GDS gets a £450m budget boost - and a £3.5bn incentive to prove digital really works

bryang | No Comments
| More
Even people close to the Government Digital Service (GDS) seem surprised - pleasantly so - by the announcement of a £450m budget over the rest of this Parliament.

While it's still not clear exactly how that cash will be allocated, it's a far cry from expectations in the months leading up to chancellor George Osborne's spending review. From the gloom and despondency of the summer when former GDS chief Mike Bracken and his senior lieutenants quit amid rumours of huge cuts, GDS has received its biggest ever budget boost and a commitment for the next four years.

As recently as September, GDS executives were expecting to be "turning down the volume". Osborne just turned it up to 11.

Assuming the £450m runs from the 2016 to 2020 financial years, that's a 94% increase from the most recent £58m a year. And in a further surprise, that GDS budget is in addition to the £1.8bn allocated by Osborne for digital transformation across Whitehall departments - early assumptions were that GDS was part of that figure.

So Osborne has given significant backing to both GDS and the wider digital programme across government - but now the pressure is really on to deliver the promise of digital change. For that £450m, Computer Weekly has learned that GDS is expected to return at least £3.5bn in savings; HM Revenue & Customs is spending £1.3bn on its digital strategy and must return £1bn every year in additional tax revenue.

The government has claimed big savings from digital during the last Parliament - Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock mentions a figure of £3.5bn. But that's a highly contentious claim - for one thing, it's compared to a "2010 baseline", meaning it is money that would have been spent if government still worked like it did in 2010 under Labour.

Some of the savings are clearly genuine - costs a lot less to run than the multitude of websites it replaced - but much is clever accounting. For example, £600m of savings in 2014/15 was attributed to the spending controls introduced by GDS. But what that's actually saying is - "Someone wanted to spend £100m on an IT project, we said no, and they spent £20m instead; therefore we saved £80m". It's not a "saving" in terms of reducing the amount of money government used to spend - it's a saving compared to what it would have spent if the controls did not exist.

GDS is working on a new business plan, expected by the end of the year, which will give more detail on how that £450m will be spent. But there can no longer be any doubt about this government's commitment to a strong centre for digital government, technology and data - a commitment questioned in August by Mike Bracken, and which led to his departure.

GDS and its digital advocates have said all along that the potential benefits are huge - they now have four years to prove it.

Software is never perfect - and that includes the Post Office's controversial Horizon system

bryang | 2 Comments
| More
Software goes wrong. Every developer knows that. Even the most thoroughly tested piece of software can come up with an unexpected set of circumstances that cause it to behave in an equally unexpected way. Sometimes those unique cases can be so unusual, they are impossible to replicate.

It is difficult to believe that any large-scale, complex software application is entirely and completely free of any possible flaws arising from unforeseen circumstances, no matter how well it performs in the vast majority of usage.

This, essentially, is at the heart of the ongoing dispute between subpostmasters and the Post Office over its Horizon IT system.

The Post Office has consistently said there are no systemic flaws in Horizon, and certainly none that would have caused the accounting discrepancies that led to subpostmasters receiving fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting.

The organisation has pointed out that affected postmasters are a "tiny" proportion of the number who use it successfully to process millions of transactions every day.

And in turn, that is exactly the point that campaigners make in response - that all it takes is a tiny number of unexpected, unusual circumstances that perhaps cannot be replicated. There are about 11,500 sub-Post Offices in the UK, and just 150 subpostmasters in the Post Office mediation scheme - that's 1.3% - although many others claimed to have been affected.

Many businesses would be pretty happy with a 98.7% success rate for its core software - but all it takes is just one of thousands of otherwise successful transactions for each of those 150 people to have had a problem, which would mean an even lower failure rate.

The Post Office says, "The Post Office takes its responsibilities towards its postmasters extremely seriously and wholeheartedly rejects any suggestion to the contrary.

"Neither the Post Office nor other parties have identified any transactions caused by a technical fault in Horizon which have resulted in a postmaster wrongly being held responsible for a loss."

And they are correct - none have been identified in those cases. But that doesn't necessarily mean that in 0.013% of sub-Post Offices, there wasn't some undetected, unrepeatable problem that affected Horizon - user error, a power spike, a momentary hardware glitch, coffee spilled on a keyboard.

This week, Computer Weekly revealed the Post Office knows about a recent flaw that can cause accounting errors, and it's being fixed. So it is possible for a problem in Horizon to occur that could lead to a similar situation to that faced by the affected postmasters. But, as the Post Office stresses, there is no evidence to show that it did so in their specific cases.

The lesson for all is that no organisation should assume that its software is perfect.

Spending review: GDS continues but big cuts ahead in Cabinet Office

bryang | No Comments
| More
The Cabinet Office is set for higher than average budget cuts in next week's spending review, while the future of the Government Digital Service (GDS) appears to be secure - but smaller.

Chancellor George Osborne announced this week that seven more departments have agreed their spending review settlement with the Treasury - the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Cabinet Office, and the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland offices.

But according to an email sent to staff by Civil Service chief executive and Cabinet Office permanent secretary John Manzoni, his department is going to be hit harder than the others.

"The chancellor has announced an average reduction of 21% across the seven departments. In reality the final settlement for the Cabinet Office could be higher than 21% and this will be detailed in the Spending Review next week," said the email.

Another Manzoni email said: "We will need to be smaller, which means also considering how and when to exit some of our people."

He has previously said that, "The good stuff happens when you put great people out in the departments. It doesn't happen when you put great people in the centre," so it seems that the spending review is the catalyst for that shrinking of the Cabinet Office.

It appears that GDS has had its core budget agreed and will continue - despite speculation to the contrary over the summer when its former chief Mike Bracken announced his surprise resignation.

But GDS will have to take its share of the wider Cabinet Office cuts. Insiders suggest those cuts "could bite quite hard" but the details are under wraps until after Osborne's autumn statement on 25 November.

GDS's budget for the year to March 2015 was £58.345m. The biggest chunk of that was allocated to the website, which received £17.1m. has completed the costliest and most resource intensive phase of its development - the migration of all government and agency websites - and is now in more of an ongoing maintenance mode, so its budget seems feasible to be reduced.

