When IT Meets Politics


February 23, 2015  11:52 AM

How do we break out of Groundhog Day and provide broadband and digital skills fit for ALL?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
digichampz, Digital skills, Ofcom, Sperry

Learning for change cartoon.jpg
The stick of dynamite is labelled “Publicity Japanese Style”. The tube of sweets is labelled “First Rate Teachers”. I had no say in the cartoon and did not see it till afterwards.

The House of Lords Report on Digital skills gave me a curious feeling of “deja view” (see the date at the foot of the cartoon above) with its statement that millions of jobs are at risk from automation and its subsequent calls for digital skills for everyone and the Internet as a utility. 
Back in In 1981 the late Donald Michie had been invited to organise the annual Sperry seminar for the UK Technical Press. His theme was “Intelligent systems: the unprecedented opportunity“. The Micros in School Programe was in train and, in return for first class travel for myself and my wife to the South of France, plus a week of incredibly stimulating company, I was tasked to not only give the thinking behind it, but also think through the likely consequences. The abstract for my contribution to the resultant book read as follows:

“Most of the basic skills needed over the next hundred years can be predicted with reasonable certainty but many of the precise trades and professions cannot. “Age related careers” is an employment strategy which can handle such uncertainty. Fundamental changes to the education system are necessary. Information Technology makes these possible at affordable cost. Encouragement and favourable publicity are more effective weapons of persuasion than coercion.”

The cartoon, with which I was presented, relates to my comments, (not all recorded for posterity in either the book or the separately published political version, available on-line courtesy of Blogzilla), on the need to give average teachers the confidence to become coaches, using the new technology to help their pupils acquire skills and understanding which they did not themselves have. In other words, on the need to give priority to the “leading out” roots of education, as opposed to passing on the skills and mores of previous generations – as per the wikipaedia definition (which accurately described, then as now, the mainstream).   

The report of the House of Lords Enquiry indicates very clearly how little progress we have made in meeting that challenge. On March 12th the Real Time Club (45 years young and still reinventing itself), hosted in Houe of Lords by a member of the enquiry team, will hear from those who appear to have found out how to make a profitable and fast growing business from doing so. I look forward to hearing whether I believe their solution. My own experience in the 1980s, with organising IT awareness courses for older generations (including taking apart Apple Computers to insert graphics boards to play silly games and do basic coding, prior to playing global corporate politics over a pastiche teleconferencing network), indicates that it should be possible do so today at much lower cost than we used to charge the main boards of the companies we were helping prepare for difficult discussions on IT policy.
 
Yesterday I took the opportunity to take another look at “Cashing in on the Chips” published in 1979 (containing the original call for a Micros in Schools programme), the New Scientist review of “No End of Jobs” (*) published in 1984 and my own submission to the House of Lords Enquiry.

So how do YOU, “dear reader” help us all to break out from Goundhog day and deliver the aspirations in the House of Lords report?

1) Respond to the Ofcom Draft Annual Plan for 2015/16 by 6pm on 26th February

As I said in my previous blog, the good news is that this is first time Ofcom has indicated that it is planning to take the needs of business users (particularly SMEs who cannot afford lesed lines) seriously [see page 26 of the Draft Plan for details).

Ofcom is also planning to take a good look at fixed and mobile Not Spots (see page 32).

The plans for work on Online Child Safety are interesting (see Page 35 ) but the critical path is Age Verification. Here the Digital Policy Alliance appears to have already made good progress in assembling a team that will lead the drive for practical and credible answers – because the participants need them for marketing and moral, as well as regulatory, reasons.

Page 43 refers obliquely to the need for more work on performance measures, not just quality of service but even more interesting is the reference in the section on “Protecting onsumers from harm” (starting page 44) on the need to work with groups like the Internet Engineering Task Force on removing the vulnerabilities that enable spoofing.   

I also recommend reading the rest of the “Protecting Consumers from harm” and thinking not only how Ofcom could and should and should address the issues it raises but the roles of others in doing so. 

2) Take a look at the House of Lords report, consider how the recommendations might be implemented, then consider how you think they should be and what youc can do to help. 

There is a lot of worthy comment and generic material in the report, but when it comes to action on skills the devil is in the detail, usually in the funding and incentive mechanisms, including the performance measures and league tables used reward and recognise those meeting centrally set objectives (with which the report is peppered).

I have said (above) why those of you who are interested in remotivating staff (or teachers) for the Digital Age should try to attend the next meeting of the Real Time Club and then consider just how much (or little) this should cost using the the technologies and techniques now available – although there may still be places available for those of you near Huddersfield to get a view from the grass roots this Wednesday at the presentation of the survey on the results of the first Digichampz exercise.
 
I personally think  that by far the most important recommendation in the House of Lords report is that the Tech Partnership be tasked to lead an employer-driven review of the offers of the Further Education sector with a view to improving the apprenticeship packages on offer (Parag 314 onwards). The weakness of this recommendation is that a growing number of apprenticeships are graduate and post graduate level, linked to the High Education sector. The review should therefore encompass the actions listed in the following paragraphs on High Educations and Careers Guidance, albeit not necessarily inside the first six months

There is a lot in the report on Women in Technology and on Cybersecurity (page 36 onwards). I have commented in the past, albeit mainly en passant, on why you should employ women rather than men if you are serious about information security. I plan to return to this theme in my next blog.
     
