4 years, 4 months ago

The Ten Commandments of the Government Digital Service (i)

The Government Digital Service principles
The Government Digital Service principles (i)
The Government Digital Service principles (ii)
The Government Digital Service principles should become part of the culture
Government as a platform, foundations
Gov…

6 years, 4 months ago

Towards an Open Architecture for the Public Sector

#diggovreview #publicsectorIT .

Attended an interesting workshop last week to discuss some of the architectural aspects of Digital Government, hosted by Skyscape. One purpose of this discussion was to feed into the Labour Party Digital Government Review, and possibly into the Labour manifesto for the next election. Under modified Chatham House rules, I believe I am permitted to blog about the workshop as long as I don’t attribute anything to anybody or any organization.

There are several architectural themes that are probably shared between the political parties, although there may be some differences of emphasis and interpretation. For example, everyone seems to pay lip service to the idea of opening up public sector IT, and reducing the power of the incompetent and self-interested, whoever these may be. But there will undoubtedly be different views on the right tactics for redistributing commercial and bureaucratic power.

Openness leads to fashionable ideas about IT acquisition – a preference for consuming rather than self-build, and a preference for agile development rather than waterfall. These are great ideas when used properly, but we must be careful not to encourage the illusion that these ideas provide a magic solution to the troubles of public sector IT. Indeed, some recent IT disasters have been attributed to an ill-considered rush to “Agile”. And the Buy-Not-Build agenda must be governed properly, to avoid ceding too much architectural control to the large platform providers.

Openness also means structural change. For example, a shift from vertical integration and vertical silos to lateral modularity and co-creation, which my friend and associate Philip Boxer calls Collaborative Composition. This connects with the notions of Shared Services and Platform.

Finally, there is the question of the tempo of change. Government policies have a fairly rapid cycle time – in some cases around 18-24 months depending on department – but we cannot afford to reengineer systems and services, let alone platforms, at this sort of frequency.

So there was considerable discussion about the role of Government in providing a platform, and whether the platform should be a Minimum Viable Platform (similar to the Internet) or provide added value. There was also some debate as to whether politicians could be persuaded to support systems and platforms that would last longer than the policies that they were intended to implement.

The Public Sector suffers, perhaps even more than other organizations, from a confusion between Requirement and Solution. So people like to talk about Open Standards or Agile as the solution to high IT costs, or advocate Big Central Database as the perfect solution to any information needs, instead of talking about the requirements, such as interoperability and low switching costs. I hope that the Labour Party (or any other party for that matter) can be encouraged to express its policies in terms of the requirements and governance approach, rather than mandating specific technological solutions.

As I’ve pointed out before, the term “Joined-Up Government” has several different interpretations. From an Inside-Out (supply-side) perspective, it is commonly taken to imply improved integration between separate government departments and agencies – in other words, some kind of reorganization, not merely of IT systems and services but also the agencies responsible for these services. Of course, reorganization might sometimes be needed, but this is merely one possible solution to the real requirement, which in my opinion comes from the Outside-In (demand-side) perspective – the citizen’s need for a coherent experience of government services.

For example, the much-discussed integration between Healthcare and Social Care doesn’t entail merging two massive and inefficient silos into one even more massive and inefficient silo, but could be achieved simply by opening up the silos and improving the flows of information between them. The Outside-In perspective merely calls for the citizen to get a coherent joined-up service across both healthcare and social care, however this may be done.

And consider the much maligned Contact Point, which had somehow morphed from an information sharing platform (“System of Engagement”) to a Big Central Database (“System of Record”), largely under the control of people who didn’t appreciate that these weren’t necessarily the same thing.

Effective multi-agency working depends on effective information sharing, but this doesn’t mean putting all the data into a single source of truth. Many of the breakthroughs of Digital Government have come, not from building massive central databases, but from improving collaboration between different agencies – health, social care, police, justice, etc – often dealing with the same problem families from different professional perspectives. As we say at Glue Reply, it’s about the conversation.


