Quarkside

21/04/2014

Doom or Dust: Universal Credit Choices

Filed under: Politics — lenand @ 6:43 pm
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Universal Credit IT is getting nowhere, expensively.  At least that seems in line with the opinions of the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee.

Despite the millions being spent on the end-state IT solution it is still not clear when the system will be ready or even how it will work. It is still not ready for testing on the first 100 claimants, and we have no indication of when it will be possible to test it on a bigger and more representative group of claimants.”

It it 3 years since Quarkside prophesised doom.  It hasn’t quite reached that point, but how close to doom is it?  The Committee Chair said:

“The money wasted on Universal Credit so far – £40 million on IT software that now has no use and £90 million on software with a useful life of only 5 years – is a matter of deep regret.”

Perhaps the Grim Reaper should dust his (or her) spectacles and deal a death blow before the tax payers’ regrets increase.

24/10/2013

GO’D: We are in a bad place, but it is a stable bad place

Filed under: Governance,Policy,Politics — lenand @ 4:46 pm

Gus O’Donnell, a former Cabinet Secretary, has proposed key reforms that he believes would lead to better government in an article in the Political Quarterly.

On the social side, he recognises problem of a rapidly ageing population, with increasing pressure on health and social care budgets.  He notes the rising trend in obesity, the growth of dementia and Alzheimer’s and mental health issues in general, making it hard to see how the state can afford to help all who need it.

In his solutions, he proposes policy changes for enhancing wellbeing, and constitutional changes would deliver such policies.  He asserts a fairly broad consensus on the following:

  • our planning laws are too rigid and slow;
  • our infrastructure is outdated and in need of urgent attention;
  • our education system is not producing the skills that our businesses need;
  • our health system is expensive and inefficient, with too little spent on prevention and mental health resulting in too much being needed for drugs and hospitals.

He questions whether money spent wisely, with UK public spending (Total Managed Expenditure) accounting for round 45 per cent of GDP.  The implication is that is unwise and he postulates three reasons for poor levels of public sector productivity: policy hysteresis, short-termism and vested interests.

On politicians and policy, he has lots to say, which includes a desire for pre-qualification criteria for candidates. He questions the sense of free travel for Londoners over 60, free prescriptions and “winter fuel allowances to millionaire pensioners on the Costa Brava”.  He sees it as “all part of the ludicrous bias whereby the old are subsidised by the young. It is bad economics and bad social policy.”  Which politicians would wish to reverse these policies?

On short-termism, he sees the overwhelming priority in health is to focus more on prevention and to rebalance resources in favour of mental health.  He would like to use wellbeing as a success measure.  “All hospital staff from the cleaners to the consultants should be absolutely clear that their objective is to improve the wellbeing of patients. Subject to that, they may well have intermediate targets, like reducing waiting times and cleaner wards, but the main goal should be clear.”

On public sector Governance, he suggests a body with strong professional integrity. An Office for Taxpayer Responsibility (OTR) with its own professional staff.  Yet he proposes staffing that would only seem to continue organisational hysteresis: “secondments from the Big 4 accountancy firms, some former civil servants, particularly those with Treasury experience, some ex-ministers and private sector members, particularly those with experience of working with the public sector.”  Each of these are at risk of having vested interests.

His conclusion is:

Unfortunately, we suffer from strong policy and constitutional hysteresis. We are in a bad place, but it is a stable bad place.

14/11/2012

IDS gets IDs; but has he lost the plot?

Filed under: Local Government,People,Policy,Politics — lenand @ 1:40 pm
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Computer Weekly has a searching blog about the state of the Universal Credit Programme.  The risk is that too many people are concentrating on the technology, such as the recent announcement of the suppliers selected for the ID Assurance programme.

What few people have talked about, are the horrors expected when UC goes operational.  The reduction in benefits is going to cause distress in many households that are already at breaking point. The Local CIO Council discussed this last week and here are some of the issues raised – none of which have Technology solutions:

  • Thousands of properties are “underoccupied”, benefits will be reduced, families will have to downsize.
  • Digital By Design is inappropriate for many people that are socially and digitally excluded. They will need costly, face to face, mediated access.
  • Some large councils are expecting to lose £100m.
  • More homelessness is expected by Councils and the Voluntary Sector.
  • Domestic violence and suicides are expected to increase.
  • Schools will see more hungry children.
  • Child abuse is expected to rise – remember that every child taken into care will cost a local authority £250,000.
  • Some currently exempt people will have to start paying council tax, which are often small amounts that are too costly to collect
  • Releasing Section 106 obligations will compound homelessness problems.
  • B&B costs and will increase, as will relocation into different boroughs

As one respected member said “IDS has lost his sense of reality”.  He may get his IDs, but at what cost to Councils and their poorer citizens?

11/09/2012

£21bn Cyber Crime cost contradicted

Filed under: Governance,Politics,Risk,Security — lenand @ 1:59 pm
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Cyber Crime (eCrime) is global, but it needs local solutions.  It needs political will to engineer a major reduction in eCrime.  The problem is that politicians need to recite credible evidence to justify expenditure to their key constituents, eg citizens and small businesses.  Such evidence is reviewed in a report published by Cardiff University, “eCrime Reduction Partnership Mapping Study”.

