Pasc 8: Standards, standards, standards

The eighth of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) 12 questions, asks:

8. What infrastructure, data or other assets does government need to own, or to control directly, in order to make effective use of IT?

Ownership of processors, data stores and communication networks is not a major issue. They are commodity products and most are not core government assets. They should be procured and operated at the lowest cost to the public purse. If a Government Cloud is trusted, secure and economical, then it should be used.

Control of data is a core custodianship function and must not be relinquished. Data is best regarded as a triumvirate of Operational, Reference and Derived data. Public services may use any or all of these.

  • Operational data is front-line, perhaps with high transaction volumes, eg school attendance or DVLA registration. Nobody would contemplate providing this type of service without IT.
  • Reference data, commonly shared between many systems, is of variable quality, such as addresses. The reason is often that different operational systems have different versions and incompatible formats. Interoperability between systems is impossible without adoption of data standards. The public sector, as a whole, does not have a functioning standards body, or the power to enforce them.
  • Derived data is combined or abstracted from several sources. It is the basis of planning and performance measurement systems. It may reside in data warehouses or complex spreadsheets. Systems may collect data from operational, reference or other derived data sets.

What make it more complex is that the quality not only depends on knowledge of standards, but also the context and timeliness of the source data. Martha Lane Fox seems to understand the need for standards. That’s what Government leadership should control.

By standards, don’t assume the detailed documentation published by BSI or ISO.  Standards can also be the accepted frameworks and governance structures that form best practice.  But somebody independent should assess that they are being followed and avoiding prima donna assertions.  Above all it needs IT functional leadership.



  1. […] processes.  At least, Governance is acknowledged as crossing boundaries.  The plea to use standards is hidden in the small […]

    Pingback by NAO: Messages missed in painful prose. « Quarkside — 07/03/2011 @ 8:51 am | Reply

  2. […] was not surprised at either of these answers.  The UK standards culture in ICT is to ignore them. We are seeing the results of this culture in our inability to share data and […]

    Pingback by Standards Slump « Quarkside — 11/03/2011 @ 9:32 am | Reply

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