Quarkside

18/04/2011

Pan Government Arrogance

Filed under: Governance,Policy,Politics — lenand @ 7:42 am
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The Local Government Delivery Council (LGDC) was established in 2007 to support the Chair, in the role as one of two local government representatives on the Cabinet Office Delivery Council. The Delivery Council was the pan government body chaired by Sir David Varney, to drive the transformation of public services so these became, ‘better for the citizen, better for staff and cheaper for the tax payer’.

We now learn that the Cabinet Office’s Delivery Council has ceased and there is no longer a pan government body which includes local government representation. Fortunately, an independent LGDC has become the recognised and established body for central government agencies to engage with when they are working with or plan to work with councils to redesign services. They provide one of the few (perhaps the only?) forum where central government departments get to see what other government departments might be planning in relation to local government. Examples from recent meetings have had representatives from:

  • DfT – Blue Badge programme
  • Cabinet Office – Digital Britain, Id Assurance
  • DfE – Employee Authentication Services
  • BIS – UK Broadband programme, Post Office programme
  • DCLG – Central Local Digital Collaboration
  • DWP – Tell Us Once, Universal Credit
  • Home Office – Single Non-Emergency Number (101)

It is good that Local Government has the opportunity to provide feedback from the front-line about the realities of providing face to face services. A neat example is the assumption that broadband is ubiquitous and that claims for benefits could be ‘driven on-line’. It was pointed out that broadband is one of the luxuries that go when a household needs to claim benefits. Another example is a department representative having to apologise to irate Chief Executives about by-passing them in a survey of redundancy costs in a specific service.

The governance of central government projects needs much wider involvement of local government experts. They need to appreciate the diversity of requirements around the country and not assume that a token consultation with a couple of representatives is sufficient. Too much of the initial strategy and architectural work is done by World Class Enterprise Management Consultants; their experience of deprivation is as limited as the policy makers from Whitehall.

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11/03/2011

SIF and DfE kiss and make up

Filed under: Education,Politics,Standards — lenand @ 9:36 am
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The spat between the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) Association and the Department for Education started last August with a flawed consultant’s report to DfE.  The riposte from the SIF Association showed concern about “the numerous inaccuracies in the published review” was sent in September. There was no satisfactory response by the time of the November SIF Conference.

The demise of Becta can’t have assisted the proceedings, but it has taken another four months to get any public form of rapprochement.

“The DfE acknowledges and values the work done by the SIF community and others in the UK. The DfE will continue to support the work of the SIF Association by sharing knowledge and advice through the Technical Support Service for the Information Standards Board (ISB), the Department’s Chief Information Officer Group and the Data and Statistics Division.”

The ISB now seems to be the Government’s hub of activity in this area.  They have done some sterling work on a model for all sectors of education.  It means migrating to a shared vocabulary – all good standards stuff.  So the SIF Association have returned the compliment:

“The SIF Association recognises and values the work that has been done by DfE and the ISB in producing a Business Data Architecture model suitable for use across the ESCS. The Association also accepts the long term vision and direction of the Business Data Architecture and has committed itself to work alongside the ISB in the development of new data items.”

Whether it all leads to greater efficiency in education administration, only time will tell whether it is a marriage made in heaven.

21/02/2011

Identity Icebergs to sink Universal Credits

Does the Cabinet Office talk to the Cabinet Office – or any other Department for that matter?  Last week’s Local Government Delivery Council also had two related presentations; “Identity Assurance for Public Services” by the Cabinet Office and  “Employee Authentication Services (EAS)” by DfE and DWP.

Put these into the context of “HMG CTO Council – Government Employees Strategy for management of Identities – Version 1.1 – 1 February 2011. ” This noble document has some excellent content as far as it goes – but look at the juicy bits it deems out of scope.

  • “Access control of data within a single system or organisation
  • Entitlements of a validated identity within a single system
  • Authorisation services and other capabilities enabled by identity management
  • Citizen and Individual authentication even for access to government services or visitors to government sites
  • Identity Management of systems, devices and other entities
  • Audit and accounting requirements other than by reference to their need.”

