Thursday, 27 December 2007

Data security

The recent rash of press reports of losses of data by public sector organisations has resulted in pressure for data not to be stored and collected together. Commentators have called for data to be made hard to access, e.g. left on paper in a doctors waiting room, as a data security mechanism. Unfortunately fragmenting data storage tends to mean that lots of people with no appreciation of data security will be responsible for it, and instead of stolen laptops we'll hear about skips full of discarded paper medical records.

Is generally accepted that data should only be stored and collected together where doing so creates value to the individual, or possible society as a whole. Sadly the prevailing culture is not to discuss openly why data is held, and certainly not to give individuals a say in what is stored (or even its accuracy). It's equally important that only data needed to create the value is stored especially data that enables individuals to be identified or used to compromise an individuals well being.

My feeling is that unless the publec sector become open and professional about data security an essential foundation of transformational government will be compromised. None of what I've said is rocket science all you in the public sector please take data security seriously and make it the explicit responsibility of people who understand it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A single number for government services

Building on the success of the 311 in New York it makes good sense in the UK to have a single number for all non emergency calls. And so it became "a manifesto pledge at the 2005 election - vandalism, abandoned vehicles, noisy neighbours? If you have a problem call 101.
This promise, to introduce a new non-emergency number, was for people to use to report anti-social behaviour and other problems in their area that do not always warrant a 999 call"

The service has also been a success, quoting the BBC again "In the Northumbria area the 101 number has received over 150,000 calls since its launch. A Home Office survey also found that 84% of those that had used it were satisfied with the service. "

Unfortunately the Home Office seems to see the 101 number from the perspective of reducing 999 calls and has tried to build a business case from that perspective rather than the holistic impact of having a single number to call for all public services. By restricting the service to calls about anti-social behavior, it has both reduced it's usefulness and weakened it's business case. A Transformed Government approach would start from what the citizen wants, a single number for everything bar emergencies and configure the public sector to respond.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Customer / Citizen Centricity

I had a car accident on Friday, and the behaviour of the call centre was a good example of customer centricity, with one phone call to:

  • Collect all the information needed
  • Arrange for my car to be repaired (and provide a courtesy car)
  • Brief me on what to tell the other driver
  • Give me someone to call if anything went wrong

The accident was a stupid error, but the behaviour of my insurer took as much pain away as was possible, i.e. they took my problem and managed it on my behalf.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Green agenda – choosing a car

It may seem perverse to look at choosing a car as analogous to Transformational Government, but when thinking about changing my car I realised that it illustrates that focussing on the right holistic outcome can result in apparently illogical choices.

All the publicity is about fuel efficiency and low emissions, with small cars and hybrid cars receiving tax advantages and freedom from congestion charge. There has been some recent debate on keeping your current car longer, but often that is balanced by comments about the increasing emissions from older cars.

In my experience big engine / quality cars tend to be used for more years / miles that smaller more apparently economical models, my current car (a 2 litre Saab) is almost seven years old and after 142k miles is still performing efficiently (with fuel consumption pretty much the same as when new). One only has to look at used car adverts to appreciate that older Mercedes and BMWs etc. go on for years longer that many other cars. So in minimising my impact on the environment I’ll probably choose a relatively powerful Saab again.

There is a balance of economy, predicted life and the emissions caused during the manufacture of a larger car are greater. I’d favour incentives based on the holistic lifetime impact rather than the more easily measured emissions figure. In the same way measuring how long it takes to handle a telephone call or respond to a letter says little meaningful about the service level the citizen experiences.

Disability badges

Why are Disability badges issued by local authorities, if qualification for a DWP benefit is a pre-condition why not have them managed by the DWP as part of the benefits process (they are after all a benefit). This is the sort of citizen centric change I'd like to see coming out of the implementation of Transformational Government.

To make usage simple why not have two forms of the badge, one for parking at home (in which case it should be fixed to the vehicle) and the other for travel e.g. shopping etc. This would enable the rules on use to be simplified and the probability of error in use to be dramatically reduced.

