by Richard Steel

Please don’t put the kibosh on transformation

May 19, 20095 mins
IT Leadership

The Cabinet Office published its annual Transformational Government Progress Report, last week. It has produced this useful poster to highlight examples of progress made in 2008. I do think that last year saw some real progress, but I am by no means convinced that progress is yet sustainable.

Government Connect finally delivered, thanks to very robust programme management, with strong support from Socitm and the LGA, and considerable goodwill from Local Authorities despite proscribed timescales being completely out of kilter with their budgetary planning constraints, and frequent problems of contradictory and inconsistent technical advice.

The Public Sector Network tantalises with the promise of genuinely transformative infrastructure to join-up the whole of the public sector, but I already have concerns about resourcing and whether the opportunity is realisable in the absence of clear vision and demonstrable commitment to provide the level of resourcing that’s required.

Although late, Contact Point is now operational, and good progress is being made with Employee Authentication Services, but had we started with a vision and strategy, I think we could have made things rather easier for ourselves.

Transformational Government strategy must be guided by an over-arching vision of public sector security, enabling role-based access to services across a single public sector infrastructure.

The other key lesson, I think, is – if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well and you must stick with it. I really like the idea of the “Dragon’s Den” approach to seeking innovation and ensuring good ideas are taken-forward.

“Monitoring the situation to see that the plan maintains momentum and making sure it’s implemented on the frontline” is vital; the reality, to date, has been that there has been no commitment to nourish and sustain new ideas, and it seems Government bores quickly if radical results aren’t immediately delivered.

Hence we have seen ideas like “Tell Us Once” hailed in the Transformational Government Report, and also cited as innovation in the Innovators Council announcement, recycled time and again in different guises.

Although Martin Read is worried whether there is the political will to carry-through the reforms proposed in the Operational Efficiency Programme report, also published last week, I worry that it will, and that will put the Kibosh on sustainable transformation of Government services.

There’s a lot of common sense in the report but I do worry about the approach to execution of the recommendations. We can’t afford to be led by hype, assume that one size fits all, top slice budgets or realise all the savings without making the investments, or that will inevitably derail transformational government.

The commitment by Socitm to engage with Government, to be “inside the camp” lobbying for effective policy is, I am convinced, the right one.

I was therefore pleased that Martin Ferguson, our new Head of Policy (although he doesn’t start formally until 1st June) led a session to start planning our response to the OEP at Monday’s Socitm Futures meeting held in Siemens offices in the Old Bailey. We split into pairs to discuss ideas, then captured them on a flip-chart back in plenary. I’ll provide a summary within the next few days.

Craig Pollard, of Siemens, presented on the NPIA (National Policing Improvement Agency) Identification and Access Management contract won by our hosts. The contract is effectively in two lots – the first providing the central service, and the second the access framework to appropriately connect all other stakeholders.

There will be a single route to access any of the 20+ applications, which include the new Police National Database, ensuring that all access is fully audited. It will be possible to search across all the applications and, ultimately, across all local intelligence systems to provide aggregated results.

Colleagues’ main concerns and questions were around the fit with emerging national infrastructure and, of course, PSN.

We were advised that it will work with other security infrastructure, but provide an additional authentication overlay to ensure it isn’t possible to bypass the central logging and auditing. We agreed this is something we need to keep an eye on; here, again, clarity is required within an overall Information Assurance vision.

Paul Davidson, from Sedgemoor District Council and LeGSB, presented the approach that Sedgemoor has taken to the development of an Information Asset Register (IAR).

Few public sector organisations yet have anything that could reasonably described as an IAR, but it’s a logical requirement stemming from information reuse regulations and the Power of Information Taskforce as well, of course, as good housekeeping and the facilitation of corporate knowledge management – so well done to Sedgemoor for a very constructive and realistic approach.

Richard Quarrell from “Psiphon” attended and, in the afternoon, we discussed how “Psikey”- which is aimed at automating the production of a basic IAR – might work, and could align with the requirements identified by Paul. The planned pilot, by a number of Socitm member organisations, will take place over the next three weeks.

On Tuesday, Glyn Moody and Mark Taylor again visited to further our review of Newham’s ICT infrastructure with a view to proposing how the same can be achieved using non-proprietary technology.

This time I’d arranged for Chris Losch to join us as my technical adviser. We spent a couple of hours in quite enjoyable discussion, and I have come to understand some of their points of view – not at all fanatical – but still doubt they’ll be able to convince me of realistic alternatives for Newham.