Most, if not all of these are required by real live systems, especially in Local Government.  They are probably the hard bit where most guidance is needed.  Federated identity management protocols do understand how to include these options.  For example the use of Shibboleth 2 in the education sector can easily differentiate between children and teachers in Web based application systems.

EAS has been around for years in DWP.  It has been recently used for the “Tell Us Once” (TUO) project, authenticating for multiple agencies handling common citizen data.  They have discovered the need for, and have implemented, some employee attributes that allow differential access to application systems. This is out of the scope of the strategy above, but they found they had to do it.  Every Local Authority (LA), and there are hundreds of them, needs guidance on this because most do not have the internal skills and knowledge to interoperate with external identity providers (like EAS, but there are lots more). A common standard for federating identity, supported with standard software, is the only sensible way to proceed.

Finally, there was a bomb shell from the Cabinet Office.  As part of the stakeholder engagement process, they presented  “a federated approach through which a person is able to assert a trustworthy identity“.  Here are some of the enlightening aspects of a working federated system:

  • delivered for DWP Universal Credits in April 2012
  • provided ‘by the market’, presumably meaning non-funded
  • dependent on external verification of identity by third parties (such as banks) selected by the citizen
  • LAs will provide an Identity Hub which collects personal data and matches with the external credentials (this is a minefield, not just icebergs)
  • links with biographic, health, wealth and education data by attributes
  • links with DVLA
  • links with an ‘official’ address file
  • not dependent on a centralised identity register
  • Oh, and by the way, it will run on the GCloud. Trebles all round.

The aspirations are wonderful, straight out of the junior management consultant’s handbook, but three simple questions illustrate the risks involved:

  1. Does the Identity Management industry, working with hundreds of LAs, have the capacity to deliver in such a time scale?
  2. Does the Cabinet Office (or anybody else?) have a Technical Architecture that is fit for purpose and compliant with the CTO Council strategy?
  3. Identity management ignorance crippled the development of ContactPoint – why is it so much easier and simpler for Universal Credits?

09/01/2011

SRP: DfE December deceptive progress reports

Filed under: Education,Governance,Policy,Risk — lenand @ 11:34 pm
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It’s good to see the latest SRP updates and the new web pages for each Department.  The new pages are referenced with a number that purportedly matches to the baseline – so much better.

BUT BUT BUT

Just looking at DfE, the baseline in July just published 3 priority areas.  The December DfE update has  6 Priority areas.  When were the extras added?  Where is the change control that justifies the increase in scope?  Not only that, the contents have changed, for example, from:

1.1  Allow all schools to apply for Academy status

1.2  Enable the takeover by an experienced education provider of underperforming schools

1.3   Make it easier for new providers to open new Schools

To:

1.1 Increase the number of Academies

1.2 Introduce new Free Schools

1.3 Introduce new University Technical Colleges

It may be that the new priorities are better – but the programme is transparently out of control by any normal standards of programme management.  It’s no better, or even worse, than the November report where the DfE obscured delays.  Uncontrolled change is a key indicator of risk in a programme.

Is Kristina aware of the importance of what is happening? Are the other departments being equally devious?  Should the PM be told?

07/01/2011

PASC 5: Condemn bureaucracy in Education

Filed under: Education,Governance,People,Politics,Process,Technology — lenand @ 9:51 am
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The fifth of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) 12 questions, asks:

5. What role should IT play in a ‘post-bureaucratic age’?

Unfortunately, IT is correctly associated with bureaucracy by front-line staff. Computerised forms, often laboriously filled in from paper copies, are seen as the problem, not the solution. Data should be captured automatically in the usual line of business. For example, social workers should not be required to file so many written reports. Voice recording, whilst with clients, should be sufficient. Automatic transcription should be routinely performed off-line. Handwriting recognition with smart pens can collect forms data. IT should not add to the workload, it should reduce it. More use should be made of electronic credentials and personal data stores.