3) If you are actively in trying to get socially and geographically inclusive Broadband to those in your Parliamentary Constituency ask your MP if he can get you an invitation,on his or her say so, to the event on “Broadband for ALL” being planning by the All Party Space Group and Digital Policy Alliance, in the House of Commons on the afternoon of 10th March. The aim is to cover the current state of play with regard to the availablity of the full range of technologies – from fibre, wifi and mobile (for social housing and inner city commercial centres) to satellite (for hill farms, rural businesses and disaster recovery – e.g. fire or flood taking out terrestrial networks). Advance notices have been sent to DPA members but the details are not yet on the website because some of the industry speakers have yet to be confirmed. 

(*) Unfortunately “No End of Jobs” is not itself on-line (I have just paid ten times the original price for a copy to supply to anyone willing to scan or digitise it). Interestingly what looked to New Scientist to be the “silliest predictions” might already have come true – but for the failure to compete “the recabling of Britain” by 2002. That was, of course, Government policy until 1997 and the introduction of Local Loop unbundling to save US bondholders, who then owned NTL and Telewest, “from taking a haircut” with a distress sale to Sky

P.S.  Now received a copy of “No End of Jobs” via Amazon and made time to scan the first page. Remember it was written in 1984, so for Japan read China. For West Germany read India. What has changed since: apart from importing immigrants to look after our elderly in overcrowded NHS hospitals, instead of making use of technology to enable them to live at home. One of the theme was the job creation effects of “Prolonged active life”: enabling clinicians to spend time with patients instead of on paperwork and deploying “robotics for rheumatics” as well as all the telecare and telemedicine technologies that we are still talking about but not deploying and enabling. 

No end of Jobs Intro.jpg
   

February 20, 2015  5:33 PM

How do I tell if this offer to get government to pay for business broadband is genuine?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Broadband, Business, HMRC, Ofcom, rural, SME, Vouchers

I recently signed up to the HMRC advisory service and this morning received the e-mail below. Being a trusting individual I did NOT click on anything. Instead I visited the HMRC site on how to check whether a communication from them is genuine. I was none the wiser. However, being both paranoid and interested, I tried to find another way of getting the details. Eventually I found my way in via the “Business is Great” website although the Broadband Voucher scheme is not among those promoted on the home page.

I still do not now whether the original e-mail from HMRC was genuine but, it if was, I deduce that HMRC is more concerned to help SMEs get good broadband access than Gov.UK is concerned to promote either good security practice or the voucher scheme.

Rant over. This is a great scheme. It needs to be extended so that every rural business stuck with crapband (not just those in Wales) can use it to pay for a satellite service. Meanwhile inner city businesses in the areas covered should use it to apply for for a fibre connection: there is a routine for vouchers to be collated by alternative suppliers if BT or Virgin will not offer you anything other than a prohibitively expensive leased line. Those in areas that are not yet covered, where businesses are stuck with a choice between crapband and expensive leased lines, should be contacting their constituency MP and parliamentary candidates to lobby either for access or to work to make it easier for alternative suppliers to compete to meet your needs.

But be warned, the budget is fixed and its first come first served. We also need to get action on opening up the supply of business broadband to all. I therfore take this opportunity to remind you that the deadline for the consultation on the Ofcom Draft Annual Plan is next Thursday. The good news is that Ofcom has finally guiven priority to looking at the business broadband. There is much to do and you have to get into the appendices, with references to the work of the IETF on inter-operability standards, to realise that Ofcom is now serious about looking at UK telecoms in global context.

Meanwhile, if you are among those stuck with crapband – do take a look at the voucher scheme. If you are not covered, take a look at how many others, locally, are in the same position. If there are enough of you, one of the new generation of the alternative network providers (see the list of those participating in the scheme) might be able to serve you at an attractive cost anyway.   

Spacer Graphic

HM Revenue and CustomsSpacer Graphic

Bookmark and Share

Hello Employer,

Connection Vouchers


We’ve got up to £3,000 for you to upgrade your business’s broadband – it’s up to you to apply for it.

Find out now if you are eligible for up to £3,000 to cover the installation costs of upgrading to a faster and more reliable connection for your business. You could get a fibre optic, cable or wireless broadband connection among other options.  Most businesses pay nothing but VAT and their standard monthly charges.

Thousands of businesses in the 22 Super Connected Cities Programme are already benefitting from the scheme.  By upgrading, you could:

  • Do things faster – increase your business’s productivity,
  • Improve customer service,
  • Access new markets using video conferencing.

Please visit our website to find out if you are eligible and choose from a number of pre-defined options.

To check if you are eligible for a Growth Voucher with a grant of up to £2,000 towards the cost of expert advice, apply here. To see the full offer of government support for small businesses, click here.