Some of us have been talking about these themes for a long time. In my own small way, I have written a number of articles and blogposts about eGovernment and Joined-Up Government, and I submitted something on Shared Services to the Cabinet Office in January 2006, most of which is probably still valid. See previous posts on this blog – eGovernment, Joined-Up, Shared Services.

Philip Boxer, Creating Value in Ecosystems (December 2010)

Jerry Fishenden and Mark Thompson, Digital Government, Open Architecture, and Innovation: Why Public Sector IT Will Never Be the Same Again (Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory September 2012)

Mike Martin, Open Architecture Critique – A Draft (March 2014)

David Sprott and Richard Veryard, Shared Services for the UK Public Sector (Submission to the Cabinet Office, CBDI Forum January 2006)

Richard Veryard, Joined-Up Services (Review of the Public Management and Policy Association. February 2002)

Richard Veryard and Philip Boxer, Public Sector IT – The CSA Case (December 2004)


See also David Sprott’s response to this post. Open Architecture for the Public Sector (May 2014)

6 years, 4 months ago

Towards an Open Architecture for the Public Sector

#diggovreview #publicsectorIT .

Attended an interesting workshop last week to discuss some of the architectural aspects of Digital Government, hosted by Skyscape. One purpose of this discussion was to feed into the Labour Party Digital Government Review, and possibly into the Labour manifesto for the next election. Under modified Chatham House rules, I believe I am permitted to blog about the workshop as long as I don’t attribute anything to anybody or any organization.

There are several architectural themes that are probably shared between the political parties, although there may be some differences of emphasis and interpretation. For example, everyone seems to pay lip service to the idea of opening up public sector IT, and reducing the power of the incompetent and self-interested, whoever these may be. But there will undoubtedly be different views on the right tactics for redistributing commercial and bureaucratic power.

Openness leads to fashionable ideas about IT acquisition – a preference for consuming rather than self-build, and a preference for agile development rather than waterfall. These are great ideas when used properly, but we must be careful not to encourage the illusion that these ideas provide a magic solution to the troubles of public sector IT. Indeed, some recent IT disasters have been attributed to an ill-considered rush to “Agile”. And the Buy-Not-Build agenda must be governed properly, to avoid ceding too much architectural control to the large platform providers.

Openness also means structural change. For example, a shift from vertical integration and vertical silos to lateral modularity and co-creation, which my friend and associate Philip Boxer calls Collaborative Composition. This connects with the notions of Shared Services and Platform.

Finally, there is the question of the tempo of change. Government policies have a fairly rapid cycle time – in some cases around 18-24 months depending on department – but we cannot afford to reengineer systems and services, let alone platforms, at this sort of frequency.

So there was considerable discussion about the role of Government in providing a platform, and whether the platform should be a Minimum Viable Platform (similar to the Internet) or provide added value. There was also some debate as to whether politicians could be persuaded to support systems and platforms that would last longer than the policies that they were intended to implement.

The Public Sector suffers, perhaps even more than other organizations, from a confusion between Requirement and Solution. So people like to talk about Open Standards or Agile as the solution to high IT costs, or advocate Big Central Database as the perfect solution to any information needs, instead of talking about the requirements, such as interoperability and low switching costs. I hope that the Labour Party (or any other party for that matter) can be encouraged to express its policies in terms of the requirements and governance approach, rather than mandating specific technological solutions.

As I’ve pointed out before, the term “Joined-Up Government” has several different interpretations. From an Inside-Out (supply-side) perspective, it is commonly taken to imply improved integration between separate government departments and agencies – in other words, some kind of reorganization, not merely of IT systems and services but also the agencies responsible for these services. Of course, reorganization might sometimes be needed, but this is merely one possible solution to the real requirement, which in my opinion comes from the Outside-In (demand-side) perspective – the citizen’s need for a coherent experience of government services.

For example, the much-discussed integration between Healthcare and Social Care doesn’t entail merging two massive and inefficient silos into one even more massive and inefficient silo, but could be achieved simply by opening up the silos and improving the flows of information between them. The Outside-In perspective merely calls for the citizen to get a coherent joined-up service across both healthcare and social care, however this may be done.