There is a huge bureaucratic structure to support data collection in schools and colleges. £billions administrator effort is spent collecting data for records and statistics, diverted from the education budget. Some supplier research on the cost of administration (as a proportion of income) in the college sector is as follows:

  • Administration Expenditure: £1.352 billion
  • Teaching Expenditure:  £4.667 billion
  • No of colleges: 345
  • Max %Admin: 61% [admin/teaching X 100]
  • Min %Admin: 10%
  • Average %Admin: 29%
  • Median %Admin: 29%
  • No with >40%Admin:  49
  • No with <20%Admin:  42

With six times factor between the lowest and highest, there must be room for efficiency gains by effective use of IT. Eliminating duplicate entry and automating links between incompatible systems should be a high priority for the nation.

An even larger set of administration exists in the school sector, for example the recording of children’s attendance at school. There is a huge bureaucratic structure to support it. Schools expend huge amounts of teacher and administrator effort collecting data for statisticians – not just teaching.

Schools in the UK process the information about 9 million children on a daily basis. The total volume is hardly noticed as it is performed in about 27,000 independent, self-contained locations. This is not just by the 400,000 teachers, but also by up to 90,000 administration staff and assistants. A school is typically involved in the operation of 10 different systems with records of attendance, achievements, school meals, libraries, parental addresses etc. Grossing up, there are about operational 250,000 systems. Much of the data is shared, within a school, across schools, up to local authorities and to the Department for Education (DfE). They share childrens’ names, addresses, dates of birth, nationality, parents’ names, qualifications etc.

And yet, although this cries out for standards, the DfE does not support the only practical way forward provided by the SIF Association.  This is a collaboration between educationalists and all the main suppliers of school administration systems. SIF is designed to provide complete interoperability between disparate systems.  It is an open standard supported by certified commercial software.

17/12/2010

Literacy levels damned by Gove

Filed under: Education,Outcomes,People — lenand @ 10:16 am
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Mapping boys’ reading ability by the BBC is eye watering.  It’s all credible evidence that induced Michael Gove, Minister for Education,  to say that “Eleven-year-old illiteracy ‘unacceptable’ “.  There’s more evidence on the impact of poor language after leaving school. Literacy has been one of Rotary’s key projects for many years both at the international level and have published the following data:

  • There is a significant link between poor literacy and anti-social behaviour.
  • Nearly a third of 10 year olds with anti-social behaviour have a specific reading difficulty.
  • These children are more likely to be living in poverty – with 38% eligible for Free School Meals compared to 18% of other children.
  • Many are more likely to be learning English as a second language – 15% as compared to 10%.
  • Poverty is the most influential factor compared to either ethnicity or second language.
  • Within the secondary school, pupils still below the desired minimum reading level at age 14 (a reading age of about 12 years) are 5 times more likely to be excluded from school.
  • They are 4 times more likely to truant.
  • Sixteen year olds with poor reading skills are 4 times more likely not to be entered for any public examination.
  • Poor readers as adults are less likely to be in employment and, where employed, are likely to be in low paid or manual work.
  • 48% of the prison population read poorly.

This is a serious social problem.  It’s time to consider the unthinkable.  Stop trying to kid ourselves that all children are equal.  Yes they need additional teaching, but it has to be at the cost of removing other aspects of schooling.  They need to follow a modified curriculum at infant and primary level.  Literacy first and foremost – not just an hour.

Quarkside previously reported in “UK in 3rd Division for Education”  how Singapore tackled the problem in the 1980s.  Where children were struggling with English, they removed the supplementary subjects until they were more competent.  As a result they have a globally competitive economy.  In the 1920s, school leavers at age 14 were far more accomplished at both reading and writing.  There has not been an evolutionary (in the Darwinian sense) change in the abilities of children.  They are capable of learning their mother tongue.  There are millions more people in India and China learning English more competently than our native speakers.