February 17, 2015  10:04 AM

Will Government Verify survive the impending cybersecurity skills crisis?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
.gov.uk, Compliance, Crapband, crisis, cybersecurity, digichampz, e-skills, IAM, ICAEW, Skills, Verify

Few outside the community of those obsessed with digital identity will keep up to date with postings and comments on  the Gov.UK Identity Assurance Blog  but a regular reader recently drew my attention to a recent posting, on “User research – asking better questions”   .  He asked why they were relying on feedback from current trials and had not looked at the market research conducted by others, such as Experian – although he did not say which research they should have looked at.
I
 found his question interesting.  My work with the Tech Partnership (formerly e-Skills) on the training modules needed to help organsiations survive the impending cybersecurity skills crisis is largely focussed on identity and access management: IAM.  

The skills involved in IAM range from “authenticating and authorising transactions over smart phones”, through “bring your own device” to “multi-level access and authorisation in complex organisations with large numbers of customers, contractors and staff with different permissions in different locations” (e.g. airports or global banks).  A cross-cutting issue is the vetting and monitoring of those to be given which access permissions. The processes are complicated by regulatory issues (including data protection), with compliance officers themselves a significant point of weakness, because so many are in post for 18 months or less.

Most discussion of IAM is focussed on the digital components but workable systems are nearly always underpinned by rigorous people processes – except when the organisation is confident that it will not be put a significant risk from insider assisted fraud or unauthorised physical access to safety critical or secure facilities.  Where that risk is significant the systems always embed inputs from those who have done physical checks as to the identify of those to whom they have have given electronic credentials.

I am therefore unconvinced that any identity based purely on digital footprint (whether or not it includes on-line financial records) merits my trust, let alone that of those looking after my savings or of the critical national infrastructure. I am therefore not impressed by requests to provide feedback over the precise wording of a requirement to make personal financial information available in order to obtain a digital identity that is more acceptable to government that those it currently requires us to use to pay our taxes or claim benefits.

One of the problems with the original attempt to require farmers to use “Verify” for inter-actions with the Rural Payment  Agency  was the belated discovery that nearly 20% have no digital footprint – or at least no footprint discernible to the identity providers.  More-over those who have never had to borrow money and have always paid cash see no reason to provide their financial information so some-one with whom they have had no previous dealings for unknown transmission and storage. That is not to say they are digitally illiterate. They may well use mobile or satellite services to keep abreast of prices for livestock or crop or to access on-line auction sites  but because of not-spots and crapband*  have to do so from wherever they can get a signal or via their own choice of trusted  intermediaries. They are also often well aware of the risk of fraud and impersonation.

Now let us look at those most reliant on public services, including those stuck on sink estates or transient between bedsits or caravan sites, including those who share their identities which whichever member of their “extended family” they trust to  collect their benefits and do their shopping.  Hence my expectation of an all-party backlash against the “digital by default” agenda because there is a very big difference  between using technology support to provide better services at lower cost and “herding the sheep on-line to be fleeced” .   .

I am particularly concerned at the potential risk of those dependent on benefits having their identities registered on-line by fraudsters and their being unaware until left destitute.

More recently I was struck by the findings of the Digichampz Survey  conducted under an EU contract by the Digital Policy Alliance for presentation in Huddersfield  and a month later in London.

This survey is unusual in that it is based on a high response from on-line users in a poorly served (connectivity, let alone support) rural community. I do recommend looking at the actual report not just the headlines. Despite the editors comment  security and child protection were of low concern compared to getting a reliable connection at all, around half the respondents were concerned about security and a third about on-line child safety.

Now back to “Verify” – if I ever get round to applying for an identity, because I am forced to in order to (for example) do my VAT or tax returns, I will probably use the Experian service – but to call this a “digital by default” service would be a misnomer. Experian will be comparing what it is told on-line with what it has collected on me over several decades from those who would not serve me in a department store or mobile phone shop until I had signed a form permitting me to check with Experian as well as giving other proof of identity.

That is not, however, possible for a couple of my “legal” identities (as a trustee or director) because the organisations concerned have never had reason to borrow or purchase anything on credit.  I therefore expect those selling to them to require me to use a variety of rather more secure IAM systems, including those that are global and do not reply on local political agendas. I have no problem with this – provided their services are securely firewalled from each other, with my liabilities governed  by UK consumer credit  and unfair contracts legislation.

But this links back to the current cyber security skills crisis. Those selling to me have to manage and insure their risks, integrating the various IAM systems  already on the market in support of their people processes, from physical access to customer and transaction authorisation (both on-line and off-line).  I do not yet see the business case for them to regard “Verify” as anything more than an interesting experiment.   

P.S. The issues get even  more interesting when we consider controlling access to the systems controlling smart cities and those along supply chains.  There is still remarkably little attention to this area so I was delighted to learn of an event being organised at the Institute of Chartered Accountants on 25th March   

  *Crapband = “Copper, Rust And other Pollutants” between the fibre (cabinet or exchange) and the premises (home, workshop, office etc.) or the wireless aerial (for mobile or wifi connectivity).  


February 16, 2015  12:32 PM

Is VATMOSS a serious VATmess or a storm in a teacup?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
.gov.uk, E-commerce, FSB, VAT, VATMOSS

I have received a number of e-mails asking me to blog on the issues or “do something”, but none from those actually engaged in running the businesses supposedly affected. More-over, all the lobbying appears to be behind closed doors. The guidance on Gov.Uk indicates  that those who are already registered for VAT and use a payment service need do very little. That from the FSB  reinforces this message.