RFID is a proven technology now and there don't appear to be any major privacy problems here so why not include RFID tags and make the badges machine readable (but only an identifying number). Having photographs on badges would be unnecessary as it should be replaced by having central storage of data on the holder to enable parking managers to deal with misuse, saving inconvenience and cost in the processes for issue and update of disabled badges. Having RFID could also enable the problem of stolen / copied badges to be managed more effectivly

Monday, 8 October 2007

Claiming benefits

The sheer complexity of benefits regimes (it can take 45 minutes to put in necessary details into a benefits calculator) makes it really difficult for claimants to understand what they are due and also makes it expensive for the government to administer it.

In my experience a key reason reason for the complexity is that a persons benefits are the result of their interaction with a host of different products with slightly different rules. The amusing thing is that a lot of the discrepancies between products are purely accidental and result from them being developed by different people in isolation.

One answer is to look at the benefits from a claiments perspective and change / harmonise the rules to achieve the holistic consequences desired. The sort of rule to look at would be what is meant by income and how is it measured (weekly, monthly etc. and in advance or on past history, NB I can't see a good reason for there being more than one definition (and the safest definition is one that looks at history). As most income needs to be declared to HMRC and most payroll is done by software one could, in time, arrange for automatic capture where the claimant agrees the loss of privacy is balanced by faster / more accurate benefit payments (but whilst there are different definitions I can't see payroll software suppliers agreeing).

Sunday, 9 September 2007

What’s happened to Shared Services

The Transformational Government white paper’s reliance on Shared Services made absolute sense in recommending the of use shared services to achieve consistency, improved performance from service oriented specialists and economies of scale. This would free up management time and money to enable government to become citizen centric, a major change.

I don’t have any statistics to prove it but I’m getting a strong impression that ICT suppliers are closing their Public Sector Shared Services operations, i.e not trying to sell shared services as services. The reason isn’t hard to find, the public sector are doing shared services themselves and not buying them from the private sector. It’s not all bad news for the ICT sector as the public sector are buying the infrastructure and skills etc. but not as services the supplier can also sell to others.

Whether this is bad news for the UK rather depends on the cost and quality of the services provided by public sector shared services providers. Guidance from the Cabinet Office Shared Services team is that central government organisations not big enough to build viable operations should buy from HMRC or the DWP. John Suffolk, the government CIO, commented not long after the announcement that DWP and HMRC will need to match commercial performance and rates. Unfortunately it will take a few years until we know if they are truly competitive and in the meantime the market for shared services is dead.

The ICT industry trade body, Intellect Shared Services working group started it’s position paper by saying “Industry’s vision for shared corporate services is that by 2016 a majority of the transactional elements of corporate services in the public sector will be delivered through relatively few professional shared service organisations. Some of these organisations will remain inside the public sector, but others will be outsourced. The ICT industry envisages the creation of new organisations in the public and private sectors whose sole purpose will be to provide shared corporate services to a number of public sector organisations.” The paper has the arguments to support this move but unless the drivers on Departments change I can’t see this vision being realised.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Identity cards

There is widespread agreement that identity management is good and that the identity card as currently described is going to cause many more problems than it solves e.g. the eGov monitor article Even more worryingly as Government Computing (GC) comments “The National Identity Card Scheme ……. (is) being sold as a great idea that could revolutionise public services but with little idea about how it will be used”.

There have been two trains of thought about identity management, whether it is used in a Transformational Government way to enable joined up citizen centric services or in a narrower way as a tool for the police. I don’t think the debate is about a database or a card but rather about the balance between having something that makes life easier vs further damaging the trust between citizens and their government.

Going back to the GC comment, it’s hard to have an informed debate without clarity on what is proposed and how it will impact on citizens, so before spending a lot of money implementing something why not spend rather less on a study of what impact different styles of identity management could have on UK PLC. And as part of that study engage in an open debate on what citizens actually want, and what tradeoffs they will accept.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Customer service - measuring the right things

I've just been reminded that demand for customer service, whether in person, at a call centre or via the web can be divided into valuable and failure demand. Valuable is where the contact achieves a business objective, e.g. giving a citizen a benefit whereas failure would be where a citizen complains that the benefit hasn't been paid.

