One of the “joys” of the on-line world is that you cannot be sick in peace. Having worked for months on the programme I was most annoyed to miss the first of the EURIM Transformational Dialogues, because I was laid low with a truly vicious non-electronic virus. However, the world now comes to my sick bed and I have received five different accounts of what happened – as well as the “official” summary. What is certain is that it was a great success: whether success is counted by the number of MPs participating or what they and the industry partners and civil services “observers” helping this exercise learned. The common message is “that change can occur when you can get structure, systems and culture working together” but all too often a mixture of fear and targets prevents public servants from providing joined-up service to those in most need.
Next week will see the annual Get Safe On-line campaign and also the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro – at which the need to improve security will be a major thread. Last week the government response to the report of the House of Lords select committee enquiry on Personal Internet Safety was published. The doctrine of Ministerial Infallibily means that no department can publicly accept in full the recommendations of a committee that it did not appoint. The wording of the response is, however, such that I would expect all the main recommendations to have been adopted before the next General Election – provided they have the necessary support and commitment from industry: users as well as suppliers.
Some still view the Transformational Government Agenda as the ICT industry’s invitation to write to Father Christmas for a new generation of big, new consultancy contracts and systems.
How wrong they are.
The rhetoric at the party conferences, the subsequent Comprehensive Spending Review and now the Queen’s speach indicate clearly that those selling to the public sector have to adjust to a world in which they and their departmental customers will be under increasing pressure to co-operate across organisational and commercial boundaries, competing over time on delivered cost and quality of service, rather than up-front on price.
William Heath asks “what happened to the Crosby review” in his “Ideal Government” blog (a must for those of you who want to keep abreast of the thinking among the e-government movers and shakers). However, while I always find William’s insights most perceptive and his blog most informative I think he is on the wrong tack. I think that Crosby has put issues into the wider perspective and the result is even more challenging, across the whole of Whitehall, not just Home Office, than William speculates. Hence some of the drafting of the Public Service Agreement to which I referred in my entry on delivering the Transformation of Government.
A couple of days ago David Lacey covered the recent Parliament and Internet conference in his blog. The proposal for co-operation in the paper issued in advance of the conference break-out session on “Tackling crime and achieving confidence in the on-line world”, chaired by the Rt Hon Alun Michael JP MP, was strongly supported by the audience, including by David. I, like David, was also profoundly impressed by the presentation by Nicholas Negroponte: not just by its potential to transform the prospects of children in the developing but also by its potential to change the nature of debate on security and cybercrime – and more – much more.
The Transformational Government agenda is the most ambitious attempt to change the way government works since Sir John Hoskyns tried to apply systems thinking to Whitehall in the first days of Mrs Thatcher’s government. Many commentators were therefore very sceptical as to its chances of success. The Service Transformation Agreement published as part of the support package for the Comprehensive Spending Review shows that the sceptics were both right and wrong. The task cannot be under-estimated but there now appears to be the necessary critical mass of support to enable success.
Last week I attended the Westminster E-Forum Keynote Seminar “A UK IT Skills Gap?”. Most of the discussion could have taken place in 1983, before the Butcher reports on IT Skills – but for the fact that our position, relative to the rest of the world, is so much worse and the minister who responded to the discussion did not appear to have been briefed on the scale and nature of the challenge.
The Byron Review is an independent review of the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games. At this point the blogosphere will erupt with cries of “censorship” while parents will say “about time too”, Lets hope that Dr Tanya Byron comes up with something that is at least as practical and sensible as in her TV programmes.
Apart from bad jokes, in which IT was synonymous with failure and/or coplexity and unreliabilty, there was almost no mention at any of the Party Conferences of the technologies that now underpin society at every level. More-over almost no-one from the IT industry attended – even though it supposedly now employs nearly 5% of the work force. And most of those who did attend were careful not to mention their day jobs. Are you really so ashamed?
The public service agreements for the 2007 comprehensive review require departments and agencies to work across boundaries in ways that will not happen unless departments and their suppliers really do move away from the failed world of “big bang” solutions, whether in-house or outsourced. Will we see the creation of a new generation of the hire purchase (alias PFI) contracts that have enriched a generation of consultants, lawyes and salesmen at the expense of taxpayers, service recipients and shareholders alike. Or have politicians (including Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Policy Advisors) finally come to understand that it is not humanly possible to agree specifications for timely and efficient, centrally planned and controlled, user-centric systems? But who will tell them them that – when so many senior players made their reputations telling them the opposite.