For a while I’ve been kicking around with a few people, both in the office and outside, the notion that there is a great confluence of events approaching – a 50 year storm, or it’s nearest equivalent in our mixed online/offline world. I raised this first at a breakfast conference hosted by VoxPolitics a few weeks ago and since then I’ve been refining the idea.
The essence is that, mid-way through our efforts to put government online, we have done much but not as much as we would like. It’s easy to point, poke fun or make a living as a commentator on what we’ve done so far (as so many do), but much harder to see what next. My thinking is that realisation is dawning that online government is just as much about government as it is about online. That one is not different from the other (many of you will have seen that tagline on my site for a while now). So where online services fail to get the boost that we expect, it is not necessarily a failing of implementation but just as much the fact that we have metaversed the status quo – see my post a few days ago. The realisation that as long as online government reflects offline government, takeup will be low will, I think (hope/believe) drive a different set of changes.
In two years, maybe three, we’ll have an election. So anything we start now will have time to make an impact for that election. Starting something early next year or later will probably mean that there isn’t enough time for it to make a difference. Some things, even though they are running now, will not make an impact in time – I am thinking here about the huge initiatives that are underway in NHS; despite the awesome work going on there led by Richard Granger, it’s going to be hard for more than just a few people to see the difference.
So, if the election is the target, the 50 year storm that looms is the set of events that will take place this year and early next that will warrant the catalyst. Some senior figures are moving on (perm secs in at least three departments), one or two cross-government figures too. Issues like we have seen over tax credits where technology and business issues conspired to cause enormous pain mean that we will have to rethink delivery controls. Spending will tighten as we enter another financial review round. The potential for central infrastructure, like our own Government Gateway, will be fully realised and people will commit resource to exploiting it rather than exploiting ways to get out of it. There are other things in this storm too – some that I can see, some that I can feel and some that I can’t talk about. All of them together create a one time, once in a generation chance, to make some changes come through the system – to undo hierarchies, convoluted processes, business rigidities and long time resistance. As we break down and through all of those barriers, new things will happen.
The great thing is that it will be possible to see this storm unfold in real time and see what actions are put in place that might lead to the new metaverse, one that is not a reflection of the status quo. One that is genuinely new. One that places what can be done online at the heart of delivery and looks to find ways to wholesale the online service to a variety of retail channels – government people, intermediaries and the citizen or business themself.
And once are past the stigma of “e-government” and we have real services working effectively and widely used, the potential for further change will become apparent. Because, as the storm is unfolding, people will be conjuring up new things that rely on new business structures and processes – things that expect walls between silos not to be there rather than assuming that they will be there and hobbling the service because of it. We’ll really be able to see the joined up services that could not exist without the Internet – the government equivalents of eBay, FriendsReunited, Dell.com and others like them. I can’t wait.
I think that before us is an enormous opportunity. One that gives the UK the chance to take the lead again.