GDS has always carried a large number of contractors on short, fixed-term contracts - 210 of them, compared to 425 full-time staff - so an obvious response would be to let those contracts naturally expire and not to replace them, protecting permanent civil servants from the worst of any cuts.

The full post-spending review business plan for GDS is expected to be published in December.

According to an article on the Spend Matters website, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) - also part of the Cabinet Office - is already planning for job cuts. Matt Denham, commercial delivery director, reportedly told a procurement event in London earlier this month that changes in CCS will see its strategic category management team reduced by half from its current 270 staff.

My bet is that Osborne will highlight digital transformation as one of the key elements of meeting his ambitious austerity targets - probably singling out HMRC's plan to shut 137 offices and move to 13 regional centres by 2021 as an example, a move enabled by its digital strategy.

As such, GDS will still be central to meeting those targets - but seems likely to be doing so as a smaller, more tightly focused organisation.

Spending review will show how - or if - digital is the future of the public sector

bryang | No Comments
| More
November 25th is highlighted in red ink for any IT leader in the public sector. That's the day the chancellor, George Osborne, reveals the winners and losers in the 2015 spending review, which determines how much cash each department, agency and council gets to spend over the next five years.

We know Osborne is looking for significant cuts - on top of the significant cuts of the last five years. Some departments have already agreed to 30% reductions in budget, others will see even more.

We know, for example, that the Department for Health has asked for as much as £5.6bn for technology improvements. Much as everyone in the NHS acknowledges that digital offers huge potential to improve efficiency and cut costs, observers would have to question whether such a sum will be awarded in the midst of all the other funding crises in the health service.

We know, too, that the Government Digital Service (GDS) has submitted four key bids for funding - to cover its government as a platform strategy; the Verify identity assurance programme; for rolling out better end-user technology across Whitehall; and for GDS itself.

It's notable that GDS itself is subject to a separate bid to the three cross-government initiatives - a clear suggestion that those three projects could go ahead even if GDS sees a cut in its funding. Rumours continue that GDS will be a lot smaller in size as a result of the spending review, as departments pick up more of the digital transformation work. We will find out on the 25th.

IT chiefs in local government will be most nervous. Most of them have suffered five years of huge cuts, and are expecting more. It seems clear that Whitehall expects a more radical rethink of how councils deliver services than simply salami slicing costs from the way they currently work. Huge question marks remain over the ability and willingness of the sector to respond.

HM Revenue & Customs perhaps demonstrates the challenges for their peers. The tax collector announced plans to shut 137 offices and move to 13 regional centres by 2021 - a move enabled by its digital investments. But unions have reacted, not surprisingly, with horror to the likely scale of job cuts.

From civil servants to ministers to David Cameron, we hear talk of how digital will be central to meeting Osborne's tough targets. Very soon we find out just how critical it will be.

Women are breaking the glass firewall in IT - but they need the men in IT to do more

bryang | No Comments
| More
One of the most pleasing aspects of this year's UKtech50 - Computer Weekly's annual list of the 50 most influential people in UK IT - is that over one-third of the nominees shortlisted for the reader vote are women.

It's a sign that more and more women are breaking through the glass firewall in technology and achieving positions of influence and seniority. Bring them on. And bring on a big increase in young women choosing technology as a career too - we need them all. The current figure of 16% of IT professionals being female is a disgrace to the industry.

But for all the great networking groups set up for women in IT, and work done to highlight the need for more females in the industry, I'd bet that if you asked each of the 17 women on the UKtech50 list to name the people to whom they owe the most for helping them up the ladder, every one of them would mention some men.

There is no escaping the fact that the people who need to do the most to get more women into IT are the men in IT. Men still make most of the recruitment decisions, the promotion decisions and write most of the job specifications.

Two years ago, we published a list of 10 things that men in IT can do to help women in IT, and it bears repeating:

  1. Be a mentor for women in IT
  2. Offer work experience
  3. Specify a target for female CVs from recruitment agencies
  4. Review your HR policies
  5. Offer training for returners to work
  6. Improve your female contact network
  7. Review your skills profiles and person specifications
  8. Speak at schools
  9. Encourage more female speakers at IT events
  10. Encourage your children to consider science and technology
You can read more about each item on that list here.

Computer Weekly recently talked to some of the men who do item one on that list - the mentors who have helped successful women reach the top of the profession, as nominated by the women they mentor.

We talk a lot about the importance of female role models to attract more women, but these male role models are just as important to show the men in IT the vital importance of helping to address the shocking diversity gap in technology.

Goodbye old HP, hello new HPs - but for how long?

bryang | No Comments
| More
On Monday 2nd November, HP as we know it ceases to exist. The IT supplier that once was too big to fail, becomes two companies that, if recent history is anything to go by, will be individually much more vulnerable.

Of course the rationale for the move is quite the opposite - two slimmer, more focused firms; one targeting enterprises, one more oriented to consumers. The logic there is spot on - it's increasingly difficult for a major IT supplier to satisfy the needs of both companies and consumers using the same business model and investment priorities. The R&D behind a tablet device is completely different to that for cloud, servers or storage, for example.

But HP's split doesn't come at a time when it offers a great deal of confidence to market watchers that the underlying strategy is going in the right direction.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise - the new corporate IT supplier - is cutting a further 30,000 jobs, in addition to the 55,000 lost across HP in recent years. No firm making cuts on that scale simply to maintain profitability can afford to invest in the next generation technology it needs to remain competitive.

The company's cloud strategy continues to lurch one way then the next like an inebriated sales rep. Six months ago, HP denied stories that it was about to exit the public cloud market - only to confirm its exit from the market in October.

Meanwhile HP Ink - sorry, Inc - the PC and printer company, faces a future in a rapidly declining PC market, without any significant presence in tablets or mobiles, eking out a profit from sales of ink even as people increasingly print less. Where, seriously, is the long-term growth in those markets?

The old HP's current market worth is about $49bn - less than Apple's latest quarterly revenue or its annual profit. HP still has a lot of good people, some good products and valuable intellectual property. How long before someone looks at one of the two halves of the former whole and thinks that's a bargain?

