Train of thought(s)

I spend my share of time on trains and amongst the commuter rage I spend a lot of that time thinking. Occasionally this leads to breakthroughs in things I have been working on but more often it just leaves half coherent, half crazed thoughts bouncing around in my noggin. So after 9 hours on a train in the last 36 hours I thought I would share a few of these ‘stub’ ideas to at least get them out in the world before they do some damage up there.

1. Statistics as a Platform

I wasn’t at #sprint15 yesterday but I followed it on Twitter and it was clearly an inspiring afternoon. One of the big themes was ‘Government as a Platform’ http://chimera.labs.oreilly.com/books/1234000000774/ch02.html with Tim O’Reilly (official namer of internet movements since 2004) and Mike Bracken directly addressing the topic (and judging by the tweets they weren’t alone).

GDS recently released a video explaining their thinking around GaaP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzPU6Pdw05s but actually the best description I have seen was the ‘Gubbins’ video from Mark Foden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02__3UTqXmU

It got me thinking about the project we are about to start. I’ve been referring to what we are building as a ‘statistics publishing platform’ (mainly just to avoid talking about CMSs) but should I be thinking of it as a platform for that across Government? (or at least not excluding that?) Or is that just one additional thing to worry about when there are more immediate concerns that need to be addressed? Certainly statistics aren’t well served by the GOV.UK publishing platform at the moment and there is certainly demand. Also, superficially at least, there is common ground with our approach and the work of the Performance ‘Platform’ – does that need looking in to further?

[to be clear these are questions for the voices in my head – nobody else!]

2. GDS as a franchise

So on the topic of GDS. I am still spending an awful amount of time thinking about the whole people side of this ‘revolution’. GaaP is all very well – as is the rather charming ‘software as a public service’ slogan unveiled yesterday – but we need people with the right skills and attitude to make that a reality. GDS can’t do it all themselves. Or can they? Sort of?

I wonder if there is now so much ‘brand awareness’ and positivity around the ‘Government Digital Service’ amongst this target audience that advertising doing an A/B test of the same jobs with the same details in the same location (Newport) but with one being offered by GDS and the other from ONS would lead to very different response rates?

At the moment we work pretty much like a franchise anyway. Things like the ‘Service Manual’ and the ‘Assessments’ reinforce this – not to mention the whole spend control process. All we lack is the benefit of the ‘brand’. Well that isn’t true – but you see what I am saying?

Clearly this is ‘pie in the sky’ stuff but wait until you read the next idea..

3. Acqui-hire for .GOV

Pretty sure the train ride was getting to me at this point and I was moving from the hypothetical to the outright crazy…but…the trend for big internet companies, faced with similar talent shortages, to simply* buy small startups or studios that have the skills they are looking for has always struck me as interesting (if disheartening when the startup product you are happily using vanishes hours after the founders announcement).

Given the amount of money Government spends on IT (still – even after all the savings GDS have provided) I bet the economics of it are not unreasonable. The sense and ethics of it on the other hand…

What can I say – it was a long journey.

* I’m sure it isn’t simple at all – in fact I am sure it is complex as heck.