Is it correct, however, that even micro-businesses which use the same “legal identity” for sales of on-line products and services in the UK as for overseas, will now have to register and charge VAT to their domestic customers, thus putting prices up by 20%?

If so, will this lead to halting off-shore sales, a flight off-shore or guidance from the suppliers of accounting and payment services on how to legally and cheaply split the business?
 
In other words, is this attempt to reduce VAT avoidance a serious obstacle to the UK future as a location for innovative on-line start-ups or will it simply lead to more work for tax advisors and a rash of competing “VAT apps” for teenagers (and sub-teenagers) aspiring to sell their own games instead of pirating those of others?

I have no idea – hence the question?


February 14, 2015  7:42 PM

The Future of Technology

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Agile, amstrad, DSDM, Filetab, Gartner, IPR, RAD, RPG, vapourware, Visicalc, Word

20150214 The future of technology.png

Acknowledgements to SWardley – although I changed item 18 to read “XYZ, its so passe and never really worked anyway. ABC is where its at – and ours is great”. 

I would, however, also comment on the timescale.

When my team at the NCC Microsystems Centre  invented and defined the term “vapourware” (back in 1983), I had in mind a timescale of barely five years from birth to death of most “buzzword technologies”.

Despite the efforts of US copyright and patent trolls to slow the pace of innovation, I think that 35 years is a bit long for the life cycle of a terminology.

P.S. I have just done some “research”.

The pace of change in the early 1980s with regard to micro-computer products was unusually rapid and the life cycles of even market leaders were much shorter (e.g. the raise and fall of Visicalc ,Concurrent CPM and the Amstrad PCW) than today.

Taking a longer view, it took about a decade for the term “Agile” to replace the acronym DSDM which, in turn, had taken about a decade to replace RAD (Rapid Application development), which was a reinvention of approach behind Filetab (alias RPG, alias FPL etc.).

Filetab did indeed last 35 years before the name finally vanished from the market – with the Java version, to handle applications inter-operability within mobile phones, hidden from view.

Meanwhile Windows and Word are both approaching their 35th birthdays.

I therefore thank Mr Wardley for his insight and leave readers to ponder for themselves what determines the life cycle of the products, services, technologies (and terminologies) of today.

Is it

– entrepreneurs finding new ways to meet user needs?
– investment in research and development? public or private?
-,government supported technology (and transfer) programmes?
– corporate spend on IPR lawyers? 
– ???

Continued »


February 10, 2015  10:30 AM

Who do you trust to retrain existing staff to handle that which you cannot risk to contractors?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
AIM, Alex, Apprenticeship, Big Data, Compliance, crisis, cybersecurity, e-skills, GREXIT, NED, risk, SIGINT, Skills, Turnover

January usually sees a sharp rise in recruitment effort across the financial services industry, to replace those leaving at year end or who hand in their notice after the Christmas break. This year recruitment effort is down because of the uncertainties caused by the crash in oil prices and the expected cost to the EU of preventing Grexit. Except for risk and compliance staff – where staff turnover continues to spiral upwards as supply falls ever further behind demand. According to Alex on 9th February (that most authoritative of sources on CIty developments) there are now 17,000 compliance officers getting in the way of doing business.  
Those who have not yet taken action to secure their staff must therefore do something different – now .  GCHQ has shown the way by announcing 50 cybersecurity apprenticeships   for school leavers applying by 15th March. Meanwhile the Tech Partnership cybersecurity internship programme has had an impressive take-up. E-mail Howard Skidmore if you wish to bid for some of those not yet matched (believed to be less than 20) or to offer placements for the next intake.

The rest of you also have to consider who you will trust to retrain your existing staff, including users, to handle those roles which you cannot afford to contract to those you do not know.
Before Christmas I blogged on the expectation that 2015 will be the year of the compliance created collapse in cyberconfidence .
 
Over 60% of significant security incidents (data breaches, fraud, network collapse etc.) involve insiders, albeit digititis (e.g. mistakes with maintaining legacy systems overlaid with fashionable vapourware) and ignorance (linked to equally vulnerable identity and access control processes) remains a more common cause than malice or criminal behaviour.

Debate on how to improve the security of businesses or their customers is almost entirely driven by those selling technology or outsource services and processes to help tick compliance boxes. But the travelling compliance “expert”, who stays long enough to help you tick the latest regulatory boxes and collect the understanding and credentials to open the trapdoors in your security firewalls, is now by far the biggest single risk. He, it is usually a “he”, is an even greater (and more unnecessary) risk than short stay security “consultants”, help desk staff or cleaners. Albeit the “over-ambitious chief executive” who ditches due diligence in his (it is nearly always a he) dash for growth remains a greater absolute danger.

I recollect conversations with those then in charge of “risk” at BP when they came to try to audit safety and security systems along the supply chains of the organisations they had acquired in the US as the basis for their entry into the Gulf of Mexico.  Their worst fears came true with the incident which came close to destroying the entire business while enriching a whole generation of Southern lawyers. I recollect similar conversations after the Chief Executive of RBS cut short due diligence with regard to his US acquisitions, before embarking on the take-over too far which did destroy the business.