Let’s re-think, re-train and repair the damage to society.

15/12/2010

Letter to Private Eye

Filed under: People,Politics,Process,Standards — lenand @ 9:32 am
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E J Strobes

Dear Sir,

Through various organs, it appears that the Headmaster has procured the services a Senior Spinstress, a certain Kristina Murrin. Not that I have anything against antipodeans – but couldn’t he find a local girl with equivalent qualifications? Goodness knows what her “Sticky Wisdom” is doing to our poor dear kiddies in the Civil Service. Even the Torygraph quotes her book as advising people to “build a personal bravery plan”, “fill their minds with freshness” and “stop sending memos”.

Her thirteenacles stretch across all the Departments charged with implementing the coalition Government’s Structural Reform Plan. Every Minister and the Deputy Headmaster are charged with sending her a monthly report, which they have dutifully done since August. Unfortunately freshness of ideas seems to have taken over. They have ignored the wisdom of 50 years, and invented a transparency process that is obscured by seven diaphanous veils.

Presumably, they have stopped sending memos, although Wikileaks may have had the same effect. So Butterfingers cannot now be held accountable for dropping the ball. The personal bravery plan must be next on the list as they prepare for the outside world, where implementing really means delivery of a plan. The Department for re-Education has provided us with a most instructive exemplar of how to appear A star by avoiding the old school rules.

Yours faithfully,

Dr A

14/12/2010

SRP: DfE delays obscured

Filed under: Education,Governance,Policy,Politics — lenand @ 12:29 pm
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Is DfE playing games with reporting on their Structural Reform Plan?  Just let somebody else compare the DfE Baseline from July with their Progress Reports from October and November.

Here are three Quarks

1. Avoidance of finishing tasks

The baseline plan has 41 Actions and 14 milestones.  One can observe that 22, more than half of the actions have no end date.  How very convenient for bureaucrats: job is done when they start – there were no promises to finish.  Can you imagine this state of affairs in a private sector plan?  No.  It is is a recipe for sucking up resources without control or scrutiny.  There are now 30 actions considered to be started and, presumably, ongoing.  Most of these have don’t even have an end-date.

Can you imagine a teacher starting a unit of the curriculum without some concern about when it is due to finish?  They’d be sacked.

2. Avoiding previous months delays

The October report had 3 missed deadlines.  They were sort of carried forward until November or ‘Autumn’.  They have melted from the list of things ongoing or items due to be completed in November.  When do we expect the White Paper now?

The November report said “the Department did not miss any deadlines”.  Isn’t this a tiny bit misleading because there were 5 milestones due to be completed. What has happened to them?

3. Introducing new Actions

New action seem to have crept in to the things in the To Do list.  This is known as ‘Scope Creep’ in the trade.  It is the first hint in predicting potential disaster. Uncontrolled change is the second most important cause of project failure. For the record, wrong initial scope is the primary cause of failure.  All changes need an impact assessment that is approved by the project sponsor, such as the PM, and made fully visible.

For comparison look at how well SIF introduces changes to the specification for interoperability between systems – and how it has been treated by the DfE.  Professional versus amateur.

The risk is that the Implementation Unit might have cursorily scanned the DfE report for red lines, found none and assumed that all is well.  A hard nosed programme manager would immediately smell a rat.  Every complex programme has delays: no delays caused me to look deeper.  Quality Assurance reviews on all the other 13 plans are just as likely to reveal similar hidden changes.  We are still in the dark about when tasks are may be completed.

This is not the way to run the country’s strategic reform policy.

10/12/2010

SRPs avoid PM standards

As Quarked previously, the baseline (Draft) Structural Reform Plans (SRPs) for each Department are almost acceptable. There’s just about enough to begin a reasonable job of monitoring and control. There are actions with start dates and end dates. There are also milestones.

