Digital Thirst: Platforms

I have been struggling to articulate this one to be honest. Of my original 4Ps it is the most technical in nature and while I knew exactly what I meant I haven’t really been able to find the words.

Thankfully the new Government Digital Strategy has done it for me. Action 11 states;

Cabinet Office will lead in the definition and delivery of a new suite of common technology platforms which will underpin the new generation of digital services

Now for some of us this Cabinet Office suite of platforms will not be readily available but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look to learn from (or share) as much as possible from them. All of us need flexible, stable tools on which we can build digital services that live up to the expectations of our users. Presently it is far too common to be locked into technology solutions that offer no such flexibility and are essentially sealed black boxes that cannot easily be modified or updated (either due to the technology or the contractual arrangements surrounding the technology).

The digital world moves quickly and we need platforms that at least give us the possibility of keeping up!

It is also important that they used the plural – it is platformS not platform. This is not the age of the ‘one size fits all’ solution. Much as I love WordPress and treat it like a digital Swiss Army Knife sometimes it is not always the best answer. That is the same for any CMS you can think of. The key is the ability to be able to build around, extend, integrate to provide the best product for the job (which is where all the API stuff comes in but that is for proper technical types to write about.)

Digesting the Government Digital Strategy

Today the Cabinet Office launched the Government-wide digital strategy that marks another step closer to the Martha Lane Fox vision of a ‘digital by default’ government (from where the name of this blog sprung!).

There is *alot* to like in this strategy I think – though it does in places closely coincide with my 4Ps stuff and makes me wonder if its worth continuing that!

Also its great that it was published as HTML be default using a responsive framework. I read it on my Nexus7 and it worked perfectly.

The one thing that struck me as off was the figures around cost-savings. I know everything these days needs to be couched in those terms but in a document that is proposing basing decisions on reliable management information it all feels a little bit ‘back of the fag packet’ and immediately leaves it open to criticism. I also think the comparisons of GOV.UK vs Directgov are a little previous and ill defined (I am a massive fan of the new site and always struggled with Directgov but it still seems too early for those comparisons.)

All that aside there are some things I really, really liked about this strategy.

The focus on people is spot-on I think. In fact I pretty much made my feelings clear on how important I think the right people are for success in digital recently and this really lives up to that.

Actions 1 – 4 in the strategy are a really important step I think. All the improving ‘transactions’ stuff has got all the headlines but from a personal point of view having a high level strategy that endorses the idea of having digital represented at board level, integrated into the Fast Stream programme, digital literacy to be a key component in training for civil servants (at all levels) and a Service Manager role to be created where not only will they be empowered to properly run digital products but will also be recipients of a custom training programme to improve their skills is all music to my ears.

I particularly love the idea of these Service Managers being ’empowered’. There are loads of great people working in digital in the public sector (still) and a constant challenge for all of them is being given the freedom to do what is needed to improve things. The culture of bringing in an outsider to tell the powers that be what you already know is alive and well. Giving these folk the authority (and tools) to make a difference can only be a good thing.

[I will be honest here I *really* like the idea of this Service Manager role and will be very jealous when I see them popping up!]

I’m very pleased to read that GDS are going to be putting these training courses together and generally offering support and advice to projects beyond Aviation House. I think this is vital to help embed all these ideas in organisations a little further away from Holborn.

I am glad to see procurement addressed again in the strategy. I think it is good but not sure it goes far enough – there needs to be much more proactive education of procurement professionals in the public sector about these opportunities to make sure the right advice is given and attempts to be a little more innovative around procurement are supported not stifled.

The ‘Inside Government’ timetable is even more challenging than I expected – getting all the Departments into GOV.UK by March 2013 is one thing but all the NDPBs/ALBs etc by April 2014 seems a little crazy. Good luck though!

There is a lot more in there and it is all worth a read (if you are interested in this kind of thing!). I’m sure there will be lots of feedback from smarter folk than me but for now I say well done and ‘power to the people’ 🙂

Weeknotes 2.0

For 33 weeks in a row at JISC I wrote my ‘weeknotes‘ – it was about the best run of blogging I have ever managed and also helped me make sense on what was going on at JISC doing a job that didn’t always make sense to me!

I’ve decided to dust off the idea but with a particular focus this time. We are [finally] about to start our web ‘refresh’ project after pretty much a year (or two depending on if you count the 1st attempt) of back and forth. A CMS has been selected, a supplier has signed on the dotted line, a migration plan has been drafted and a design refresh has been agreed.

The project has some *extremely* challenging timescales, an awful lot of dependencies and is not exactly overly resourced. All-in-all pretty much the same as usual then 🙂

My plan is to cover the project up until we launch – there will be elements I can’t blog about I would imagine but for the most part I’m sure it will be pretty transparent (though like  Joe Friday used to say “the names have been changed to protect the innocent”) the idea being that maybe some of you can learn from the pain I will inevitably suffer but also it will stand as a reminder to me not to do this again! I will try and explain some of our decision making and share mock-ups, wireframes etc as we go along.

The technology is all open source so I figure I’ll run the project in an open manner as well (hopefully it will help me write my internal update reports as well.)

We’ll count this as a kind of weeknote foreword and I’ll get started properly at the end of this first week.