Whilst visting school classrooms in Kenya a couple of weeks ago I came across this poster on a wall:

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – was it a mistake and someone had planned to write husband/wife and then realised they weren’t opposites?  Was it deliberate and the school was telling its pupils that they’re not opposites?  Why not write the other side and cross both out?

So few girls complete the education in Africa that I couldn’t help but think it was not an accident though.

From Omega to Alpha

A potted history … dates may be off a little, would welcome the true dates if anyone has better data

open.gov – 1994 – hand coded HTML (OGC hosted and operated)   (original version said 1998, thank you for the update)

ukonline.gov.uk – 2001 – bespoke code with a database (BT hosted and operated)

ukonline.gov.uk – 2002 – open source clone of the original (Eduserv hosted and operated)

ukonline.gov.uk – 2002 – new design along with user centric approach – Vignette CMS (Sapient/Loudcloud)

direct.gov.uk – 2004 – significant user involvement, pan-government involvement – custom coded CMS (Sapient/Loudcloud)

direct.gov.uk – 2007 – clone version of the original, subsequently enhanced – Stellent CMS (Steria)   (original version said 2006, thank you for the update)

alpha.gov.uk – 2011 – custom code integrated with extensive open source

beta.gov.uk – 2011? – assumed to be as above

gov.uk – 2012? – ?

Crown Reps For Customers

One of the interesting moves this coalition government has made is to appoint “crown representatives” for key suppliers to government.  So far this looks only good – government has a way to join up how it deals with suppliers (and find out what is going on across government – often suppliers know more than government does, see “nobody knows anything”) and suppliers have a place to escalate issues or propose new ideas.

Perhaps the next move is to appoint crown representatives for customer groups – to speed the joining up og pieces of government that, together, can do something important for, say, retired people / soon to be retired people / children  etc.

Arguably we tried to do that some years ago with direct.gov (and alpha will face the same problem as it tries to join up government content and then – even more so – transactions), but we didn’t ever crack a way of joining up the policy and implementation (of future changes), only the description of the way it is now.

Such a move, at both official and ministerial level, and provided it was accompanied by levers to control budget and delivery, could result in some amazingly good changes to the way things work today.

What’s In An Impact Level

Just over a year ago I wondered whether the new government’s approach to transparency would mean that government security classifications would be revisited and some processes done away with.  To truly allow a move to public cloud services (which, in theory, provide the lowest cost provision of commodity services), such a review is necessary – though, already, some local authorities and even a small slice of a central department are already adopting public cloud email, not quite by ignoring the relevant classifications but by taking a more pragmatic approach than has been taken in the past.  The word classification can be loosely exchanged with Impact Level – where “restricted” is IL3 and “protect” is IL2.

The reason for needing a more pragmatic approach is two fold – firstly because received wisdom has historically dictated that nearly all that passes between and within government departments is classified as IL3 and, secondly, because, it seems to me, no one can describe on a single sheet of paper the difference between IL3 and any other classification level.  Without clarity on what each of those means from an infrastructure and service perspective along with realism from government about what the true classification of its data is (in this open and transparent world), the move to the cloud gets much harder.

Government is, of course, big enough to adopt a private cloud and make substantial savings – if, that is, large swathes of government are convinced (whether that be commercially, financially, through central mandation, for service improvements or some other reason). That private cloud could be, if we were able to define it simply, either IL2 or IL3. It wouldn’t matter particularly – although estimates carried out by many suggest that the price difference between IL2 and IL3 is as much as 25% (how these figures are arrived at in the absence of a tight definition I’m not sure about).

Public cloud should, in theory, be cheaper.   Of course, if all of UK government moved to gmail or Office 365 tomorrow, the needle would barely move on their servers – and I’m not even sure that government would qualify for a volume discount, which would make for some entertainment for the procurement and commercial teams (just wait until they want to negotiate terms and conditions of course).

What’s important here though is that a government wanting to make the move to the cloud needs to be clear with potential  cloud providers what it is that they need to have in place.  Security is a good place to start as, for too many, it is more dark art than science; but right after that would be commercial provisions, legal terms and conditions and then standards and operating procedures.  At the same time, that government would need to think about what it, too, actually needed to avoid over-complicating the provision of service, increasing cost and reducing the number of players able to match their requirement.