What is missing are definitions of what has to be delivered by an end-date. Quarkside believes that all public sector projects are expected to use Prince2 for project management. It is almost written in stone in Local Government. As everybody who has been trained knows, Prince2 “Focuses on products and their quality“.  In other words it is ‘Product based planning’.  A plan is only considered complete when it has described WHAT should be DELIVERED by a specific date, WHO should deliver it and the QUALITY criteria for acceptance.  All these points rely a documented and agreed Prince2 Product Description.

Number 10’s Implementation Unit have misunderstood the guidelines, or have chosen to avoid them. You can identify a product deliverable because it is (usually) a concrete noun in the Product Breakdown Structure. The SRPs use a verbal description of an action eg Home Office

  • 3.2.ii “Introduce English language requirements for spouses”.

Are these requirements a statute, a regulation or a ministerial memo to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate? Delivery implies the complete acceptance of a specific product. An alternative might be:

  • 3.2.ii “English Language regulations agreed by Parliament and applied in Border Control”

Quarkside is not making a political point or just being pedantic. The first definition has many options on what the end product might be; the second is more specific and would be linked to the Product Description.   In fact 3.2.ii in the Draft SRP does not give an end date, showing uncertainty.  Prince2, using Product Flow Diagrams, would enable an end-date to be calculated.

Action based planning must have its devotees.  Notably that’s the path followed by Microsoft Project out of the box.  MS Project, unsurprisingly, does not follow the UK standard but is easy to tailor for Prince2 methods.

Martha Lane Fox has called for the use of standards  Not only does it increases the interoperability project managers, it is the most effective way of controlling projects.   The good news is that it is not be a big problem to change the Draft SRPs and produce a Prince2 plan with a useful Product Breakdown Structure.  When this process is done it always uncovers things that had originally been considered.  It improves the Plan.

The current Plan is little more than a ToDo list.  That style is suitable for planning a foreign holiday for a group of thirteen people. It is not suitable for the far reaching political reforms of the coalition government. Prince2 is the Standard.  The No 10 Implementation Unit should have ensured that each of the thirteen Departments understood and used Prince2 for both the Plan and the control mechanisms.

It’s not too late to produce a final plan that follows the Prince2 Standard.  Then we can produce a transparent monitoring and control process.

09/12/2010

No 10: SRP shambolic progress

Filed under: Policy,Politics,Process,Risk — lenand @ 9:17 am
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The Prime Minister launched 13 draft Structural Reform Plans (SRPs) in June.  Departments set out their reform priorities and the actions they would have to take to achieve them, including a specified timetable and measurable milestones. Under the initiative each department had to produce a monthly progress report, holding the Secretary of State to account to the Prime Minister if they are not on track.  Quarkside has not studied all in detail, but the structure of the plans looks sound.  There is a consistent layout and it is easy to see what is expected.

However the monthly updates are shambolic.  Granted the layout is consistent but they do not conform to best practice in progress reports.  With the intention to increase transparency, they are more likely to obfuscate than clarify. Some examples to illustrate this career threatening statement may elucidate:

  • The reference numbers are not carried forward, it is difficult to know which deliverable a progress line refers to.  All good systems would refer to a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) number for ease of reference.
  • Missed target lines are in red, but they don’t give any indication of the changed date or the action to be taken to recover the plan.  This is not control, it is an ineffective observation.
  • The status column only has a choice of complete, not complete, not started, work started, work ongoing. and still not complete.  This is primary school level planning, not the way to control a nation reform programme.
  • The reasons for failure to meet targets look more like excuses and not a lot of value.  They just lose credibility without plans to get the programme back on track.
  • There is no risk register to give any idea of the seriousness of any delays.  Every project needs a risk register – it looks like the product of amateurs, not professionals.

That’s the bad news. Looking at the Quarkside principles, the Process is bad, the Governance is pathetic and the Technology is antiquated.  Could we respectfully request that the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit takes some crash courses in effective Programme Management Office (PMO) processes.

The good news is that is all recoverable. Watch Quarkside for some answers in future blogs.

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