One of the authors, Dr Michael Levi, launched the review in Parliament yesterday.  In wanting to avoid headline-catching assertions, he obliges you to read the 80 pages to extract any gems:

  •  Estimated losses to UK business of £21billion (Detica and Cabinet Office) do not “meet acceptable quality standards”.
  •  The size and scale of eCrime is unknown and good data is not collectible;
  •  Criminals profit from eCrime, with tax and welfare being the greatest source of income;
  •      SMEs and individual victims do not get any justice response, nor do the Police plan to provide it. Malware, phishing or illegal copying are not on the radar.

On this evidence it is difficult to imagine that many politicians will be inspired enough to lead on promoting local eCrime reduction partnerships formed from police, business, government and local authorities.  Self-help may be the way forward, but how do you inform people of the true risks and methods of avoidance?  It may be practical to initiate a scheme like Neighbourhood Watch, but sustaining success would depend on charismatic leadership – not on bureaucratic data collection and dissemination.  It is a fact that the offer of advice creates fear, and the perception that things are worse than the evidence suggests.

14/06/2012

IER (aka IVR): data matching shambles

Filed under: Electoral,Governance,Local Government,Politics — lenand @ 1:45 pm
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Individual Electoral Registration (IER, and also previously known as IVR, or Individual Voter Registration) is the subject of many Cabinet Office papers. Over 400 Councils, their Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and their ICT departments are faced with one almighty problem to get it operating smoothly in time for the 2015 general election.

The lack of preparation was apparent by November 2011. The Cabinet Office have developed a framework and run a number of data matching pilots with LAs.  The results are no surprise.

“Of the data sets tested in the pilot the DWP data set had the highest match rate (the proportion of the electoral register that could be successfully matched within the national data). On average, two- thirds of the electoral register (66 per cent) could be matched within this data set.”

This is typical for the quality of data matching between local and central government data bases. The experience with the Child Index (aka ContactPoint) and the Data Connects work contains innumerable lessons that have not been learnt. More effort should have been placed on developing an implementation framework that assumes that data quality will be poor.   We all know that 90% of data cleansing effort goes into error handling and the Cabinet Office should not assume that data matching will be good enough.

The fact is that quality isn’t good enough is reinforced by the March Electoral Commission report. To quote:

“The pilots did not follow processes, in terms of the IT systems and matching arrangements, which would be used for nationwide data matching. The evaluation cannot therefore draw conclusions about how the costs of these pilots would translate to a national roll-out.”

In effect we have lost at least two years in the programme. It will be no surprise if this is proclaimed as Yet Another Government IT Failure (YAGIF). It will not be a failure of ICT, but a failure of mandarins to understand how LAs operate.

A Cabinet Office key finding is:

 “Generally, the level of public interest or concern regarding the pilots was reported to be low”

A cynic might think IVR can fail without embarrassment – Electoral Reform is in the portfolio of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Cabinet Office eID follows Quarkside?

Filed under: Governance,Politics,Risk — lenand @ 12:40 pm
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At the end of May, the Cabinet Office reported that Identity Assurance goes to Washington.  They seem to have taken heed of January’s Quarkside support of the OIX standard for eIDs.  This is the Open Identity Trust Framework (OITF) Model that does not require a central hub.  Perhaps the headline claim is a little strong, since there is no evidence that anybody there has read the blog!  Nevertheless, given that a central eID scheme has been ruled out by Government policy, it is a small step in the right direction.  Although a central scheme would be the most efficient to operate and implement, federation of eIDs is technically feasible.

Now for the next set of issues:

  • Can the Government use a current implementation of OIX that prevents identity fraud, such as duplicate identities or impersonation?
  • Will private sector identity providers, such as Google, provide eIDs at a price that makes commercial sense to themselves or citizens?
  • Will the scheme be ready in time for Universal Credit with sufficient trust in electronic credentials?

With a risk manager’s hat on the answers to all of these is probably “No“, ie greater than 50% chance of missing targets.  Failure of Quality, failure of Cost and failure of Time; the fundamental triumvirate of project management.  Will this be another ill-fated YAGIF (Yet Another Government IT Failure) – which is actually a Governance failure, not ICT?

The OIX framework does not obviously include the high levels of trust that public sector agencies will need to dispense £billions with on-line transactions.  Something akin to an Identity Trust Matrix may be necessary, tailored to the specific needs of service providers such as schools and the NHS.

15/05/2012

IER: Matching Mayhem

The Cabinet Office recently published a number of papers on the  Introduction of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill.  With barely a third of electors bothering to vote in local elections, what is the likely impact of any new processes in increasing the number of voters?  It does not feature in any of the documents.  Reducing fraud and increasing accuracy seems to be the driver – not democratic accountability.

  • It is a widely held view that the current system for registration is vulnerable to fraud and a public perception that this allows electoral fraud to occur.
  • Individual Electoral Registration (IER) should therefore improve the accuracy of the register and allow people to register in different ways. 

The preferred option is to pre-populate the electoral register with electors who can be validated against public data sources in 2014/15 and then require the remaining electorate, future house movers, and new voters to register (and have their registration validated) from 2014/15 onwards.

As previously reported by Quarkside, the scary part is the data matching against public data sources by 400+ local authority Electoral Registration Officers (EROs). “…confirmation is expected to pre-populate the register with 57% of the eligible electorate“, leaving 43% to be found by other means.  This assumption is derived from the 2012 Electoral Commission report on Data matching schemes.  Delving deeper into this, we find a startling recommendation that

  • The pilots did not follow processes, in terms of the IT systems and matching arrangements, which would be used for nationwide data matching. The evaluation cannot therefore draw conclusions about how the costs of these pilots would translate to a national roll-out.

Not only that, the poor quality of the matching data showed:

  • … the average match in the pilot areas using Department for Work and Pensions data was 66%.

And everybody knows, the highest costs are the result of solving poor data quality problems.  Has this been factored into the Cabinet Office calculations.

  • The process, as tested in these pilots, was labour intensive with significant work required to analyse the data. Those involved felt that the level of work required would not be sustainable in the future.

The prognosis is not good – but we shall battle on regardless of all the warnings emanating from Local Government EROs and computer service departments.  We need a secure, consistent, governance framework that can be followed by all Councils – at a price the nation can afford.

14/02/2012

Data Protection: MoJ ignores most of the public sector

Filed under: Governance,Politics,Privacy — lenand @ 8:53 am
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The Ministry of Justice has called for evidence on the EU Data Protection Proposals.  They are seeking the views of “data controllers and data processors, rights groups and information policy experts or anyone with a professional or personal interest in data protection“.  Quite right – they have asked over 150 organisations to answer a lengthy questionnaire.  They have selected an eclectic mix of companies from Abbey Quilting Limited to Yahoo!  Many are understandable, such as No2ID and the Information Commissioner’s Office.  It is the omissions that are mysterious:

– Virtually no central government departments have been asked.  One would have expected HMRC and DWP should have some evidence – not just the DVLA.

– No representative organisation from local government, such as Solace, LGA or Socitm.  But there are a few individual local authorities such as Norfolk County Council.

When these organisations collectively record personal data for every single citizen, surely they should have been asked.  It is not an issue of politeness – but politics and policy.  Information governance must include the key stakeholders – not just an apparently random selection.

Right to be forgotten: Is it practical?

Filed under: Governance,Politics,Privacy,Process,Risk — lenand @ 8:08 am
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The reform of the EU’s data protection framework has an explicit requirement that obliges online social networking services (and all other data controllers) to minimise the volume of users’ personal data that they collect and process.  Furthermore, data controllers must delete an individual’s personal data on request – assuming there is no other legitimate reason to retain it.

One wonders if this also applies to back-up and archive files.  The best organisations may be able to trawl through history, selectively remove personal records and produce an audit trail to prove it.  It may start messing up statistical reports – but that a minor problem when most public sector organisations do not have information governance processes capable of tracing individuals – let alone removing all traces of them.

14/12/2011

Democratic Accountability: Look at Lobbying

Filed under: Governance,Politics — lenand @ 12:08 pm
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Thanks to the Great Emancipator we have seen a US view of “Government-wide Information Sharing for Democratic Accountability“.  The author, J.H. Snider, is suggesting using semantic web technology to monitor the connections between powerful politicians, public officials and lobbyists.  He points out that these techniques are used on the weaker members of society, but the powerful will cite privacy and cost for not applying the same methods on their activities. He recommends that the President’s transactions are monitored in detail as a showcase for monitoring Congress and executive relationships.  What are the chances of linking up data of the Prime Minister, Ministers, senior civil servants, leaders of councils and their suppliers of hospitality?

Well, there is the work going on in the Cabinet Office led cross-government information architecture.  They are attempting to use standards to provide interoperability between different departments and agencies.   Amongst these are the building of an “Upper Ontology for Operational Service Delivery” – perhaps this has the same intention as Snider’s “Who-What-When-Where ontology”.  The USA has a more accessible name for what may be the same thing.

It will take a long time, if ever, to develop a lobbying information system. Even though some MPs are calling for the establishment of a register it would eventually have to be linked to lots more sources of reliable data.

Where Quarkside differs from Snider is in the use of Global Unique Idenifiers (GUIDs).  They may think they have them in the USA, but it is not credible or politically acceptable in the UK. Reflecting back on a post from last year,

  • A person does not need a Unique Identifier (UID).
  • The Law does not demand a UID.
  • Use just sufficient data to identify a person.

Openness in personal relationships can only built from an understanding of federated identity, multiple identities, not by demanding a UID.  The likes of Experian can do it – so could UK plc. Maybe Liam Maxwell could assist here. Maybe we could also publish information about political lobbying that would improve democratic accountability.

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