The Trouble With … The Green Book

The Green Book is, for some, akin to a Bible.  It’s 118 pages of guidance on how to work through the costs of a project (not to mention 130 pages of guidance available on how to move from SBC to OBC to FBC – you get the ideas).

Across government, departmental approval bodies revere the Green Book with its detail on NPV, risk assessment, Monte Carlo models and benefits realisation.  The Green Book is for all projects covering whatever kind of policy outcomes are relevant – providing benefits to the right people, improving water quality, connecting communities and, of course, IT.

Despite all of the comprehensive guidance contained within it, the outcome of many projects suggests that risks aren’t properly evaluated, that costs are not fully calculated and that the outcomes expected don’t always occur.  Recent experience with ever inflating HS2 numbers demonstrate that only too clearly.  That said, trying to forecast costs many years out has never been easy (and the error bars increase with every year) – and in case you think government doesn’t think long term, the Green Book contains a table that shows how you would discount cost of cash out 500 years.

Some paragraphs in the Green Book show how far we have to change to make the move from traditional project delivery to an approach that is faster, lighter and more agile:

5.61 There is a demonstrated, systematic, tendency for project appraisers to be overly optimistic. This is a worldwide phenomenon that affects both the private and public sectors.Many project parameters are affected by optimism – appraisers tend to overstate benefits, and understate timings and costs, both capital and operational.

Optimistic? Really?

Or how about this:

6.23 Implementation plans should be sufficiently complete to enable decisions to be taken on whether or not to proceed. So that evaluations can be completed satisfactorily later on, it is important that during implementation, performance is tracked and measured, and data captured for later analysis

Perhaps the get out here is “sufficiently complete” – one man’s sufficient is another person’s hopelessly inadequate.  But entire business cases are routinely laid before approval bodies right across government that claim to have looked ahead 10 years and figured out what will happen year to year at a sufficiently detailed level to forecast costs and benefits, albeit with inevitable optimism. Only recently – perhaps the Olympics and, now, HS2 – has contingency been a visible and public part of budgets.  It will be interesting how the spending of it is reported and tracked

And then this:

6.33 Benefits realisation management is the identification of potential benefits, their planning, modelling and tracking, the assignment of responsibilities and authorities and their actual realisation. In many cases, benefits realisation management should be carried out as a duty separate from day to day project management.

Generally the people delivering the programme are not the ones who have to make it work on the ground and so achieve the cost savings that the approval body has been promised.  As it says above, “realising the benefits” is a separate duty from day to day project management.  That is, then, part of the problem – delivery being isolated from the business means decisions can be taken for the good of the programme that are not for the good of the business.

None of the above is intended to be critical of the Green Book – it was very much a product of its time and perhaps where contruction of vast architectural feats such as dams and, indeed, railways that go from South to North (and back again) are being planned, it still makes enormous sense.

With a desire that IT projects be agile, flexible, iterative and
responsive to the ever-evolving user need, the guidance looks
increasingly anachronistic.   If you’re not sure what functionality
you’re going to deliver when because you might replace A for B or drop C
altogether, how do you calculate either costs or benefit with any
reasonable confidence only a few months out?  The best you might be able
to do is calculate the likely cost of the team – but what if it needs
to grow suddenly to deliver an identified need?

The Green Book is doubtless being refreshed now by a combination of GDS, Cabinet Office and HMT but, and it’s a big but, convincing finance directors across government that 200 page business cases with all of the options mapped out and separately costed are a thing of the past will be challenging.  And interesting to watch.

“Minister, there are three options … the first two pretty much lead to nuclear war, the third will be explosive and there will be terrible consequences, but I think we will survive … I recommend the third option … do you concur?”