Due diligence along the security (including risk and resilience) supply chains of organisations being considered for take-over is now big business for the law and audit practices of the City of London and their demand for the skills necessary is helping fuel the current salary spiral and staff merry-go-round which threaten to destroy the security of those who cannot ensure the loyalty of those who manage risk on their behalf.     

A couple of weeks ago  I thoroughly enjoyed an evening with the Management Consultants Livery Company  when I helped open a discussion of the impact of “Big Data” (which I view as a subset of the current state of “Management Science“) on the Management Consultancy profession. I was interested to learn that the market leaders all have a very strong focus on training their own staff, rather than outside recruitment, even though they expect to lose more half with 2 – 3 years. The following morning I attended an excellent NED Forum  on the current state of the Dark Market and the analysis and intelligence services now available. I was interested to learn that, once again, the market leaders train their own analysts because the necessary Information Science disciplines are missing among the many recruits available from law enforcement or the military.

It is perhaps as well to remember that the cryptography operations of Bletchley Park were quite small compared to the Sigint (alias data analytics, or “Information Science”) operations which also maintained the symbiotic German Order of Battle (even down to the level of working out that two radio operators shared a girlfriend called Rosa) . The Sigint operation was entirely female and some of the techniques used have not yet been declassified – because they underlie that which even Snowden did not discover and leak.   

Hence the importance of ensuring that update training in Management Science, alias the disciplines behind “Big Data” is available, when and where needed, to give existing security staff the skills they need to help organise intelligence-led security. It also makes good sense to trawl existing user staff, particularly female staff, for the necessary aptitudes before going outside for new recruits. When I ran the original Women into IT Campaign (1988 – 92) one of the surprises (at least to me) was the discovery that, on average, women stayed significantly longer than men, especially if offered flexible working conditions and other support to cope with family responsibilities (including elderly relatives, not just children).

Most compliance roles do not need cryptographic aptitudes or big data training but, if the exercise is to be more than just ticking the regulatory boxes, they do need an understanding of  the business so as to ensure the compliance routines reinforce good customer service and do not get in the way of profitable business. The current demand for compliance staff and the rate of turnover among those who have no good reason for loyalty, means that is often both cheaper and quicker to retrain long stay user staff, particularly those who might otherwise become expensively redundant, than to recruit externally. The exercise also gives an opportunity to screen for those who might be brought into the main security team to help supervise those to whom those technical operations and support operations which do not need to be in-house are contracted.

But who do you trust to deliver that training? This is not a trivial question of “competence”.

Trainers, like compliance officers, can make trusted contacts across your Chinese walls. I have therefore agreed to help the Tech Partnership  identify those who are trusted to deliver training in other sensitive areas so that they can be asked if they ar e interested in helping specify and deliver modular update training in some of the areas identified as being in critical shortage, such as Identity and Access management (from customer mobiles and bring your own device to tiered access to complex systems and multiple locations, such as a global financial institution or an international airport) or the use of big data  (alias management science) techniques to identify risk. Then there as the skills needed by compliance staff, the selection and training of whom should also be used to identify your next generation of security staff. I gave a longer list last year of the skills gaps based on my work for e-Skills, but we have prioritised since.

Once again, email Howard Skidmore, or myself, if you are willing to suggest who you would trust. Comments on who you would not trust are  also most helpful.


February 7, 2015  10:29 AM

Turning the Super Tanker: Francis Maude’s achievements to date – but its not over yet.

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Cabinet office, cloud, G-Cloud, Software as a Service

Francis Maude has announced that he is not standing again at the next election but, commenting on his work with the Chancellor to drive forward the reform of public service delivery, said “there is much to do – before the election and after – to ensure the reforms are irreversible”. When he gave thanks to his team at Sprint 15 he concluded with some thoughts on the scale of the challenges ahead particularly that of changing the Civil Service culture to one of  “fail small, fail fast” so as to do a much better job of using evolving technologies:

– To put people first, with services that are simpler, clearer, faster.

– To do more, and better, for less. And we’ve shown you can do it.

– To build a truly 21st century digital government, capable of leading a world-beating digital economy”.


We can see how difficult that change will be with the strictures of the Public Accounts Committee on a Secretary of State who over-ruled his officials’ plans to follow the traditional approach of “fail big and expensive, but alibi’ed by massive consultancy and outsource spend so that we are not to blame”. At least the DWP officials and suppliers wasted a couple of £billion less than their counterparts in the NHS (Tony Blair’s National Plan for IT in the Health Service), before the Minister finally forced them to take seriously his “request” (Minister’s cannot easily over-rule their officials on matters of implementation) to pilot the new processes with real claimants before scaling them up for mass roll-out.  

After reading Francis Maude’s blog to Digital Leaders, “Leading Transition in a Digital Age“, I thought back to his comments at the Conservative Party Conference in 2009 on his plans for their first 100 days. The largest room in the conference hotel was standing room only, Afterwards the responses ranged from the enthusiastic to the sceptical. Those from the policy wonks and industry lobbyists were rather different to those of IT professionals and of current and former public servants with decades of experience trying to bring about change. Most of us have since been shown to be both right and wrong.

We will never know what would have happened had the Conservatives had a working majority, but what Francis Maude has achieved under a coalition government is remarkable. The end of his first sentence in the Digital Leaders blog is, however, absolutely accurate: “we are just getting going”.    

