Quarkside

07/04/2011

QA may madden Maude

The 2011 Government ICT strategy preaches standards.   Tick box = Good.  People who bore for standards preach, ‘to do it properly you must define the standard and check later that the standard has been followed’.  This blog compares the strategy against a standard (standard with a small ‘s’) – in this case against the same set that was used to review the SOCITM ICT Strategy, released in draft last month.

The target for all public sector ICT is established in the introduction:

“6. Information and communications technology (ICT) is critical for the effective operation of government and the delivery of the services it provides to citizens and businesses. It offers key benefits by enabling:

  • access to online transactional services, which makes life simpler and more convenient for citizens and businesses; and
  • channels to collaborate and share information with citizens and business, which in turn enable the innovation of new online tools and services.”

Everybody must agree with this, and observe that sharing information across multiple agency boundaries is critical for citizens, businesses and agencies.  It has led to much discussion about shared infrastructure, shared services and the benefits this will bring.  Fortunately, we can use a standard for quality assuring the Strategy and highlighting any gaps that need to be addressed.  It has nine dimensions for assessing multi-agency information sharing partnerships.

  • Business Scope and Plans
  • Governance
  • Legal Issues, Policies, Rights and Responsibilities
  • Information Sharing
  • Identity Management
  • Federation
  • Transactions, Events and Messages
  • Infrastructure
  • Sustainability

Overall these can be summarised into Process, Governance and Technology – the Quarkside mantra.  A quick traffic light assessment against the standard dimensions is as follows:

  • Business Scope and Plans: Amber

The reasons are good and there is an aggressive, but risky timeplan.  Dependence on on word ‘Agile’, is a recipe for systemic obscuring of progress.  It provides opportunities for hiding problems that only emerge when the end-users in multiple location are expected to change time-honoured processes, and new systems are not interoperable with old systems.  The needs of 450 local authorities must not be ignored.

  • Governance:  Amber

A structure has been developed, but it omits the input of local delivery agencies, such as local authorities.

  • Legal Issues, Policies, Rights and Responsibilities: Amber

Apart from the Policy, other issues are not raised

  • Information Sharing: Amber

Use of open standards and APIs will help at a programmatic level, but additional useful services, such as Master Data Management and systems interoperability standards are not mentioned.

  • Identity Management:  Red

Avoidance of a cross public sector strategy for citizen, employee and agent identity management risks complete failure of the strategy and policy objectives will not be met.

  • Federation: Red

Federated trust by all involved agencies is vital for both accuracy and efficiency.  Nowhere is this mentioned or implied.

  • Transactions, Events and Messages:  Green

Operational systems usually find technical solution for inter-system data transfers.  The use of Web services on the Cloud should help.  Channel issues are addressed

  • Infrastructure:  Greenish

The overwhelming weight of the document is technology and infrastructure, there are eleven actions planned.  However, one suspects that the thought process has ignored local government and external agencies in the calculations.  Are local authorities expected to reduce ICT costs by 35%?

  • Sustainability:  Red

The standard means to ability to sustain a shared service for operation over many years, not reducing carbon usage.  Most shared services fail because of the inability to agree funding for operations, and all the development investment is wasted.  Central Government must agree a sustainable funding model at the very beginning of every information sharing project.  The Cabinet Office should feel responsible for the whole of the public sector, not just central government departments and agencies.

So how do you react to 3 Reds, 4 Ambers and 2 Greens?  It is low on Process and Governance and higher on Technology.  Quarkside thinks it is good enough for a first draft to get the ball rolling.  But if Francis Maude thinks this document is going to deliver all his policy objectives, then I fear that he, or his successor, is set for a big disappointment and some explaining to do.

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