As Dell and EMC are demonstrating, even the biggest dinosaurs are quite capable of embracing each other for comfort as the asteroid descends. For the sake of HP's many corporate customers, let's hope the split is the kick it needs, not another bump on the way down.

Digital transformation will not happen across local government - so what's the alternative?

bryang | 1 Comment
| More
We often hear local government talked about as if it were a single entity. It's particularly common in digital circles - "We need a digital transformation of local government!" being a typical clarion call.

But of course local government is not an entity - it's 433 independent, democratically elected and often feisty and protective organisations. They each take their responsibilities for delivering local public services very seriously - as they should - and highlight the critical role they play in the community, in enabling local democracy, and supporting those in society who need the most help, such as social care and children's services.

And every one of them is under threat as a result of ongoing austerity cuts in their budgets imposed from Westminster. Most are waiting for George Osborne's impending spending review to find out just how tough the next five years are going to be - having already cut 30% or more of their costs in the last five.

There will be council leaders ideologically opposed to the cuts who will let their services dwindle to the point of crisis and use that as a stick to beat the government. There are others who say, with justification, that digital transformation is the only way to save local public services.

But perhaps it's time to admit that digital transformation of local government in its entirety, as it exists now, is a pipe dream, an impossibility, and will never happen.

No precedent

There is no precedent in any sector for transforming 433 independent bodies using technology or any other means. It was notably tried in the NHS - the disastrous National Programme for IT similarly tried to impose digital transformation on the 400-plus independent organisations that make up the NHS (not to mention the 8,000-plus GP practices) and ended up wasting more than £10bn of taxpayers' money in failing to do so.

Local authorities are no more likely to accept or respond to any such central initiative. And it's increasingly clear that the diversity of opinion, experience and leadership across the sector means that those 433 councils are not all going to achieve digital transformation on their own.

In the past year, I've been fortunate to chair the three major conferences of Socitm, the local government IT managers group - the latest of which took place earlier this week in Leicester. All three events have been startlingly similar.

There are a number of standout councils and leaders doing some incredible work on digital transformation - Peterborough, Leeds, Camden, Bristol, Newham, Surrey, Edinburgh, Hampshire and others to whom I apologise if I fail to mention. But they remain in the minority of those 433. At each Socitm event, it's the same people presenting, and the same people just listening.

For every Peterborough that is using internet of things technology to transform social care, there's a 10-year outsourcing deal elsewhere signed with a Capita or a Serco. For every Bristol becoming a smart city, there's a council building its own datacentre.

Fellow technology journalist Derek du Preez wrote a good overview of the issue at Diginomica, here, which is worth a read too.

Luddites vs revolutionaries

Across the sector there are as many charismatic luddites as there are digital revolutionaries - and it's going to take a generation for that to change.

One such charismatic luddite - and proudly so - is Sevenoaks District Council leader and a leading figure in the Local Government Association (LGA), Peter Fleming, who spoke at Socitm this week. He's a man with a huge and engaging personality, who talked passionately of his belief that every council is unique, and that the sector needs a greater decentralisation of power to serve the specific local needs of their communities. He defines local public services by place; he opposes the idea of standard platforms and systems.

At the opposite end, among the digital revolutionaries, you find the view (which I would support) that the vast majority of what every one of those 433 bodies do is the same and therefore could be standardised using technology. To them, the only unique thing about a local authority is the sense of place - place should be the local layer that sits on top of standard digital platforms for housing, transport, waste management, care services and so on.

It's about an organisation defined by place, against public services localised by place.

I wrote here after Socitm's April conference that the sector needs radical change - a wholesale overhaul that could reduce it to maybe 20 or 30 devolved administrative organisations with councils replaced by smaller, leaner local delivery units adding the sense of place and community to the more generic public services the 20 or 30 operations provide. Think of it as more of a hub and spoke set-up than the current arrangements. Digital makes that possible - even preferable - compared to a structure that was designed in the 19th century.

Every council has already done its salami slicing to meet austerity targets. The only way to cut further and maintain local services is to take 30% or more out of the cost of the local government sector as a whole, not from the cost of each of 433 individual, separately managed entities. That requires radical, sector-wide change, for which there is currently zero appetite.

So the digital revolutionaries will carry on, and will show what can be done. But it won't be done - not everywhere, and not to the scale that the sector desperately needs, at least not for many years.

Start again

If you accept that argument, then it leads to an obvious question - do we need to start again? Does the delivery of local public services need to be redesigned from scratch? Should we switch funding away from every luddite to a digital revolutionary and let them build not just a new council for their region, but a new sector? Simply let those who cannot or will not change whither - but maintain services until their revolutionary counterparts can take over? That's how it works in industry - for every Netflix there's a Blockbuster.

The revolutionaries might like that idea, but of course that's not going to happen either. Central government won't take on the challenge of restructuring local government because it knows councillors would never accept it - so instead they are hit with more and bigger budget cuts to make them decide for themselves. Local authorities won't come together as one to reshape the sector, because turkeys don't vote for Christmas - or at least, councillors and CEOs don't vote themselves out of power or out of a job.

It's not going to come from the Government Digital Service (GDS) either - their remit is firmly on central government, and their message to local authorities is primarily to encourage them to use the tools GDS has developed for Whitehall - G-Cloud,, the Crown Hosting Service, government as a platform, and so on. Besides, GDS is busy trying to protect its own budget.

A question of leadership

Peter Fleming made an interesting observation in his Socitm talk - he said he hoped one day to see heads of children's services or other lines of business attending a Socitm conference. I'd throw that back and ask how many IT managers get invited to LGA or Solace (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) meetings?

An interactive straw poll among Socitm delegates asked what was the biggest factor holding back their digital efforts - by far the most popular response was "leadership", selected by half of those taking part; the implication being that executive leadership at council level is a problem.

Of course you could say - well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

But a common factor in the stories of all the successful digital revolutionaries talking at Socitm was the top-level support, backing and investment given to their initiatives from council leaders. There seems an obvious conclusion - combine digital leadership with enlightened councillors and CEOs and you see great progress being made.

These are the people who need to be driving local public services. For them to be empowered to do so beyond their strict council boundaries needs either direction and even legislation from Westminster, or unprecedented co-operation from their less forward-thinking peers. Even great leaders in such a fragmented sector need great leadership above them to allow them the space to make it happen.