There are two views about what “leaders” (corporate or political) should do their first “hundred days”. One (usually corporate) view is that you spend it quietly on tours of inspection, discovering just what it is that you have inherited, who is competent and willing to help you change it and who should be removed before they can stop you and your allies. The next hundred days is when you get rid of the third of those reporting to you who will never be part of any solution – and set about motivating the remainder to do the same to the tier below them. The opposite (usually political) view is that you have to prepare in advance and hit the ground running, because you will never have the same opportunity again.

Unfortunately politicians rarely have a choice. “History shows” that those who try the first option nearly always get bogged down with day-to-day pressures and achieve little if anything. The situation that the coalition government inherited in 2010 gave them no choice. 25 years of “over-enthusiastic outsourcing”, to put it mildly, meant that central government was bleeding to death and had lost the skills to stop the haemorrhaging. It had ceased to be competent either to plan and deliver change itself or to get results, let alone value for money, from those it contracted to do so. 

The task was not just to turn the Exxon Valdez (undermanned, with the captain drunk in his bunk and the radar broken) before it hit Bligh Reef. It was not just to refit the bridge with controls that were fit for purpose. It to simultaneously support the conversion of a 20th century oil tanker into a 21st century cruise liner to serve an ageing population, with the owners  mortgaged to the hilt, while the potential passengers had not saved enough to pay their fares, let alone in advance.

Looking back, we can see that in his first hundred days Frances Maude set in motion processes that have helped slowed the rate of bleeding, (the burden of inherited, inflexible outsourcing contracts and PFI deals means that it has not yet stopped) and enabled monitoring and control systems that may soon be fit purpose. The savings to date are, however, still modest compared with the £billions now in sight: for example from pooling public sector telecommunications spend to enable better, shared, services at lower cost. Hence the importance of the mapping exercise to which Fracnes Maude referred in his Sprint15 speach: the first visible product from the Digital Task Force created last year.

The achievements of the GDS to date are impressive, particularly given the start point, but in his comments to Sprint15, Fancis Maude was quite clear on the scale and nature of the task still ahead – including to help achieve the £10 billion of savings targetted in December.

Provided the next government continues the process. I believe history will show that, even if he does not himself continue the task from the House of Lords, Francis Maude has not only managed to slow the tanker in time to enable refloating without too much spillage, but has also succeeded in beginning the long slow process of rebuilding the skills base of the Civil Service – so that it can indeed implement the changes necessary, provided the political driving force remains in place   

We should not, however, under-estimate the level and nature of ongoing  opposition to the introduction of  adequate (let alone good) practice and governance to a world of revolving doors between retiring civil servants and suppliers who have grown fat from selling consultant-planned “big” change programmes to their departments. The latter “know” how things should be done.  Their “vision” does not, for example, involve the mandatory use of procurement frameworks which require adherance to the open inter-operability standards. These are, however, essential for a world in which innovative small firms and co-operatives of users are expected to produce the pieces for incremental “jigsaw solutions” that can and will evolve, using agile methodologies and changing components from changing players, as needs and technologies change.

Many, both officials and suppliers, would still prefer to delay change in the hope that the post election government will revert to the traditional spendthrift approach, mortgaging the future even further, if they cannot raise the net tax yield. Their careers, including post-retirement life styles, depend on preventing a world of incremental and evolutionary change. Their interests are mirrored by all those consultants, lawyers and lobbyists who are used to receiving big fees for big projects, whether they go right or wrong. The future for the rest of us and our children and grandchildren will be bleak if they succeed.

The good news is that at least some of the big beasts of the IT world, including some surprising names, are beginning to really get their heads round how to make serious money from supporting customers’ in-house teams and collectives of innovative SMEs and third-sector players in the delivery of solutions that use open, inter-operable, cloud-based, software-as-a-software to deliver better service, at lower cost, more reliably, on positive cash flow, The bad news is that they are still a minority.    

I hope that, freed of the need for fight a seat in the next election, Francis Maude will help ensure progress with what he has set in train right up until the election day and then return, perhaps via the House of Lords, to continue the fight – having found a suitable successor to look after the voters of Horsham and answer parliamentary questions.   


February 5, 2015  11:18 AM

Westminster debates Rural Broadband, meanwhile it’s quicker by bike less than a mile away

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Broadband, City, Crapband, CTF, Defra, Hansard, Labour, Libdem, London, Notspots, rural, Soho, UKIP

The DEFRA Select Committee report on “Rural Broadband and Digital Only Services” was published on Tuesday. Yesterday 18 backbench MPs, almost all Conservatives from Rural Consituencies, contributed to a debate on “Rural Phone and Broadband Connectivity“. More would have participated, had it not run out of time. Those unable to speak included a London Labour MP who released her comments to the Evening Standard pointing out it was quicker to send a short advertising video from Soho to Covent Garden by bicycle. Meanwhile the defensive alliance of incumbents  (BT, Deutsche Telecom and France Telecom) announced today is designed to enable infrastructure sharing, rather than addiitonal spend. 