And consider the much maligned Contact Point, which had somehow morphed from an information sharing platform (“System of Engagement”) to a Big Central Database (“System of Record”), largely under the control of people who didn’t appreciate that these weren’t necessarily the same thing.

Effective multi-agency working depends on effective information sharing, but this doesn’t mean putting all the data into a single source of truth. Many of the breakthroughs of Digital Government have come, not from building massive central databases, but from improving collaboration between different agencies – health, social care, police, justice, etc – often dealing with the same problem families from different professional perspectives. As we say at Glue Reply, it’s about the conversation.


Some of us have been talking about these themes for a long time. In my own small way, I have written a number of articles and blogposts about eGovernment and Joined-Up Government, and I submitted something on Shared Services to the Cabinet Office in January 2006, most of which is probably still valid. See previous posts on this blog – eGovernment, Joined-Up, Shared Services.

Philip Boxer, Creating Value in Ecosystems (December 2010)

Jerry Fishenden and Mark Thompson, Digital Government, Open Architecture, and Innovation: Why Public Sector IT Will Never Be the Same Again (Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory September 2012)

Mike Martin, Open Architecture Critique – A Draft (March 2014)

David Sprott and Richard Veryard, Shared Services for the UK Public Sector (Submission to the Cabinet Office, CBDI Forum January 2006)

Richard Veryard, Joined-Up Services (Review of the Public Management and Policy Association. February 2002)

Richard Veryard and Philip Boxer, Public Sector IT – The CSA Case (December 2004)


See also David Sprott’s response to this post. Open Architecture for the Public Sector (May 2014)

6 years, 7 months ago

What’s Wrong with Universal Credit? On The Rooting of the Particular in the Universal

According to Hegel, the administration of a corporation’s affairs by its own supervisors will often be inept, “for although they know and have before them their own distinct interests and affairs, they have a less complete grasp of the connection between these and more remote conditions and universal points of view”. (GWF Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, 1820)

Therefore, one of the challenges for enterprise architecture is to maintain a pragmatic balance between the particular and the universal, especially when many of the decision-makers (as Hegel observed) tend to see things from a narrow short-term perspective.

So at first sight, we might think that the UK Government initiative known as Universal Credit represents a welcome exception to this narrow short-term thinking. What a brilliant idea to consolidate all benefit systems into a single simpler system!

The devil, of course, is in the detail. Mark Ballard explains:

Universal Credit would not only re-engineer the complex administration of £70bn social security payments to 8m households, merging six benefits systems across two government departments and local authorities throughout the country. It would also rely on councils up and down the country making their own systems and processes compatible. It would depend upon HM Revenue & Customs completing its own income tax system reforms of unprecedented ambition, Real-Time Information. And HMRC would in turn depend on employers, banks and payroll software suppliers reforming their computer systems and processes as well. Universal Credit would have to navigate this exponentially explosive collection of risk factors. This was a spaghetti junction of high-stakes computer gambits from which Universal Credit would have to pull a benefits payment that was reliable and secure. (Mark Ballard, Universal Credit failures put coalition ICT strategy in purdah. Computer Weekly September 2013)

What went wrong? Agile Development? Procurement? Interdepartmental warfare? Bureaucracy?

“There was an extremely strong command and control culture at the DWP, which goes against agile. We were trying to alleviate that – but it wasn’t working,” said a source. “The fundamental problem was procurement,” said an anonymous participant. “Our hands were tied because of procurement. If you don’t set up the contract properly, you are on a hiding to nothing.” (Mark Ballard, Why agile development failed for Universal Credit, Computer Weekly July 2013)

Iain Duncan Smith is stuck between using traditional waterfall and systems integration, advocated by DWP, and “agile hacking”, advocated by GDS.  (Bryan Glick, The question that matters on Universal Credit: Do you believe Iain Duncan Smith? Computer Weekly Feb 2014, comment by John Alexander)

Any system which is designed to operate with a smaller bureaucracy will be opposed tooth and nail by the bureaucrats mandated to implement it. (Benedict Brogan, Whitehall is shuddering over Universal Credit problems Telegraph February 2014, comment by Littlegrayman)

And was it just poor execution, or was the vision faulty? Paul Spicker thinks the whole project was doomed.