Whilst not as simple to measure as call waiting times etc. outcomes can be assessed by monitoring contacts and judging what sort of demand is being dealt with, supported by some questioning of those making the contacts as to whether they are getting what they need / expect.

Being citizen centric must therefore mean not just providing call centres (or drop in centres)where contacts are answered quickly and dealt with efficiently but making sure that the contact achieves what the citizen wants it to. Performance management systems implemented in support of Transformation government should therefore report on outcomes achieved as well as the mechanics.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Data sharing consultation

The Information Commissioner is consulting on a framework for codes of practice on sharing data at

The guidance does a good job of meeting its objective of explaining how to create a code of practice. Unfortunately the overall tenor of the document is that sharing data is not a good thing, probably because the document is written from the perspective of an individual public body wanting to protect itself from criticism. Transformational Government thinking should guide the ICO to take a citizen’s perspective and to provide a balance of service with privacy whereas this document, by ignoring the possibility of improving service, slants heavily towards privacy.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Perverse incentives – joined up services

It’s obviously in a citizens interests to receive joined up services, for a start they typically don’t know which public sector organisations do what or how to contact them. Citizen centricity must therefore involved either real joining up or at least guidance and support for citizens to do the joining themselves. And when it comes to claiming benefits to which they are due lack of knowledge can be expensive, with the most disadvantaged losing the most.

But why would a civil servant get involved in joining up services:

  • More work - they have to cooperate with other public sector bodies
  • Increased risk – they aren’t in control of the complete service
  • Loss of budget – someone else delivering the joined up service

Balanced by…………

So what’s needed to change behaviour?, it will need to be a substantial change to overcome these barriers.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Voting - as an example

I've used voting as an illustration of what can be done with Transformational Government thinking. Voting has been around a long time and the way we live now has changed, e.g. we tend to move long distances and not know our neighbours. Before the first world war voting security depended on recognising people in the community centres used for voting, whereas now there is a greater reliance on paper evidence. As remarked by the recent Electoral Commision report; e-Voting and it’s partner postal voting have been looked at as new, more convenient, channels to the existing process for voting rather than ways of making voting work in the 21st century.

A study by a Manchester councillor a few years ago demonstrated that the electoral register was not accurate, houses that had been demolished were still there and some new houses weren’t. Actually voting is only one of many reasons for needing to know where people live and registering to vote not a particularly compelling reason to register ones address. It's obvious that having different processes for registering where one lives and ones eligibility is inefficient, irritating and prone to fraud; for example it can't be long before there's a host of completely new processes to register for different waste disposal requirements. Going back to voting, without too much deep analysis the most important characteristics for voting are:

  • Entitlement is geographic (e.g. local. National constituency etc. elections)
  • Everyone entitled should be invited to vote, so contact details are important
  • Only the person who is entitled to vote should do so
  • The person who votes should not be pressured into who they vote for
  • Voting should be equally convenient for all (to prevent bias)

It seems obvious that if government was confident about who lived where, i.e. had a trustworthy address service, voting and a host of other services could be provided more securely and conveniently.

In designing an address service Transformational Government thinking would guide one to look at involving intermediaries, for example, Royal Mail deliver post to people at the addresses where they live and manage the Post Code Address file. So why not involve them in a shared service to map where people live. There are privacy issues, but that’s also true with the patchwork quilt of processes that exist now. Voting would then be one of the requirements for a shared service for identifying who lives where and how that relates to geographic bounderies e.g. constituencies. It needn't be a national public service as envisaged a few years ago for the National Spatial Address Infrastructure and might well be delivered by public or private sector, local or regional organisations.

Knowing who is eligible to vote and how to contact them is a good starting point for designing a voting system that works for mobile busy people, with e-Voting and postal voting as channel options in an modern voting system designed to balance security and convenience.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Financial inclusion

A report from the Financial Inclusion Task Force in May 2007 proudly reports that the number of adults in un-banked households has fallen to 2m by 2005/6 and that 1.2 million people have been brought into banking since Sept 2002, most of whom are people who have taken up Basic Bank Accounts. The report also shows that half of the users of Basic Bank Accounts don’t use Direct Debits or standing orders.

Using the facilities of a bank account, and this must include keeping money safe in the account and paying bills in ways that attract maximum discounts (e.g. Direct Debit) is a valid indicator that one is financially included. Just having an account, because e.g. your employer insists on paying wages into a bank account, isn’t. A Transformational Government should therefore not be interested in people having accounts, but in the number of people that exhibit financially included behaviours.

The recent press frenzy about excessive bank charges gives ample reason to believe that encouraging those that don’t exhibit financially included behaviours to change is much more likely if accounts are provided by people they trust, e.g. Credit Unions or the Post Office. I’m confident that providing the financial features that people on low incomes actually want, e.g. weekly direct debits and protection from unreasonable charges, from organisations they trust will give real inclusion rather than a questionable illusion.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Performance management

Having submitted a repayment claim to HMRC at the beginning of June, I phoned at the end of July to check on progress and was told they have now processed post from the middle of June so I need to submit a duplicate claim. I was therefore naturally interested in the recent report from the Treasury Select Committee on the impact of the efficiency programme in the Chancellor’s Departments, see (

The committee received evidence from outside organisations e.g. tax and benefit advisors and the unions on the effect of the efficiency programme in HMRC on the quality of service provided by the Department. The committee recommended that “HMRC accord high priority to the preparation, in consultation with users of its services, of measures of service quality which properly capture the experience and needs of users…….such measures, when finalised, should be used not only in monitoring the efficiency programme, but also in making policy relating to HMRC services”.

I couldn’t agree more, but for all public bodies not just HMRC, and to achieve it there needs to be comprehensive performance management systems in place that everyone can have confidence in. Returning to my claim, the HMRC evidence to the select committee said one of their measures is the “Percentage of external post worked within 15 working days dealt with correctly and Completely” and the HMRC web site shows that all regions are within the 80% target. Unfortunately when I phoned the response I had suggests that that it’s normal for the receipt of post not to be recorded for over 30 working days. This isn’t intended to be a criticism based on an isolated incident but a reflection on the performance management regime in place compared to what the Government requires.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Pull not push

In my (humble) experience Government Services are specified and designed by civil servants, sometimes with support from consultants and IT suppliers. It's rare for citizens and businesses to be directly engaged in deciding what's needed and how the services will work.

The logic of Transformational Government isn't just that services will be designed around the citizen but that they will be encouraged to say what they want the service to do and not just how it will do it.

The biggest change for government employees in policy and strategy roles is going to be developing a culture of listening and communicating, let's look for how it will be achieved as the professionalism agenda develops.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Why should anyone care about identity management

Proving who you are every time you want a public, voluntary or private sector service is a nuisance, but having others pretending to be you can be even more irritating. And it’s not only your inconvenience, all that checking of ones identity costs money, and someone has to pay for it. And although most of us have nothing to hide there can be good reasons for not making it easy for others to find us, whether ex-partners or the people who generate junk mail. It can also be threatening if what are innocent interests, e.g. nudism, being a scoutmaster and visiting Thailand are linked by a sensation seeking journalist. Privacy is a basic human right, but it shouldn’t result in wasted money, inconvenience and frustration.

Many people don’t trust the Government to safeguard their identity and the data it has about them, and I can’t say I blame them. We don’t know who can access our data, e.g. can anyone in the NHS access my medical records or only my GP and a hospital where I’m receiving treatment, and we also don’t know what controls exist to make sure that the systems are working as intended. For example if someone looks at records they shouldn’t, e.g. a neighbours, how would they be caught and what would happen to them. It’s not hard to build in controls, I know systems that include them, but there isn’t any public confidence that the controls are in place and operating consistently.