I will stop there because I am just about to leave for a meeting hosted by Westminster Council bringing together local property owners (both public and private sector) and network operators to discuss practical co-operation in organising shared wayleaves and access agreements to cut the time and cost of addressing Inner City notspots and better serve small business and social housing complexes and well as some surprisingly affluent areas that are currently served by crapband (CRAP = copper, rust, alluminium and other pollutants, including radio noise if it is a wireless connection, between you and the nearest fibre connection).     

I am getting bored with those who “admire” problems and find excuses for delay while they milk past investments. I am more interested in helping those looking for ways to work together to meet unsatisfied demand at affordable cost.

The participation in the debate yesterday and the points made (do read Hansard), as well as those made recently by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, to which I referred in my previous blog , indicate that this topic will feature in quite a number of local campaigns in the General Election. Those interested in helping refine and review the Conservative Technology Forum “F-Plan” can use the e-mail address given on the CTF Web Site page covering the Digital Infrastructure Study  to contact me. I am also happy to share material with those interested in helping Labour, LibDems or UKIP to produce policy in this area because views on the actions needed do not appear to split along party lines.   


February 2, 2015  1:49 PM

Access to superfast broadband has a return on investment 10 times that of HS2

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Avonline, BDUK, HS2, NFU, Ofocm, PAC, satellite, superfast, transport, Westminster

In December 2014 the House of Commons Library producing a briefing for MPs which showed the current state of broadband availability by constituency  and in January 2015 the National Audit Office produced an update report  to aid the recent Public Account Committee review. Meanwhile the draft Ofcom Annual Plan  indicates that the new regime (with Dame Patricia Hodgson as Chairman and Sharon White as CEO) is likely to take a rather more robust approach to measuring broadband performance (in every sense of the word) and competition, particularly with regard to services to business (large and small, urban as well as rural).

According to the analyses at the back of the House of Commons Briefing “superfast”, i.e. over 30 mbps, is available to only 31% of properties in the Cities of London and Westminster (putting the constituency 591st) while 32% have it in West Dorset (587th). BT has told Westminster Council and the Corporation of London that this is because Central London is “uneconomic” because of the high proportion of business properties. Hence the widespread welcome for the news that Ofcom is finally going to investigate the way that BT is protecting its shrinking revenues from business, including public sector users 
 
I am grateful to Patrick Cosgrave for drawing my attention to the comments of Richard Bacon (Con. Norfolk South and Vice Chairman of Public Accounts Committee) during their recent hearing on Rural Broadband : “You’ve [i.e. BDUK] got £1.7 bn to spend and your cost benefit ratio is 20. HS2 has £42.6bn (in fact more as this figure excludes the rolling stock) but its cost benefit ratio is only somewhere between 1.75 and 2 . Your cost benefit ratio is 10 times more yet HS2 is getting 25 times more money. When I asked Philip Rutman, Permanent Secretary for  the Department of Transport,  if they’d considered putting broadband everywhere (admittedly I had to ask him eight times) he finally said No, they hadn’t. The fact is they’ve got 25 times more money but your cbr is 10 times more than theirs. This is a policy issue and shouldn’t you [BDUK] be doing a better job negotiating more money from the Treasury?”
 
In his newsletter on Shropshire Broadband, Patrick summarisef the following discussion as “Sue Owen of BDUK then agreed that this would be a topic of discussion in advance of the March budget. BDUK’s CEO, Chris Townsend, sitting beside her, smiled wryly at this but did not comment. As he had described with some enthusiasm earlier in the meeting that the solution for excluded rural areas will be satellite broadband, perhaps it should be a focus of broadband campaigns across the country to make it an election issue to press for a better deal now that this outcome is likely, and the comparison of pound for pound benefits between two major infrastructure projects is known.”  I am also grateful to Patrick for his summary of the other points made during the discussion and for drawing my attention to a review by Mark Jackson which put the discussions into context – making this blog much easier.

Patrick was disappointed at the news that satellite provision is likely to be the method of meeting the 2 Mb guarantee by the end of 2015. Given the availability of deals like that between the NFU and Avonline for 15 – 22 mbps to farmers I happen to belive that was a sensible and long overdue decision. I am told, however, that there are now issues, however, with regard to service in areas where demand for satellite services threatens to exceed current capacity. The implication appears to be that this should be reserved for areas where there is no realistic alternative. I hope that the meeting being planned for later this month by the Digital Policy Alliance and All-Party Space Committee will provide an opportunity to brief those MPs and candidates for whom this topic is important – including on the need to support investment in increased satellite capacity.
 
Patrick’s summary of the other issues addressed during the PAC meeting included:    
*    large numbers of rural pockets completely left out
*    rural small businesses largely by-passed
*    all farmers having to be online by April this year
*    alleged cherry-picking by BT of areas that are most profitable for them
*    upload speeds rather neglected
*    allegations that BT is by-passing rural industrial estates because leased lines are more profitable.
*    still no competition in Phase 2 contracting despite assurances from BDUK last January that this would not be the case
*    BT not prepared to disclose all costs local authorities  not permitted by BT’s gagging clauses to compare costs
*    BT not overcharging so much for cost of green cabinets in Phase 2 (at least some good news) and £92m of savings have been identified to plough back into projects
*    no real potential for BT to work working in partnership with alternative providers to create tailored solutions
*    BDUK can provide PAC details of exactly who will not be upgraded (we will pursue this via an FOI if necessary)
*    how/why did BDUK let BT get away with all this in the first place, leaving local authorities at the mercy of BT’s immensely superior commercial acumen?
*    is BT abusing its monopoly situation?