It is easy to blame the IT when things go wrong, but when people are asked to do impossible things, it should not be surprising if they do not deliver. … The most basic flaw rests in the idea that we can “personalise” benefits for millions of people. There are just too many moving parts; and in a system with millions of iterations, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. (Paul Spicker, Universal Credit: Don’t blame the IT Computer Weekly Feb 2014)

(I want to make two observations here. Firstly, requirements are not additive. Even if each requirement makes sense on its own, that doesn’t mean that the whole set of requirements makes sense. And secondly, requirements that make sense in some contexts don’t make sense in other contexts. For example, retail may be able to achieve a good level of personalization, because it doesn’t matter much if a customer sometimes gets the “wrong” promotional voucher. But it matters a lot if people get the “wrong” benefits, so the stakes are much higher.)

And even the Spectator (a right-wing weekly magazine) complains about ministerial incompetence and inflexibility.

The Universal Credit fiasco exemplifies Duncan Smith’s narcissistic failure to admit and remedy mistakes. As Computer Weekly — a far better guardian of the taxpayer than the Conservative backbenches or press, incidentally – has said, Duncan Smith proceeded with a vast and complicated IT project without learning the lessons from the IT disasters of the Labour years. (Nick Cohen, The conservative case against Iain Duncan Smith, Spectator June 2014)

John Naughton compares Universal Credit with Obamacare, and detects the same problem with both.

How is it that governments stuffed with able and conscientious civil servants screw up so spectacularly whenever IT is involved? … The strange thing about this is that you wouldn’t need to have been a geek to spot the problem with healthcare.gov. You just had to think architecturally about it. Yet apparently nobody in the administration did. The same applies to the post-9/11 decision to link all the previously separate US security databases into one giant file to which at least 250,000 people had access, one of whom happened to be Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. (John Naughton, Obamacare, universal credit… why do governments make such a mess of IT? Observer December 2013)

You don’t have to be a geek. You just have to think architecturally. And thinking architecturally means – among other things – anticipating and resolving the kind of problems faced by projects like these.

Standing up for the universal point of view doesn’t justify a Stalinist approach to smoothing out the unavoidable complexities of dealing with real individuals and their messy lives. Is this a failure for IT, or a failure for bureaucracy? And can we tell the difference?

Updated 3 July 2014

6 years, 7 months ago

What’s Wrong with Universal Credit? On The Rooting of the Particular in the Universal

According to Hegel, the administration of a corporation’s affairs by its own supervisors will often be inept, “for although they know and have before them their own distinct interests and affairs, they have a less complete grasp of the connection between these and more remote conditions and universal points of view”. (GWF Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, 1820)

Therefore, one of the challenges for enterprise architecture is to maintain a pragmatic balance between the particular and the universal, especially when many of the decision-makers (as Hegel observed) tend to see things from a narrow short-term perspective.

So at first sight, we might think that the UK Government initiative known as Universal Credit represents a welcome exception to this narrow short-term thinking. What a brilliant idea to consolidate all benefit systems into a single simpler system!

The devil, of course, is in the detail. Mark Ballard explains:

Universal Credit would not only re-engineer the complex administration of £70bn social security payments to 8m households, merging six benefits systems across two government departments and local authorities throughout the country. It would also rely on councils up and down the country making their own systems and processes compatible. It would depend upon HM Revenue & Customs completing its own income tax system reforms of unprecedented ambition, Real-Time Information. And HMRC would in turn depend on employers, banks and payroll software suppliers reforming their computer systems and processes as well. Universal Credit would have to navigate this exponentially explosive collection of risk factors. This was a spaghetti junction of high-stakes computer gambits from which Universal Credit would have to pull a benefits payment that was reliable and secure. (Mark Ballard, Universal Credit failures put coalition ICT strategy in purdah. Computer Weekly September 2013)

What went wrong? Agile Development? Procurement? Interdepartmental warfare? Bureaucracy?