Transformational Government depends on there being a real improvement in how we manage identity’s, e.g. it’s hard to make it simpler to report a bereavement if one is identified differently by all the organisations one touches. But identity management will only work if people have confidence in it and that requires an open dialogue on what people want, the risks and how those risks can be managed.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

JobCentre Plus Green paper

The DWP Green paper at has a few interesting comments on JobCentre plus acting on behalf of other Government organisations e.g.
"We will position Jobcentre Plus advisers to act as an advocate for each individual in getting help across the range of their needs". I wonder if we'll have other cases where segments of the population have Government Departments acting as their advocates and agents?

Monday, 23 July 2007

What citizen centric means

I've just picked up a quote from a Demos paper on unlocking innovation - "in most government bureaucracies, it is not a part of the culture to actually listen or ask questions of the people who are going to live with your policies". The article is from Denmark talking about Mindlab but is eually relevant in the UK.

Whilst Transformational Government isn't only about knowing what citizens and businesses need and how they would like government to interact with them it's a good place to start. As the Danish article makes clear civil servants will need help / facilitation to enable them to learn from the people affected by their policies, it isn't enough to say " you must consult".

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

UK Government web site report from the NAO

The National Audit Office (NAO) have just published their review of how UK Government publish information and make transactionas available on the Internet, it's at

The report makes interesting reading and illustrates how far there is to go before we get Transformational Government, a few (admittedly out of context) quotes:

"Most departments still do not have sufficient information on who is using their sites and how they are being used"

"There is an as yet largely unrealised potential for government websites to signpost citizens towards organisations that have sites with information, services and web communities that can offer help, advice and guidance on, for example, childcare, health matters, legal problems or finding employment. This is particularly the case with third sector organisations, many of whom
act as important intermediaries between government departments and citizens, but to which few government websites provide links."

"The DirectGov strategy of..........:

  • re-ordering information to make it easily findable;
  • re-presenting information so that it is clearer and makes sense for citizens or businesses, and;
  • joining up information effectively so that it better meets people’s and enterprises’ overall needs.

This approach is challenging because of the complex departmental structure of national government against a background of ten or more years of un-coordinated growth of government websites."

Let's hope the strategy is successful and applied to the other channels that Government uses.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Why bother

Government delivery organisations are silo's created to implement convenient groupings of legislation, e.g. taxation and lnks to the giving of subsidies or benefits to the taxed are weak or nonexistant. The result is that whilst citizens and businesses think of government as a whole the services they interact with are fragmented. At a Public seminar on interaction sponsored by AT Kearney, Sir David Varney put his case for a more seamless offer of services to the public, asking why have multiple calls by multiple agencies following a bereavement, or 23 separate departments validating a citizen's identity. Contrast that with the private sector where increasingly all interactions with a customer are coordinated to provide a consistent and convenient service and internal silo's are hidden from customers.

We need Transformational Government to turn government inside out and instead of focussing on the needs of each government organisation to think of how citizens and businesses interact with government as a whole. The benefits are not just happy citizens, ther will be less money spent on duplicating services and the policy outcomes the country and it's legislators are looking for will be achieved.

EURIM dialogues

EURIM, the all-party, Government-Industry Information Society group, is organising a programme of “political dialogues” to help inform that debate by publicising good practice in three of the areas that are expected to cause the most difficulty:

  • the means of delivering genuinely socially inclusive services, given that parts of society are best reached by very different channels and that those in most need of support are least likely to be reached via the current generation of on-line services, public or private.
  • the challenges of organising delivery partnerships that really do cross the barriers between the public, private and voluntary/community sectors as opposed to dominant players trying to coerce others into adopting their pattern of working.
  • the democratisation of delivery, ensuring that consultations really do involve those most affected, the recipients and those who inter-act directly with them. But we also need to ensure that subsequent performance monitoring is based on their experience of what is actually delivered and their changing priorities for improvement.

In each area the aim is also to look at the role(s) of central and local government and their delivery partners, the means of set of appropriate objectives and subsequently monitoring performance and the challenges of managing the structural and cultural changes needed.