Until then, let's continue to celebrate the digital successes even if we know where they will come from and accept that their wider impact will be less than it could be. But the challenge for local government - as a sector, and in each of those 433 organisations - is not about digital or austerity cuts or local democracy or place. It's about enlightened, 21st century leadership, at all levels, and nothing more.

And at the end of the day, the people with the power to change that are the ones who vote for them.

DVLA shows the long-overdue maturing of outsourcing in government

bryang | No Comments
| More
Former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude once described DVLA as having the worst outsourcing contract in government - and that's quite an accolade, given the number of terrible deals in the public sector.

So it's not surprising that people in government technology now are quietly elated that DVLA has not only ended that contract, but brought most of its IT service provision back in-house. Over 300 staff have been brought back into public employment, and savings approaching £300m are expected over the next 10 years - after spending £1.3bn over 13 years with suppliers IBM, Fujitsu and Concentrix.

DVLA's history of outsourcing went back even further - even Margaret Thatcher took an interest when she was prime minister. So it's understandable that the move back in-house is seen as something of a landmark.

Outsourcing has its place, in government and the private sector, and total spend on outsourcing is on the up. But attitudes to it have rightly changed.

In the days of the multi-year megadeal outsourcing contracts, boardrooms would say that IT is not our core function, so let's bring in outside experts whose sole purpose is managing IT. Most customers subsequently found that contracts were inflexible, change control was costly, and after a few years many of those deals became hindrances to progress, not a help.

Stories of £300 bills for changing a user password were rife. The Department for Energy and Climate Change told Computer Weekly in 2013 that its outsourcing contract was the reason it couldn't move to the cloud. Several local councils had to abandon long-term contracts because the suppliers simply could not achieve the austerity cuts demanded. Horror stories abound.

Now that leaders in government and business have realised that digital is actually a core function, they are bringing back control. They need technology skills in-house to support the agility and customer engagement they require. The role of outsourcers is narrower, more tightly defined, and typically on shorter-term deals.

Not all outsourcing suppliers have found this an easy change. HP's Enterprise Services division - the former EDS outsourcing giant acquired in 2008 and still one of the biggest providers to government - has made tens of thousands of job cuts.

Business attitudes to IT outsourcing have matured, and they had to. DVLA will be held up as a shining example to the rest of government as it tries to unravel itself from the costly, legacy outsourcing deals that continue to hold back its digital transformation.

I finally made it to Windows 10 - and can't really see why any businesses would do the same

bryang | 2 Comments
| More
Microsoft would be happy with me right now - I just upgraded to Windows 10. It was free, as a consumer, of course, so that helped. But frankly, the only reason I did so was because my seven-year old Windows Vista laptop was coughing and spluttering like a dodgy Volkswagen diesel.

Apparently I have followed the lead of more than 100 million people who have downloaded Windows 10 so far - that's a little over 5% of all PCs in the world.

I would guess that my first experience of Windows 10 was not dissimilar to many other reasonably tech-savvy users: Where's the control panel? Where's the user account setup? Why do I have to create a Microsoft account to use all the services? Why is "shut down" hidden behind a feature called "power"? But you get there in the end.

And so, I can now happily continue using my Windows 10 laptop at home to do exactly the same things I used my old Windows Vista laptop for - which is basically anything that needs a proper keyboard. Maybe 80% of what I once used the home laptop for I now do on my not-Windows smartphone or tablet. I don't think I'm at all unusual in that.

So the big question that remains for Microsoft as it applauds itself for the rapid take-up of Windows 10 is - how many of those 100 million users are businesses? Very few, for a bet.

What is the compelling reason for a company to go through the obvious pain of a Windows migration for all their users yet again? For the majority of organisations, there isn't one. It's telling perhaps, that when Computer Weekly asked an expert to write the first article in our forthcoming Buyer's Guide to Windows 10 Migration, he wrote mostly about why you don't really need a desktop anymore.

Nobody justifies IT purchases based on a three- or five-year payback period anymore - the length of a typical Microsoft licensing deal. It needs to deliver a return in a year or two at most, often less. It's hard to make that case based on Windows 10. That's even before you consider previous bad experiences with things like application compatibility.

The same questions now face Office 2016 - do you really need those extra features? Do they really justify the pain of a corporate migration? Almost certainly not.

The new Microsoft under CEO Satya Nadella knows all this. Windows and Office today are simply vehicles to get businesses onto Azure and Office 365. The real question for IT managers is not how to upgrade to Windows 10 and Office 2016, but why?

Ofcom review should aspire to a broadband infrastructure that is the envy of the world

bryang | No Comments
| More
Perhaps Ofcom should review the UK communications market every year - because its current one certainly seems to be causing waves at BT.

The regulator put the future of BT's Openreach network infrastructure subsidiary on the table in July when it published a discussion document offering a break-up of the telecoms giant as one of the future options under consideration.

Despite BT's multibillion-pound investment in what it refers to as fibre broadband - in reality, fibre to the street cabinet (FTTC), not to your front door like the world's most advanced broadband countries - the firm faces regular and frequent criticism over its roll-out of superfast connectivity.

The accusations against BT have been well documented - ignoring rural areas, monopolising the government funding for roll-out, steamrollering smaller local broadband providers, to name a few - and have been equally robustly defended.

BT - and the government - point to the UK as a broadband leader in Europe as justification for the current set-up. An independent report this week supported their claims, stating that: "When it comes to superfast broadband coverage, the UK is around three years ahead of the western European average".

But Europe is not the benchmark by which we should be measured - our neighbours have comparatively moribund broadband, restricted as they are by the dominance of their former telecom monopolies. We need the UK to be a world leader, with a digital infrastructure the envy of our international competitors. That means starting to invest in fibre everywhere now.

The focus of debate is increasingly around Openreach, as rivals such as Sky, Vodafone and TalkTalk call for it to be split off to encourage more investment in replacing the country's ageing copper infrastructure.

BT, while stoutly insisting there is no case to be made for separation, has responded with a raft of commitments to further improving the UK's broadband infrastructure - extending FTTC beyond the current 95% target, increasing minimum speeds to 5Mbps and beyond, and a faster roll-out of "ultrafast" (but still copper) broadband offering speeds up to 500Mbps.