The Trouble With … Nokia

A little over two years ago I wrote a prescription for Nokia. I said they should do many things, some of which were very wide of the mark versus what’s actually happened and some of which were reasonably close.
One thing I thought was really important was that Nokia:
Develop a brilliant and obvious naming convention. Years ago when I
started using Nokia I understood the convention … There was the 6210
which was replaced by the 6310; not long after came the 7210 which I
understood to be better still. It all went wrong with the 8xxx series –
the 8250 was small and sexy, the 8800 was shaped like a banana. Now, I
couldn’t tell you how it works with C, E and N series.
On hearing that Nokia had chosen “Lumia” to lead their branding, I was impressed.  Lovely word.  But how confusing does the range look now:
Not yet two years old, the Lumia range already numbers 12 models (albeit with two coming soon and, apparently, only one marked as “best seller”).  Looking at the pictures above, taken from the Nokia website, I struggle to figure out what’s what (not aided, I think, by the overwhelming similarity of the screen images on each).
The 625 … “lets you see more of everything” …
… the 925 has eye catching design and Smart Camera …
… the 920 has a Carl Zeiss lends and PureView technology (but perhaps not a Smart Camera?) …
… the 520 has a 1Ghz processor (I’ve always wanted one of those, it’s right after “ability to make calls” on my list of user needs) …
… the 820 has colourful and wireless charging shells (is that what makes it a best seller)? …
… and the 620 packs a punch (which presumably means it has none of the above, or perhaps all of it?)
Confused?  Yes, thought so.
Is a 6xx better than a 5xx?  Is a 925 better than a 920 but not as good as a 1020?

I’m told that there are other variants, such as the 928 which is exclusive to a US carrier and even a “Model T” which is exclusive to a Chinese carrier.

It begins to look like Nokia need to publish a simple key, as Which? does for Samsung TVs:

‘D’ is an LCD TV
‘E’ is a plasma TV
‘EH’ and ‘ES’ are LED TV models
final four numbers signify the series – a ‘4000’ model is from Series
4, a ‘5000’ model from Series 5 and so on. The higher the number, the
more premium the model is – ie it has more gadgets and better features.
Series 4: Entry-level range and all HD Ready (720p)
Series 5: Just above entry level. All are Full HD (1080p) and offer additional features – some are 3D and smart TVs
Series 6:
Mid-range. All are Full HD (1080p) and offer additional features. All
come with 3D and smart TV capability, plus Freeview HD and Freesat HD
Series 7: Premium models with a dual-core
processor. In addition to the key features of the series below, there’s
also a built-in camera and voice and motion control
Series 8:
Flagship premium model. In addition to the features of the series
below, this range features Samsung’s premium image processing and a
touch-sensitive remote

Nokia also need, in my view, to introduce new brands to make it easier to choose between phones – they can stick to derivatives of Lumia if that’s where their heart is (how about Lumila for cheaper phones? Lumaxa for the high end, flagship phone?) though I don’t like those much.  Maybe Photia for the phones that focus (ha) on the camera. Or maybe they go for Lumia P for the multi-megapixel phone? 

Or perhaps Lumia Z for the Zombie phone … because I think they might get there soon if they don’t do something to make it easier for the customer to choose.

Cloud First (Second and Third)

Watching, and playing a very small part, in G-Cloud, the UK government framework for purchasing cloud products and services, over the last 2 1/2 years has been a fascinating experience.   It’s grown from something that no one understood and, when they did, something no one thought would work into the first, and probably only, framework in government with greater representation from small companies than large companies and one that refreshes faster than any other procurement vehicle ever.

What G-Cloud doesn’t yet have is significant amounts of money flowing through it – the total at the end of May was some £22m.  With its transition from “programme” to business as usual, under the aegis of GDS, it should now get access to the resource it has been starved of since birth.  The absence of that would, had it not been for tireless passion and commitment from its small team, have resulted in it being killed off long before now.  GDS should also bring it the needed Political cover to help it find a role  as part of the agenda for real change, but there are challenges to overcome.

In 1999, Jack Welch told every division in GE, the company he was then CEO of, that e-business would be every division’s “priority one, two, three and four.”

In 2013, UK government went a little further and mandated that, for central government, cloud would be first in every IT purchasing decision.  Local government and the wider public sector would be strongly encouraged to follow suit.

It’s a laudable, if unclear, goal.

The previous incarnation of this goal held that “50% of new spend” would be in the public cloud – that was perhaps a little sharper than a “cloud first” goal – if, as I’ve written, we could be clear about what new spend was and track that spend, then achieving 50% would be a binary achievement.  Testing whether we are “cloud first” will be as nebulous as knowing whether the UK is a good place to live.