“There was an extremely strong command and control culture at the DWP, which goes against agile. We were trying to alleviate that – but it wasn’t working,” said a source. “The fundamental problem was procurement,” said an anonymous participant. “Our hands were tied because of procurement. If you don’t set up the contract properly, you are on a hiding to nothing.” (Mark Ballard, Why agile development failed for Universal Credit, Computer Weekly July 2013)

Iain Duncan Smith is stuck between using traditional waterfall and systems integration, advocated by DWP, and “agile hacking”, advocated by GDS.  (Bryan Glick, The question that matters on Universal Credit: Do you believe Iain Duncan Smith? Computer Weekly Feb 2014, comment by John Alexander)

Any system which is designed to operate with a smaller bureaucracy will be opposed tooth and nail by the bureaucrats mandated to implement it. (Benedict Brogan, Whitehall is shuddering over Universal Credit problems Telegraph February 2014, comment by Littlegrayman)

And was it just poor execution, or was the vision faulty? Paul Spicker thinks the whole project was doomed.

It is easy to blame the IT when things go wrong, but when people are asked to do impossible things, it should not be surprising if they do not deliver. … The most basic flaw rests in the idea that we can “personalise” benefits for millions of people. There are just too many moving parts; and in a system with millions of iterations, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. (Paul Spicker, Universal Credit: Don’t blame the IT Computer Weekly Feb 2014)

(I want to make two observations here. Firstly, requirements are not additive. Even if each requirement makes sense on its own, that doesn’t mean that the whole set of requirements makes sense. And secondly, requirements that make sense in some contexts don’t make sense in other contexts. For example, retail may be able to achieve a good level of personalization, because it doesn’t matter much if a customer sometimes gets the “wrong” promotional voucher. But it matters a lot if people get the “wrong” benefits, so the stakes are much higher.)

And even the Spectator (a right-wing weekly magazine) complains about ministerial incompetence and inflexibility.

The Universal Credit fiasco exemplifies Duncan Smith’s narcissistic failure to admit and remedy mistakes. As Computer Weekly — a far better guardian of the taxpayer than the Conservative backbenches or press, incidentally – has said, Duncan Smith proceeded with a vast and complicated IT project without learning the lessons from the IT disasters of the Labour years. (Nick Cohen, The conservative case against Iain Duncan Smith, Spectator June 2014)

John Naughton compares Universal Credit with Obamacare, and detects the same problem with both.

How is it that governments stuffed with able and conscientious civil servants screw up so spectacularly whenever IT is involved? … The strange thing about this is that you wouldn’t need to have been a geek to spot the problem with healthcare.gov. You just had to think architecturally about it. Yet apparently nobody in the administration did. The same applies to the post-9/11 decision to link all the previously separate US security databases into one giant file to which at least 250,000 people had access, one of whom happened to be Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. (John Naughton, Obamacare, universal credit… why do governments make such a mess of IT? Observer December 2013)

You don’t have to be a geek. You just have to think architecturally. And thinking architecturally means – among other things – anticipating and resolving the kind of problems faced by projects like these.

Standing up for the universal point of view doesn’t justify a Stalinist approach to smoothing out the unavoidable complexities of dealing with real individuals and their messy lives. Is this a failure for IT, or a failure for bureaucracy? And can we tell the difference?

Updated 3 July 2014

7 years, 7 months ago

Fuzzy Point of Failure

Apple, Oracle, the Danish banks and the Danish government, today demonstrates how vulnerable we digital citizens are. I went to my online bank today. It told me I need to update Java, so I did (even if it is just a week ago I last did that, but hey, it’s Java so…). After doing so, …read more

7 years, 8 months ago

Metamodels

The Danish Agency for Digitisation has announced some coming updates of the national enterprise architecture framework and reference models. In a consultation draft about these, Et fælles overblik, the agency also introduces the OIO EA metamodel. The consultation also involves an update to STORM, the Service and Technology Reference Model. All documents are in Danish. Interested parties can submit comments to the agency until 14 …read more

9 years, 9 months ago

European Interoperability Framework 2.0

This week, the European Commission announced an updated interoperability policy in the EU. The Commission has committed itself to adopt a Communication that introduces the European Interoperability Strategy (EIS) and an update to the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), “two key documents […]