Government publishes ICT Strategy implementation plan

Following on from March’s publication of the new government ICT strategy, the Cabinet Office has published its implementation plan – a long and detailed document, full of specific milestones, risks and nominated Senior Responsible Owner, leading to projected savings of ‘around £1.4bn of savings within the next 4 years’ (according to the press release).

‘Our plans are focused on standardising government ICT,’ states the foreword, with a pledge to ‘fundamentally change how government incorporates ICT into its everyday business. It will ensure the early factoring of technology considerations into the design of policy, increase digital inclusion, reduce the cost of our operations, and ensure information is shared and transparent where possible and always handled appropriately.’ Good news on all fronts, you’d have to say.

The document covers so much ground, it’s almost impossible to provide a meaningful summary of it. But to pick out a few highlights, based on the areas of particular interest to this blog and this blogger:

  • Open source: a ‘toolkit to assist departments in the evaluation and adoption of open source solutions’ is due for completion this month, although it will only be accessible by ‘100% of departments’ by next March. By March 2013, ‘100% of all department software procurement activity includes an open source option analysis’. The Senior Responsible Owner for Open Source is Robin Pape, CIO for the Home Office.
  • Open technical standards: the findings from the recent ‘crowd sourcing’ exercise will be published this month, with ‘the first release of a draft suite of mandatory Open Technical Standards’ to follow in December. Levels of adoption of these will be reviewed in six months.
  • App Store: will launch in March 2012, but rather unambitiously, they’re giving it until the following December to reach ’50 accredited products’. Sounds like it’ll be pretty empty until this time next year.
  • Single domain: The launch of a ‘Beta version of single government web domain for public testing’ is set for February 2012.
  • APIs: I’m pleased to see the statement that ‘Government will select common standards’ – as opposed to defining its own. But despite having apparently completed a review of existing cross-government APIs in March 2011, it’s going to take until September 2012 for a list of APIs to be published. Like the single domain work, this stream will be owned by Mike Bracken.
  • Consultation: This one looks a bit odd. All departments are to have established a ‘digital channel for online consultation’ by December 2011… but then in February, the GDS ‘online consultation product’ will have been delivered, which makes you wonder why they’re making departments spend time and money getting something together for December. Said GDS product will be ‘integrated’ into Single Domain by October 2012.
  • Social media: Maybe it’s me, but it seems a bit odd that the lead department on departmental access to social media sites should be the Home Office: they’ll be producing ‘final guidelines’ by March next year. Verification of existing government social media accounts ‘where appropriate’ is to be completed by next month.

It’s good to see so many specific dates and people in this document, and I think we can take a lot of encouragement from the plan as a whole. Personally, though, I can’t help feeling slightly excluded. I don’t see too many specific areas where Puffbox, or someone like us, can offer a contribution.

Public services white paper promises GDS ‘app store’

With all the tabloid shenanigans going on yesterday, you’d be forgiven for missing the publication of the new White Paper on Open Public Services – launched complete with a WordPress-based consultation site, developed by Harry Metcalfe’s DXW, with rather cheeky advertising in the source code.

It’s worth noting a couple of references to the Government Digital Service:

7.9 We want to shift the approach of government from ‘public services all in one place’ (focused on how departments want to deliver) to ‘government services wherever you are’ (open and distributed, available where citizens want to access them). To take this forward, the Government Digital Service (GDS) will have the authority across central government to co-ordinate all government digital activity, including encouraging the commissioning of the best user-centred digital services and information at lowest cost from the most appropriate provider. This commissioning process will identify those providers who are the most appropriate to provide content on a particular topic. For example, the Department for Education has already taken this approach in funding some of its parenting support services through the voluntary and community sector – these online services provide in-depth counselling and intensive support as well as information and guidance.

7.10 The GDS will develop a digital marketplace, opening up government data, information, applications and services to other organisations, including the provision of open application program interfaces for all suitable digital services. All suitable digital transactions and information services will be available for delivery through a newly created marketplace, with accredited partners, including charities, social enterprises, private companies and employee-led mutuals, all able to compete to offer high-quality digital services. In opening up this marketplace, the GDS will establish appropriate processes and consider a ‘quality mark’ to ensure that public trust in information and public sector delivery is maintained. This may go as far as including quality assurance of third-party applications.

Two concise paragraphs, but several interesting points in there.

The reference to ‘public services all in one place’ is a rather cheeky, and somewhat barbed reference to Directgov’s strapline, and is surely another nail in its coffin – well, in its current form anyway. I’m surprised to see the word ‘encourage’ for GDS’s role, as opposed to something stronger; and it’ll be intriguing to see how the trinity of best quality, lowest cost (note use of the superlative) and ‘most appropriate supplier’ plays out in practice.

The second paragraph puts some flesh on the bones of the ‘government app store’ notion. But the more I think about it, the more uneasy I get about the idea of QA’ing third-party applications. If an application hasn’t been approved, is it still permitted? Who exactly is doing the approving? Would the approval process become a bottle-neck?

I hate to bring it all back to WordPress (again), but it’s the best example I can personally think of, of a rapid, cheap and non-traditional solution being widely successful in government over the past few years. We – a word I use in the widest possible sense, covering myself and many other (rival?) suppliers – made our case, we delivered, and we didn’t let people down. The only approval we needed was the recommendation of the previous client.

We didn’t need no stinking badges. And if we’d have had to wait for delivery of our badges before being taken seriously, none of it would ever have happened.