Moving G-Cloud from a rounding error (generously, let’s say 0.05% of total IT spend; it’s probably 1/10th of that even) to something more fundamental that reflects the energy that has gone in from a small team over the last 3 years or so requires many challenges to be overcome.  Two of those challenges are:

1) Real Disaggregation

Public sector buyers historically procure their IT in large chunks.  It’s simpler that way – one big supplier, one throat to choke, one stop shop etc.  Even new applications are often bought with development, hosting and maintenance from one supplier – leading to a vast spread of IT assets across different suppliers (not many suppliers, just different). Some departments – HMRC and DWP perhaps – buy their new applications (tax credits, universal credit) from their existing suppliers to stop that proliferation.

Even today’s in vogue tower model, with the SIAM at the top (albeit not its prime), there is little disaggregation.  The MoJ, shortly to announce the winner of its SIAM tender, will move all of its hosted assets from several suppliers, to one (perhaps – there is little to no business benefit in moving hardware around data centres, common sense may prevail before that happens).  MoJ had, indeed, planned to move all of its desktop assets from several suppliers to one but recently withdrew that procurement (at the BAFO stage) and returned to the drawing board – the new plan is not yet clear.  In consolidating, it will hopefully save money, though some of that will likely be added back when the friction of multiple suppliers interacting across the towers is included.  The job of the SIAM will be to manage that friction and deliver real change, whilst working across the silos of delivery – desktop, hosting, apps, security, network etc.

But disaggregating across the functional lines of IT brings nothing new for the business.  Costs may go down – suppliers, under competitive pressure for the first time in years will polish their rocks repeatedly, trying to make them look shinier than that of the others in the race.  Yet the year, or even two years, after the procurement could easily be periods of stasis as staff are transferred from supplier to supplier (or customer to supplier and even supplier to customer) and new plans are drawn up.  During that time, the unknown and unexpected will emerge and changes will be drawn up that bring the cost back to where it was.

In a zero-based corporate cloud model, you would also have your IT assets spread across multiple providers – and you wouldn’t care.  Your email would be with Google, your collaboration with Huddle or Podio, your desktops mights be owned by the staff, your network would be the Internet, your finance and HR app would be Workday, your website would be WordPress, your reporting would be with Tableau and so on.

In contrast, the public sector cloud model isn’t yet clear.  Does the typical CIO, CTO, Chief Digital Officer want relationships with twenty or thirty suppliers?  Does she want to integrate all of those or have someone else do it?  Does she want to reconcile the bills from all of them or have someone else do it?

But if “cloud first” is to become a reality – and if G-Cloud spending is going to be 50% of new IT spend (assuming that the test of “cloud first” is whether it forces spend in a new direction) – then that requires services to be bought in units, as services.  That is, disaggregation at a much lower level than the simple tower.

Such disaggregation requires client organisations that look very different from those in place today where the onus is on man-to-man marking and “assurance” rather than on delivery.  Too many departments are IT led with their systems thinking; GDS’ relentless focus on the user is a much needed shift in that traditional approach, albeit one that will be relentlessly challenged in the legacy world.

As Lord Deighton said in an interview earlier this month, the “public sector is slightly long on policy skills [and] … slightly short on delivery skills.”  I agree, except I think the word “slightly” is redundant.

2) Real Re-Integration

As services disaggregate and are sourced from multiple providers, probably spread around the UK and perhaps the world, the need to bring them all together looms large.  We do this at home all the time – we move our data between Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and Instagram all of the time.  But public sector instances of such self-integration are rare – connecting applications costs serious money: single sign-on, XML standards, secure connections, constant checking versus service levels and so on.

Indeed, a typical applications set for even a small department might look something like this:

Integrating applications like this is challenging, expensive and fraught with risk every time the need to make a change comes up.  Some of these applications are left behind on versions of operating systems or application packages that are no longer supported or that cannot be changed (the skills having long since left the building and, in some cases, this Earth).

New thinking, new designs, new capabilities and significant doses of courage will be required both to bring about the change required to disaggregate at a service level and to ensure that each steps is taken with the knowledge of how a persistent whole will be shown to the user.

The change in security classifications (from BIL to Tiers) will be instrumental in this new approach – but it, too, will require courage to deliver.  Fear of change and of high costs from incumbents will drive many departments to wait until the next procurement cycle before starting down the path.  They too, will then enter their period of stasis, delaying business benefits until early in the next decade.

To be continued …

NHS Technology

Looking at these two slides from a recent presentation on delivering new technology across the whole of the NHS, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of impending doom:

Obviously it will all be “agile” this time round … but is that enough to get to a different outcome?
The slide deck ends with this question:
How will we incentivise the NHS to do this? What levers exist and how will innovation be funded?


The Power Of One

It’s a long time – ten years – since I first put this slide on a screen:

DWP Conference 30th January 2003

In later iterations, I modified it a little:

Dan Jellinek Transforming Government Conference 13th May 2004

And sometimes I added this slide to try and emphasise the point:

Also Dan Jellinek Conference

And just to make it clear it was about the citizen (the user in today’s words):

13th May 2004

There was also a post, “There Can Be Only One”, in July 2004 showing that the debate about how many sites were needed was still in full flow.

At the same time, I was able to show that thinking in action:

BITS Conference 13th May 2004

I remember only too well how we took the sprawling content on the Department of Health’s then site, and turned it into something with a far greater consistency and user focus on a new site,  So when I read a post on the GDS blog from Alice Ainsworth who was doing it all over again, 9 years on, I knew where her head was at.  DH has now moved 4 times in ten years – from the original platform to DotP, to Stellent, to WordPress and now to  Let’s hope that there are not as many moves over the next ten.

It’s impressive to see the figures that GDS’ “Inside Government” team report:

18 out of 24 …

This has been a long journey.  Long, in fact, doesn’t even describe it – as Gerry Gavigan’s neatly summarised steps show (and, as others, including Jerry Fishenden, have also shown in the past).

Ten year, or more, then, to crack the problem of delivering a single, comprehensive site covering all of government – ok, there are some stragglers to come on board in the centre and the job of taking on the agencies and NDPBs is massive and only just starting.  But certainly more progress in the last year than in the previous ten.  It’s an impressive job, no question.

Shaping the transactions so that they make sense to the user … delivering the green line’s upward slope in my original slide … how long for that now?

Identical Transparency

A little over a year ago I praised the team at GDS for their openness (Re-Inventing Government IT, February 2012):

All of these changes are underpinned by an openness and transparency that is incredibly refreshing.  Seeing new starters in GDS blog about what it’s like to work there and very senior people across government blog / tweet / respond to comments has opened up the workings of government – my guess is that the regular audience consists of a relatively small number of geeks but the occasional bursts into the mainstream press so no change in message.  We have done betas and pilots and test versions in UK government before, but never quite in this way.  

As I said at the beginning, with reinvention comes risk. With risk comes the potential for failure. With failure comes interrogation and criticism.  The good news is, I think, that all of the interrogation and criticism will have been done on the inside and posted on blogs long before that point

Since then the team have been relentless in their communication – every detail of everything they do is blogged, tweeted or otherwise made public (GitHubbed and beyond).

But there is little sign of that same transparency and relentless communication either in the rest of GDS or, indeed, in the rest of government.  Universal Credit, for instance, has ignored my plea (and that of others) to say more about how things were going (despite an, as yet, never-ending stream of negative press stories). 

Where GDS and UC come together is, of course, in the field of digital identity.

In March 2012, DWP went to market (for the second time), seeking providers who could join an identity framework, specifically to support UC (initially).

Indeed, at the time Mike Bracken (in a blog on the Cabinet Office site), said:

“[This] marks the start of the formal process to create a market of identity services for access to digital public services.” 

Bracken said that using this approach has cut the cost of procuring IDA from £240m to £30m

“Creating a trust infrastructure is an exciting challenge. It is a complicated subject and won’t be delivered overnight,” he wrote in the blog. 

Great things were expected – after all, Government had suddenly saved £210 million (through some substantial sleight of hand and changing of scope it has been said) – and the digital identity market was soon to be real.  UC itself needed the service to be ready in March 2013.
In November 2012, the DWP announced its first seven providers (The Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex, and Verizon) within the framework and in January 2013, added an eighth (Paypal).
Last week, Computer Weekly let the world know that DWP was putting use of identity services for UC on ice.  DWP in response said:

“The identity provider framework was designed to be available to other government departments, which, like DWP, are also working with the Government Digital Service to develop personalised online services for citizens. 

“In line with government best practice for cross-government services, responsibility for the framework is now being moved to the Government Procurement Service – as we’ve always said it would.”

The latter paragraph is certainly true.   And so is the former.  There was no comment on when,if or whether UC or the DWP would use services from its own framework.
But surely DWP should be the first buyer of services from its own framework?  And looking around government, I am yet to see a queue of other buyers of identity services.  HMRC certainly put its head above the parapet (in June and July 2012) and took a look at a new schema for identity, organising a series of workshops and detailed reviews with dozens of possible helpers (including Rainmaker Solutions, a company in which I am a partner).  But since then?  Deafening silence.
Of course, during the last year, the GDS blog has been alive with reports of the progress, issues, challenges and achievements of the digital identity team.  Hasn’t it?  Well, no, not really.  I mean with a year gone since the procurement started and five months since the award, we must be well past discovery, into Alpha and seeing some betas … ready for UC to be live in March 2013 (or whenever it is going to come along)?
Oddly, it seems not.  The only post I can find recently, dated March 2013, refers to an Alpha with a company that, even more oddly, is not one of the eight on the framework.  Apparently the Alpha “started long before the procurement process for central govt IDA services began”.  Long before?  Can Alphas go on for more than a year?  Doesn’t sound as agile as I had in mind.  There have been 11 GDS blog posts on Identity Assurance in the last year.  Apart from the last one noted above, none mention Alphas or any other tangible progress.  Although there was a nice trip to Washington.
Of course, one of the key tenets that GDS have regarding their agile methodology is that there need not be a roadmap, because that would constrain the process.  So in November when an important first milestone was passed – there was no mention of when the second or third milestones would be reached.

Re-set Identity Assurance: £10 million of funding has allowed us to start the GDS programme to work collectively across Government to deliver identity assurance  solutions for digital transactions. 

Next year we look forward to a faster pace for delivery. While our roadmap is not finalised, and indeed will never be given the agility to which we aspire, we can look forward to some major releases.

So where does all this leave identity in government?
I hear talk only of the Government Gateway’s support contract being simultaneously “deprecated” and re-procured to allow it to continue providing its current services until 2017 or 2018.  That would make it an agile service – designed, developed and delivered in 90 days – still running after 15+ years.  It is, though, time for it to be retired and replaced with more capable services – they are out there, though not in the configuration and complexity that GDS seem to desire.  Government can certainly be the stimulus behind delivery of a marketplace too.  
I hope that we’ll see a transparency identical to that adopted by the team from the Identity Assurance team.  You can’t only publish the good news stories, that’s what politicians do.  To be open, you have to be open. The good, the bad; the rough, the smooth; the issues, the challenges; the successes, the failures.  And this looks like a failure.
If it is, let’s get it out there and figure out how to correct it and move ahead.  Proper digital identity will underpin much of what GDS aspire to do, so we need to get it addressed.  The framework providers will be wondering where they point their solutions next, if they even have solutions.  Those who weren’t ready to bid first time around will want to know what their next opportunity is and departments wondering how to get identity done for their transactions are looking for someone to lead the way.  

In Praise Of Motivation

The nice folks at Fitbit sent me a badge today.  Or perhaps that’s the Fitbot folks.

I confess I am more motivated by being told (however abruptly) what I haven’t done than by being praised for what I have done, so it’s this graph that I track more closely.  It shows me how often I am hitting my target of 10,000 steps per day.

I’ve found it hard to hit the target for the last few weeks – certainly compared with how I did in previous months:

My preference – and perhaps this is a very personal preference – would be for Fitbit to tell me when I hadn’t made the target and for reminders such as “that’s 3 days out of 5 you haven’t made the target” to get ever more intense and spur me on that way.  The on screen message “Yes, you nailed it” really doesn’t do anything for me.
I’m the same, work or play.