It's amazing what a whiff of regulatory and competitive pressure can do. BT will say it would have done all that anyway, but there's little doubt the Ofcom review has focused minds, if not accelerated plans.

Nonetheless, the fact that BT needs to be so assertive is a sign that competition in the broadband market doesn't work. In a fully functioning market, rivals would be falling over each other to compete by improving their services, instead of relying on BT to improve the infrastructure for them to resell.

The Ofcom review has thereby demonstrated not only its own importance, but the reason why separating Openreach is the best option. An independent Openreach, relying not on a dominant parent but on a diverse market for its income, means less regulation in the sector. Less regulation means more competition; more competition means the UK's digital infrastructure can keep pace with the world leaders. That is the benchmark Ofcom should aspire to.

The nonsense about robots taking your job risks a culture of digital fear

bryang | No Comments
| More
"300,000 jobs at high risk of automation"; "Robots have put 1.3 million Londoners' jobs at risk"; "Robots could take 35% of UK jobs in the next 20 years, says new study" - these were just three of the hyperbolic headlines that accompanied a frenzy of media coverage last week following a BBC Panorama programme asking "Could a robot do my job?".

Most of those numbers came from research by Deloitte, featured in the BBC show, which analysed employment statistics to determine which jobs are most at risk from the increasing pace of technology automation. Throw in a few references to robots and artificial intelligence and you get a nicely hyped up scare story about how technology is going to devastate the jobs market. If you're not scared yet, you should be, apparently.

Of course it's all nonsense. That Deloitte report actually concluded that the number of jobs with a low risk of automation is increasing faster than jobs being replaced by automated processes across all regions of the UK. Around 800,000 "high-risk" jobs have been replaced since 2001, but 3.5 million jobs at low risk of automation have been created.

"IT creating millions of jobs" is, for some reason, less of an interesting headline, and has been less of an interesting headline for as long as the IT industry has existed. Tech has been presented as the great jobs killer for decades, despite creating millions of jobs. We should be used to it by now.

But there is a real danger that such hyperbolic reporting creates a culture of fear around technology, one that will chime with a lot of people already struggling to cope with the pace of change in the digital revolution.

From the invention of the printing press, to the industrial revolution, to the current silicon age, technology has removed the need for jobs that are typically low-skilled, administrative or bureaucratic. It's often pointed out that the jobs created are high-skilled, higher income jobs, and that these technological elites are benefiting while low-earning socio-economic groups suffer. That's an easy accusation to make but it's equally nonsense. Jobs are created at every level of employment - it just means that work that is often considered menial gets done by machines instead. Surely that's a good thing.

The critical point here is that this is not a jobs issue, but a training issue. If we can identify the sort of jobs likely to be automated - and we can - government and industry must target those workers for training in the new skills they will need. This has to happen before their jobs go, not after - that's something the UK has never been good at doing.

We have learned from past technological change what happens to old jobs, and still we face shortages for new skills. It's not about protecting old jobs and industries but nurturing new ones. We know the challenge ahead - what's needed is leadership that prepares the workforce to be ready for the new job opportunities to come.

Buy vs build and the rise of open source are driving digital transformation

bryang | No Comments
| More
One of the defining characteristics of digital transformation for most organisations is the realisation that software development is a core business activity. For much of the 1990s and 2000s, building your own software was something to be outsourced - often to low-cost offshore providers. "We're not a software company," boardrooms would cry; "Why would we spend money employing programmers?"

Now, software is increasingly central to customer engagement and so, for many organisations, that means ongoing iteration and enhancement of that software is a key process. As such, the question for many IT and digital leaders is changing, from insource or outsource, to buy or build.

With an IT infrastructure that is agile, increasingly using cloud services, built on service-oriented architecture, there is an increasing element of commoditisation working its way through the application stack.

Where requirements are unique - perhaps even central to the competitive advantage of your company - you'd be inclined to build. Where it's a commodity function, you're likely to buy. But the debate about where you draw that line is yet to be resolved.

The Government Digital Service, for example, recently revealed a project to develop a standard platform as a service (PaaS) capability across Whitehall. Critics immediately jumped on this and asked, with many PaaS solutions available on the market, why build when they could buy?

IT leaders need to have a firm understanding of how software differentiates their business, and so where to draw the blurred line between what to build and what to buy. One of the most interesting facets of this distinction has come in the dramatic rise of open source.

Once upon a time in IT, using open source simply meant Linux instead of Windows, or maybe MySQL instead of Oracle. Now, there is such a huge diversity of open source tools, and almost every leading digital business and tech startup is making extensive use of them. Open source is driving the further commoditisation of software capabilities, and as such is driving the move to greater in-house software development resource and more collaborative approaches.

It's been a remarkable turnaround for open source over the last 10 years, placing the trend firmly at the heart of the digital revolution. And it's another indicator of the enormous changes that will continue to challenge traditional software suppliers whose licensing models will find it ever harder to fit with the emerging digital strategies of their customers.

Why GDS doesn't matter - the questions for UK digital government

bryang | 2 Comments
| More
The summer parliamentary recess is meant to be a quiet time for anyone writing about government matters, but for those of us following all things technology it's been an unexpectedly busy period.

Mike Bracken's surprise departure as digital government chief brought a burst of analysis, blogs, opinion, speculation and doom-mongering across the board. If you want to read the definitive version of why Bracken is leaving, take a look at Computer Weekly's exclusive in-depth interview to see the words of the man himself.

But many questions remain up for debate about the post-Bracken environment, not least the future of the Government Digital Service (GDS) that he leads, and the government as a platform (GaaP) strategy that he hopes to establish.

Speculation suggests that GDS will see "savage cuts", as one source put it. Civil service CEO John Manzoni has refused to back GaaP, according to other rumours. Neither is entirely wrong, but neither are strictly true either - the situation is more nuanced than that.

I wrote soon after the election that the jungle drums even at that time suggested the future for GDS was as a smaller, more focused operation, with greater power handed back to the departments. That seems increasingly likely, but the shape and role of GDS in this sort of set-up is as yet unclear.

Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock made his first response to the post-Bracken rumours in a blog post, affirming his support for the "next phase" of GDS without saying what that next phase might involve.

Hancock's post also mentioned that he had been discussing digital government with consultancy PWC, a statement that went down like a lead balloon with a lot of the government digital community on Twitter, with its hints of a return to the old Big IT and Big Consultancy models of the past.

For what it's worth, having talked to a number of contacts and with Bracken himself, this is my take on the current situation and the possible future...

What next?

GDS has been hit with budget cuts - and they have affected its capacity to deliver in the short term - but so far these are in-year cuts, and are in line with what has happened in other Whitehall departments. But also, the Cabinet Office was given £55m in additional funding in the summer budget specifically for "efficiency and reform", which is mostly being shared between property overhauls and defining business cases for further digital government projects.

The real issue is the spending review, currently underway, which will set the spending parameters and priorities for the next three to five years of the new government. GDS, like every part of the government, has to submit its business case for funding and what it will deliver with that cash.

What about GaaP?

On GaaP, nobody has dismissed it. Bracken says it is "not true" that his boss, John Manzoni, has refused to back GaaP. Manzoni may well have questioned the strategy - that is his job, after all - but the future of GaaP, like so much else, is dependent on the spending review. Bracken is finalising the business case for GaaP, following the financial principles laid down by Manzoni and the Treasury - a piece of work that has taken several months to put together, and has involved input from every major government department. Its future will be decided by the Treasury.

There is no lack of commitment from Manzoni, Hancock, head of the civil service Jeremy Heywood, the Treasury, or Number 10 for the principle of digital government and the savings and improved services it can deliver.

There seems little doubt, however, that Manzoni and Bracken have disagreed on how the digital transformation of government will be delivered. Bracken insists that transformation must be led by a "digital centre" combining digital, technology and data expertise to act as a "lever" to make things happen in departments.

Manzoni - pressured no doubt by departmental permanent secretaries whose instinct as civil service mandarins is to dismiss any central control over their strategy or budgets - prefers a departmentally led approach.

Bracken, with plenty of historical justification, says that departments are not set up to work on cross-government projects such as GaaP, and will naturally revert to their own siloed priorities. That's not a criticism of departments - just recognition of their natural inclinations and the way the civil service has always worked.

Bracken quit, mostly because after four years of receiving full support from former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude for building up GDS as the digital centre, he has been forced back to square one, justifying his plans again and again, and seeing the wind changing direction towards pushing digital power back to departments.

No proven model

Much of the debate has got overly wrapped up in the whole government as a platform idea. It's important to remember that no government in the world has yet fully implemented GaaP - even if some including the UK have created individual platforms. There is no proven model to follow at the scale of the UK government. Bracken has his vision of how to deliver GaaP, but his is not the only vision. There are plenty of people who feel GDS has gone in the wrong direction and that it's more important to define what GaaP really means in practice before committing to anyone's vision of what it should be.

In Bracken's vision, GaaP involves designing and building a series of common platforms and services - such as payments, status tracking, identity assurance, etc - to be used by all departments to avoid duplication and unnecessary cost. He says that cannot be delivered by individual departments alone.

An alternative vision of GaaP, such as that proposed by Mark Thompson, who has long been close to GDS and co-authored the Tory IT manifesto, Better for Less, before the 2010 election, sees GaaP as a set of enabling standards and principles, with the market providing solutions using data and APIs - minimising in-house software development. Think of it as an Amazon or Uber for government - enabling an ecosystem not building in-house software.

Both strategies are feasible, both could work, so could a hybrid of the two, but neither has been implemented in practice in full at scale in government anywhere, so nobody really knows. Someone in Whitehall has to decide which model - or even a different model - is the one to pursue.

It's a question of leadership and accountability, not budgets or whether one person likes GaaP as a concept or not.

GaaP is going to happen in some shape or form - but it might not be Bracken's vision of GaaP, and it might not be labelled GaaP anymore, but it's going to happen. The question is how it will be managed and delivered.

Future of GDS

This is where the future of GDS comes in. Much as Bracken has argued for a digital centre of government, he said in his Computer Weekly interview that the size of that centre is less important. What matters is having some form of central body with the authority to make things happen - and importantly, to make things happen in collaboration with departments. It's not about the size of the budget, it's about what is the best way to do things.

For Bracken, that is a central team plus departments. The battle he is fighting is with the mandarins who believe it should be led by departments. There will still be digital government plans - the question is who leads, and who has accountability.

It seems likely that if GDS continues, it will be smaller, more strategic, and perhaps with a bigger role for Liam Maxwell's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) team. I get the impression from sources that there is a regrouping around Maxwell's Better for Less paper of 2010, which was effectively the Conservative technology manifesto for the general election of that year. There are certainly people close to GDS who feel that more of the transformation GDS has delivered so far has come from Maxwell's reforms of technology strategy, rather than Bracken's digital services.

If you look at the recent figures published by the Cabinet Office for 2014/15 cost savings across government, £1.7bn was attributed to GDS-led digital and tech activities. But of that number, about £1.1bn fell within Maxwell's remit.

The difficulty for digital transformation and GaaP is a Catch 22. The savings potential is enormous - but because nobody has done it before, it's harder to prove and takes longer to deliver. The reforms Maxwell introduced have brought about real, lasting cost cuts in a short timeframe. If you have a Treasury mandarin on your shoulder, telling you to cut your costs by 40% in the next three years, which one are you more likely to back?

Digital government at a crossroads

Digital government in the UK is certainly at a crossroads, but the real challenge it faces is not unique to government, and applies to any organisation that is adapting to the digital revolution.

There is only so much transformation that any organisation can undertake, until it reaches the point where fundamental reform is needed. For companies, that means business model reform; for government, it means reform of the institutions by which public services and government policy is delivered. Perhaps the most salient observation in Bracken's interview was when he said: "For most of this period, digital has not been an institutional challenge. Now it is."

You can read plenty of articles online about the companies that failed because they missed this critical juncture in the digital transformation of their business.

At Kodak, it was when one of their employees invented the first digital camera, and was told not tell anyone about it so as not to affect sales of film.