Patrick was particularly interested by the question of how many so-called “upgraded” premises will actually benefit from superfast (24 Mb+) broadband?  The BT representative couldn’t provide that figure, but said he would take the question away with him and get back to the chair.

I am personally interested by the how the estimates of the cost of national broadband rollout keep rising while the cost of building and upgrading networks to serve specifc communities falls month on month – as competition grows from players using internet age technologies and architectures. Before criticising the original BDUK/BT cost estimates we should remember they were based on extending a network that was planned in the 1980s to bring broadcast quality video to the home by 2002 – before the changes in communications technology brought about with the rise of the mass market internet. Those changes are now accellerating as we move into a world where everything is inter-connected

Today the largest component in network upgrade costs appears to be wayleave and access charges, followed by management overheads. Even civil engineering costs come a poor third.  Hence my immediate focus on bringing property owners and network operators together to test the practicality of agreeing win-win shared solutions to take 80% (and sometime even more) out of the cost of addressing not spots. This week we have the first meeting of what I hope will develop into a neutral umbrell a for co-operation wherever players are more concerned with getting a share of the revenues from economic growth and job creation than defending past the business models of the past. We know the problems we will face. Hence the strategy of beginning with those who stand to gain most from success, whether or not others choose to join or copy them. I have asked the Digital Policy Alliance to provide a neutral umbrella. Those wishing to participate who have not already received an invitation should join the DPA and state that this is one of their priority areas. My own contributation on via DPA advisory board is uncharged but I cannot ask them to do work which is not supported by paying members who want to achieve practical results,     
 


January 28, 2015  11:12 AM

Will Companies’ House liability for damages help trigger better approach to identity governance?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Amazon, BCS, Cabinet office, Data governance, Data protection, Google, privacy, Surveillance, Yahoo, Zoopla

We have much debate about information security and data protection but far more harm is caused because accurate information is not available when and where it is needed. The Cabinet Office “liability avoidance” approach to identity and authorisation policy has long been driven by the need to address long standing quality problems, the proportion of department or agency records containing serious errors with regard to individuals or businesses often in the range 10 – 25%. Now, at long last, the reason has been made public.

Public debate regarding legal, incluidng corporate, identities has been complicated by a long-running (four years to the recent High Court judgement) case in which Companies House was being sued for having destroyed a healthy, century old family business, by promulgating a simple data error. The game is not yet over. There may yet be an appeal. The issue of “Crown Immunity”, inherent in the various EU Roman-Law based, Directives and Regulations concerning identity and data protection and sharing, will hopefully come into play – in the year of the 850th Anniversary of Magna Carta. The “immunity” of the “Data Barons” should also, however, come into play if we wish to avoid a “Peasants’ Revolt” as our current intellectual property regime loses public support and becomes unenforcable..  

Hence the importance of the issues raised in my last blog when I suggested a need to bring the UK information governance regime (both public and private) under proper judicial oversight. That means accuracy and availability, not “just” surveillance and security. Most of the debate over the governance of medical records (for example) is to do with privacy but we should not forget far more practical harm is caused by coding errors that can destroy lives and careers, whether or not the patient survives the failure to provide accurate information to clinicians when and where it is need.   

The debate over “big” and “open” data, including liability for mis-use and error is, hopefully, about to take a new and more realistic turn, away from mythology, technology and the business models of those refining our digital footprints and associated misinformation and cybercrud into “the new oil”.

In the 850th year of Magna Carta we need to address the duties that the Data Barons, as well as the State, owe to the rest of us with regard to their use of our personal data, especially when they broadcast errors that can destroy lives and businesses, as Companies House did when they confused Taylor and Son Ltd with Taylor and Sons Ltd when supplying insolvency data to the credit reference agencies. In looking at the significance of this case we need to remember that the services of the credit refernce companies are not only used to underpin and approve on-line business to business and business to consumer transactions. They are also used to help “authenticate” the on-line identities used whenever more than about $100 dollars is at risk. Given that the use of such services is central to the approach behind the Government Verify programme, the issues also go to the heart of the Modernising Government Agenda – with all the implications for social inclusion (and the 20 – 30% of the population without a credible digital footprint or credit profile).  

On the 9th February Computer Weekly is partnering the BCS and Tech UK in a “Big Digital Debate” . Given the growing public distrust of all things digital, I do hope that some-one, perhaps the chairman (over to you Bryan) will ask the speakers for their views on whether the Data Barons (from Amazon through Google to Yahoo and Zoopla) should take a greater legal responsibility to us all, if they wish to be able to enforce their related digital intellectual property rights. Similarly, should not “The Crown” (alias Whitehall) take explicit responsibility for the use of our information by its agencies and contractors if it expects us to deal with it on-line?

I deliberately pick content-related IPR enforcement as being the only part of a 21st Century Peasants Revolt that would scare the Data Barons of Today. All other sanctions are broken or worthless in an inter-connected world.  “The Crown” is, of course, more vulnerable to public opinion – at least for the next hundred days.          


Forgot Password

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an e-mail containing your password.

Your password has been sent to: