Quarkside

28/10/2011

Secure money saver

How many confidential or official documents must be sent by the post? Bank statements, payslips, licence renewals, invoices,… Why can’t they be sent electronically? The over-riding reason is to guarantee a real address.

The “Private and Confidential” sticker is irrelevant once it has been delivered to the household, but the sender has done as much as they can – or have they? Shouldn’t the recipient have the choice of asking for such documents being sent to a secure, encrypted, email inbox?

The benefits to the recipient are:

  • Password, or token, protection to keep mails private and confidential.
  • Correspondence filed electronically
  • Readable from any location
  • Fewer paper cuts

The benefits to the sender, often public sector organisations, are far greater:

  • Reduced postal charges; 12 payslips a year must cost at least £2. That’s £2000 if you have a thousand pension payments to make.
  • Guaranteed delivery; there’s an audit trail to see if a document has been delivered and opened.
  • Interception free delivery and fewer non-delivery complaints to manage.
  • Ability to implement closed invoicing and payment processes with minimal intervention from administrators.

So here is a business proposition for the Local Authorities  (LAs) or the Post Office. Offer citizens a free, secure, encrypted, email inbox on a GCloud service. Offer any public or private sector organisation a secure, encrypted, traceable, email service at a sustainable annual fee. Some citizens may also wish to subscribe to a secure Web-based outbox for replying to secure inbox messages, or even to initiate communications.

The key to success is to link a secure email address with a property and a person.   Local Authorities have knowledge of the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) and at least one person responsible for paying Council Tax. They could minimise the risk of fraud by sanity checking the number of secure email accounts at each property.  LAs must lead on this innovation. There’s lots of work to do on the detail, but the good thing is that there’s an Agile solution because the basic facilities are available out of the box. Quarkside is trialling them now.

At some time in the future, this service could stimulate interest from the Electoral Registration Transformation Programme (ERTP, IVR and EIR are among the abbreviations). You read it here first.

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28/07/2011

Recipe for Rip-Offs – Quarkside Dunnit

Filed under: Governance,Outcomes,Policy,Politics — lenand @ 7:46 am
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How encouraging that Quarkside produced the strapline for the PASC Report Government and IT — “a recipe for rip-offs”: time for a new approach.  The author was quoted in paragraph 102.   It was taken from a longer statement  made in January.

“Complete outsourcing is a recipe for rip-offs. “

It even made the morning BBC news bulletins.  More importantly, it has been open and frank with criticisms and  recommendations.  There is little to cause negative comment from Quarkside.  Just read the full report.

The only area for improvement would be to link the concept of outcome based commissioning in paragraph 75:

“The Government must stop departments specifying IT solutions and ensure they specify what outcomes they wish to achieve, within the broad technical parameters to ensure interoperability.

with the discussion on Waterfall versus Agile Development.

The model in paragraph 81 does not mention outcomes.  Outcomes are the starting point of Quarkside’s Seven Dimensions of Information Governance (7DIG).  This is a nice example of using 7DIG to test validity of governance plans.  Agile is also seen as experimentation.  That’s fine, but the scientific method creates research goals.  These goals can be set at each iteration and possible future goals reviewed – and the outcomes must be re-visited.

03/05/2011

Universal Incredibility

Filed under: Local Government,Policy,Technology — lenand @ 11:51 am
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Local Government have been presented with more information about DWP’s Universal Credit (UC) programme.   The complexity is such that it will replace more than 30 working age benefits, across 4 agencies, with 10,000 pages of guidance.  DWP have published their implementation plan.         

They have been coy about when design and build will finish, let’s say Dec 2012 and about 6 months testing.  All using agile programming methods!

Not declared in the document is another staggering statistic; there 19 million claims by 8 million households.  Households will become the unit to which DWP will pay benefits.  Total household income will be reconciled every month as people move in and out of work.  The new on-line self-service system will speed up registration for  benefits from weeks to days, and avoid the often devastating, annual reconciliation.  The Devil thrives in the detail.  Households may contain parents, step-parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, children at school, young people at work, unemployed NEETs, students and cohabitees.    To complicate the issue for some beneficiaries, UC will not replace:

  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Contributory Benefits
  • Carers’ Allowance
  • Child Benefit
  • Pension Credit

Quarkside’s question to DWP about how they are going to define households remains unanswered.

Attempting to design a system without a definition of the primary unit of measure points to incompetence or a guarantee of promotion.  Apparently, top flight consultants are involved.  Perhaps they only have experience of well behaved nuclear families with bags of broadband and integrated internships.  Local authorities have to deal with the fall-out when the edifice crumbles.  Any ICT developer could devise a simple agile program for a consultant’s family – not for a family of travellers where ‘household’ has no meaning and may change on a weekly basis.  Change is second-most important reason for computer system failure, the first-most is getting the wrong specification.  UC hits both sweet spots.

Many new claimants for current benefits cancel broadband contracts as a luxury.   Many older claimants are also digitally excluded.  Currently LAs handle benefits claimants face to face and they employ many staff to do so.  Quarkside does not know the numbers, neither did DWP.  So they enquired to find out the number, perhaps indiscreetly, by asking Heads of Revenues and Benefits what their redundancy costs might be when UC is implemented.  LA Chief Executives were not amused.  Face to face service will be necessary and it is not clear who will provide it from which premises.

In answer to some of these challenges a DWP spokesman was most enlightening.

  • Ian Duncan Smith is only interested in outcomes
  • There’s a commercial market for recycled computers, everybody should be able to afford one
  • 70-80% of transactions will be on-line by beneficiaries
  • Most beneficiaries will be in full-time work
  • LAs may be asked to work as agents for DWP
  • HMRC and DWP are working closely together, but there is a bit of a conflict with DCLG housing policy and benefits caps
  • Ease of use is important and wireframe design will eventually help beneficiaries (aka customers)
  • LA support is essential for success and more consultation will be carried out
  • Writing the letter to Heads of Revs & Bens was a mistake
  • £180,000 for developing the system must also  be a mistake, it’s more likely to be             £18million.

Finally, we learn that £8.5b is lost in error, fraud and administration in the current means tested sytems.  How much this is a result of identity error, identity fraud and identity administration?  Quarkside raised the issue in February, “Identity Icebergs to sink Universal Credits“.  There’s not been a lot of action to allay fears by LAs about providing an Identity Hub which collects personal data and matches it with third party credentials.

02/04/2011

Agile: Challenge for Universal Credits

Filed under: Governance,Risk,Strategy — lenand @ 11:28 pm
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The PASC MPs were earballed by DWP about how Agile development would  guarantee that the Universal Credit (UC) system will deliver all that is needed within two years, without a fiasco.  This was shortly after Martin Ferguson (SOCITM) challenged the UC change process, which has not brought in the skills and experience of local authorities.  The inquisitors did not follow up this challenge and seemed to swallow the promise of technology without really understanding why agile is different.

Twelve principles underlie the Agile Manifesto:

  1. Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful software
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development
  3. Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
  4. Working software is the principal measure of progress
  5. Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  6. Close, daily co-operation between business people and developers
  7. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  8. Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  10. Simplicity
  11. Self-organizing teams
  12. Regular adaptation to changing circumstances

It’s a superficially attractive philosophy, but endorsement by the Institute for Government would not convince many CTOs.  What is more relevant is advice from BT, who have had some success with Agile devekopment:

“To be truly effective, the agile approach needs to reach right across the business, not just the IT organisation. You might expect that the business would be excited at the prospect of having regular deliveries of valuable functionality. However, the business also needs to move away from traditional waterfall practices and change how it engages with the IT organisation.”

Knowing what we know about the risk aversion of public sector – the reliance on Agile may be ill-founded.  Many of the twelve principles run counter to decades of bureaucratic behaviour.

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