At Blockbuster, it was the statement to the US stock market saying the effect of the internet on its business had been greatly overstated.

At HMV, it was the board meeting when executives told an external advisor that they believed music lovers would always want to browse through music in a store before buying.

Government, of course, cannot go bust like a Kodak or a Blockbuster. But it can continue to lose engagement with citizens, to foster cynicism and distrust, and to see the quality of public services deteriorate through continual "salami slicing" of operations without changing the way those services are delivered.

The UK government is at that point now.

Bracken is right to say that the next phase of digital transformation - whatever that might involve - is the step that will require fundamental change of government institutions. But that is not the mindset of the civil service.

Civil service inertia

There was a great blog post published recently by an ex-GDS staffer, Andrew Greenway, which described the 26 years of discussion and denials that led to the creation of a central government unit for recording official statistics. During that time, the civil service insisted statistics could be delivered by departments working together. It never happened. It took a major crisis - World War 2 in this case, and the need for better statistics to aid war planning - to make it happen.

This is how the civil service has been for decades. It's not surprising it naturally resists change - that's a lot of inertia to overcome. But the people who manufactured and marketed film for Kodak had worked that way for decades too. Their inertia killed the company. The Whitehall departments that wanted to keep statistics recording to themselves prevaricated until there was a war to force them to change.

What will it take for this UK government to understand and implement the radical reforms it needs, if it is to become truly digital? Five years ago, austerity was enough to give power to Mike Bracken's elbow. It seems that a slowly improving economy has shifted the balance of power back.

GDS doesn't matter

So, in that grand scheme of things, GDS doesn't actually matter. What's needed is political and civil service leadership from the very top for widespread institutional reform of the way government works, thinks and goes about its business.

If that is best delivered by a central team called GDS (or with any other name), then it needs the accountability and resources to do so. If that means a smaller GDS than now, that shouldn't be a problem - as long as it has the backing to lead the necessary transformation, in collaboration with departments.

If that is best delivered by departments working together, then it still needs someone with the leadership and accountability to make sure departments look and act beyond the narrow confines of their siloed remit. History suggest there is little precedent for this to work.

If, after the spending review is over, GDS no longer exists, that in itself is not a problem if the commitment to reform is in place and is workable and has clear leadership.

If, however, digital transformation is left to individual departments, then savings can still be made and individual services improved in those departments, but the bigger prize of government-wide reform and dramatic improvements in efficiency are very unlikely to be achieved in this parliament.

Eventually, it will happen. Digital transformation is inevitable and unstoppable in every industry and every part of public life. The civil service will change - either through enlightened leadership in the next five years, or kicking and screaming at some point in future when it has no choice. The next few months will tell us which.

A-levels show progress in IT education, but IT leaders can do more

bryang | No Comments
| More
At last. This year, computing was the fastest growing A-level subject - nearly 30% more students took the exam. At university level, applications for computer science degrees are up 3% - a small increase perhaps, but a big improvement compared to declines of 13% in 2011, 19% in 2012 and 11% in 2013.

Have we finally turned a corner, for encouraging young people to study technology?

Let's not get too carried away - those A-level figures correspond to just 5,383 exams out of 850,000 - but after years of consistent decline in interest, this year's sharp increase is a positive sign.

One important underlying concern remains - only 8% of those computing students were female. At university, the proportion of women students is just 13%, down one percentage point since 2010. Some hope is offered by the fact that since 2010, the number of females taking A-levels in science, technology, engineering or maths (Stem) subjects has risen by 16,000 - but clearly there is a lot more to be done to make girls interested in technology early enough for it to become an option for A-level and degree study.

We must be grateful for any increase, but the industry has to build on this and re-double efforts to develop the next generation of digital workers. The battle to convince leaders in IT, business and government to support moves for more children studying Stem has been won - but the battle to convince those young people is ongoing.

IT leaders need to step up and help. There is hardly an IT manager that does not complain of problems recruiting the skills and talent they need. Getting kids to study computing won't change that today - but IT chiefs have a responsibility to help ensure their successors don't face the same difficulties.

There are more and more ways to help - organisations like the Tech Partnership, the BCS, Founders4Schools, Future First or the BBC's Make It Digital campaign can help engage with schools. Or take your own initiative - offer work experience or apprenticeships, go back to your old school, or to your children's school, and offer to help in careers days or talks. Sell what a great career the technology world offers.

We need to secure the next generation to build the UK's future digital economy. We're going in the right direction at last, but IT leaders need to step up and contribute too.

What next for GDS after Mike Bracken? The rumour mill begins...

bryang | No Comments
| More
Within minutes of Mike Bracken announcing his departure as the government's digital chief, Twitter was full of tributes from people in his team at the Government Digital Service (GDS), and from the wider digital community across Whitehall and beyond.

There is little doubt Bracken inspired huge loyalty - but according to insiders, that hasn't always been mirrored outside the digital community. For now at least, Bracken's leaving inevitably prompts speculation about what happens next for GDS and the management of digital transformation.

Sources suggest that Bracken has not always seen eye to eye with his boss, civil service CEO John Manzoni. We know from Manzoni's public pronouncements that he favours giving power to departments, not the centre - "The good stuff happens when you put great people out in the departments. It doesn't happen when you put great people in the centre," he has said - a model that doesn't suit the current shape of GDS.

Bracken said on Twitter soon after the announcement: "My last challenge will be to set up digital centre of Govt for next Parliament", which seems to suggest that the governance of digital government is going to change, and that the role of GDS is set for a rethink.

In an email to Whitehall technology chiefs, seen by Computer Weekly, Bracken singled out deputy government CTO Magnus Falk who runs the government tech leaders network - but didn't mention Falk's boss, CTO Liam Maxwell, who originally set up the cross-Whitehall group. It's easy to read too much into these things of course, but multiple sources have said that Bracken and Maxwell fell out with each other. It's equally important to say that Bracken himself absolutely denies any rift with Maxwell.

Further speculation suggests that Bracken's plans for government as a platform (GaaP) have not received the backing at Cabinet level that he hoped; and that Manzoni wants to cut GDS down to an architecture and policy unit and go back to the days when IT suppliers did most of the delivery. If any of this speculation is true, it will be a huge disappointment for the many people who support what Bracken has been trying to achieve. 

