

This one doesn't start well, by claiming that the bad name attached to government ICT is unjustified. The numbers involved in delayed and even abandoned projects across central government, quangos and other tax funded bodies is huge, in fact it goes well beyond huge. Money which could have been usefully spent elsewhere (goes without saying). Plus most of these major problems have involved the usual suspects. the same multi-national corporations.

This is where the paper gets better.

It does acknowledge "significant failings". Well done Francis, we could all see that one.

Then it gets better again. Or least it does from my perspective. In case you don't know I work for one of those mystical organisations the coalition reefers to affectionately as an SME.

And, if this paper is to be believed, we are going to benefit from this new strategy.

So a few highlights as I see it:

1. Mandatory Open Standards. Why this isn't in place I will never know. We have to be able to share data and services even when times are good, let alone now. So if we can't even agree a standard to adhere to then we have, as they saying goes, Bob Hope.

2. Transparency. I know it's a buzz word, and I could be accused of band wagon jumping. But I have right to know where my tax is being spent, with whom and is it the best value.

3. Removal of Barriers for SME's. the world of SME can offer central and local government much that it is currently prevented from doing so. We offer a personal service. not a hotline number but a named individual you can ask or berate accordingly. An ability to react quickly to requests or problems. No monolithic admin system that wont allow a release for another 2 years and another large sum of cash. The benefits go on. But then again, I would say that wouldn't I?

4. Use of Skunkworks. useful but only if the appropriate level of funding and autonomy is given, balanced by transparency and accountability.

5. Use of Social Media. The quickest and easiest way to interact with anyone it seems. You ask you question, everyone else can read it and the answer. Fully transparent, fully accountable. As long as protection of individual citizens and employees is given.

I've picked just five highlights but there are more.

Here are some issues/questions however:

Open Source. Not convinced that relying on Open Source is the way forward especially for mission critical applications. At least not without someone sitting in the middle offering the guarantees and SLA required.

Transparency. Yes I know this was in the highlights section as well. But as we have all seen too often, personal details have "got out" by various methods. A move to more cloud based computing brings with it heightened dangers to hacking, misuse and accidents, that have much wider spread implications. With my bank details as well as details of my children these must be covered in layers of EFFECTIVE security.

A move away from large single ICT projects. So no single NHS medical records database then?

A greater use of ICT/web for citizen interaction. Great, it saves loads of cash. But at a time when we are increasingly viewed as statistics and numbers, at a time when isolation and loneliness are major issues, at a time when everything is being depersonalised, should we really be killing the personal touch? Should we really be alienating those who's understanding of technology is low or none existent. We like a smile, my monitor never smiles.

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