Bracken has been the driving force of pushing digital into Whitehall departments - he personally helped select over 100 digital leaders and experts to build up departmental digital teams. But some in those departments - often old-school IT types, sometimes civil servants with less enthusiasm about digital - resented the influence Bracken and GDS had been given.

The Cabinet Office highlighted Bracken's achievements in delivering the website, and the so-called digital exemplars - the high-volume public services redesigned and redeveloped to be digital-by-default. But critics say that many of those digital services are little more than an aesthetic overhaul - it's easy to find people keen to say that much more could have been delivered.

And then there's Verify, the high-profile identity assurance system that has been frequently delayed, and is being rolled out with varying degrees of success. There are even rumours that HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions - the two biggest intended users of Verify - are considering building their own identity systems.

From my perspective, Bracken's biggest achievement was in changing the conversation about technology in Whitehall - recognising the broken nature of IT delivery he inherited and making that the common view.

Bringing IT and digital skills back into government has been the single most important improvement in Bracken's time, changing attitudes and organisations to put digital and technology much closer to the heart of government decision-making. His successors must retain that knowledge in Whitehall - surely, hopefully, government has accepted it cannot outsource everything to Big IT and needs to be a more intelligent customer.

Let's not forget how hard it is to drive change in Whitehall and, compared to the past, Bracken achieved a huge amount in a relatively short time - even if some people inside and outside government feel a certain frustration that even more could have been done. I suspect Bracken shares that frustration.

But attitudes and organisations are easy to unwind, and that is the fear. Bracken leaves government with a report card showing mostly positive reviews, and his missionary zeal for digital transformation of public services will be missed.

The biggest test now will be to see how deeply embedded are the changes Bracken led. He leaves a strong legacy, it must not be wasted.

Read Mike Bracken's farewell email to government tech leaders

bryang | 2 Comments
| More
Government digital chief Mike Bracken has announced his shock departure from government, four years after taking on leadership of the Government Digital Service (GDS). There is already much speculation about the reasons for his departure and what it means for the future of GDS - all of which I write about here - but for now, Computer Weekly has seen a copy of an internal email Bracken sent to the cross-Whitehall Technology Leaders Network announcing he was leaving, which in itself makes for interesting reading...

Dear all,
I'm writing to let you know that I will be leaving government on 30 September. More on what I'll be doing is to follow, but I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for the tremendous help you've given me, and the cause of Digital Transformation, over the years.
There has been advice, support and hard work all across government, from Perm Secs [permanent secretaries], to all the digital people we've helped to hire, to the front-line staff who've been generous with their time as I poked around their systems, to the digital teams in departments and agencies who've actually knuckled down and redesigned their services around their users.
And there's been kindness and encouragement from outside government too, our early conversations with Tim O'Reilly and Jen Pahlka in the US have blossomed into shared practises and mutual support with the USDS and 18F. Governments across the world have acknowledged the pioneering work we've been doing and have decided to join us on the journey. Our Digital Advisory Board has listened, advised and nudged us forward. The wider government technology/digital/open data community has been a fantastic critical friend, holding us to account and helping us improve.

You lot, though, deserve a special word of thanks, because you've got one of the hardest and most important jobs in government.

You're a newer group than the digital leaders so you've got more work ahead of you and you've had less time to gel. And you're in the engine room of transformation - facing the important decisions that will really drive the way government serves its users. All I can advise is keep collaborating, keep talking back and don't go back to the closed, secretive days of five CIOs in a room making all the decisions for government. The Whitehall game of big departments doesn't work for users - it works to sustain an image of relative size in a closed system, while users of our services don't care about our internal IT budgets. We are at our best - whether it be making decisions about software warranties or open document standards - when we do it as a collective. You've got the chance to demonstrate that large-scale technology transformation is possible and that cross-government working can be effective - in fact it's the only way to get it done. Please continue to support Magnus [Falk, deputy CTO] and to work with the Digital Leaders together you'll be unstoppable. Chris Ferguson will chair of the Digital Leaders Network as Kathy Settle moves to take up her post at DCMS - please support him and please keep collaborating.
With you, with Digital Leaders, with the Advisory Board and with GDS I believe I'm leaving government's digital delivery in enormously capable hands. The GDS leadership is strong, our plans are clear and focused, our people - and digital teams across government - are rolling up their sleeves to continue the work of transformation.
Again, thanks, good luck and please stay in touch.


Mike Bracken

With Windows 10, Microsoft has built a fine sail, but has the ship already left harbour?

bryang | No Comments
| More
With Windows 10, Microsoft has built a fine sail, but has the ship already left harbour?

If anything encapsulates the change in the technology world in the last 20 years, it's the relative reactions to the latest versions of Windows. Two decades ago, Windows 95 was unveiled to an enormous hoopla, with The Times newspaper sponsored by Microsoft to promote the software, the Rolling Stones brought in to sing Start me up as the theme tune for the big event, and a huge buzz around the launch.

When Windows 10 came out this week, outside the core IT commentators, the response was a general "Meh". So what? And this was despite Windows 10 receiving far better reviews than its recent predecessors, especially the awkward, clumsy, uncomfortable hybrid of desktop and mobile that was the unlamented Windows 8.

On the positive side, Windows 10 shows us a Microsoft willing to learn and admit its mistakes for the first time in a while. Gone is the bluster and arrogance of the Steve Ballmer era, replaced with a thoughtfulness and humility under new CEO Satya Nadella.

Microsoft has been forced to accept that operating systems are now seen as a commodity, thanks to Apple and Google giving theirs away. Windows 10 is the first free version ever - albeit only for a year. Nadella has understood that Microsoft exists in a multi-vendor world and cannot rely on creating an all-Windows lock-in any more. And the regular updates promised to Windows 10 - instead of huge service packs every few months - is also a response to the iterative changes users of iOS and Android are accustomed to.

But none of this takes away the fact that in the space of just 10 years, Microsoft has seen Windows go from running 95% of all the world's computers, to just 14% now.

The chances of Windows disrupting the dominance of Apple and Android in the consumer mobile market are slim to non-existent. Microsoft has lost the developer community targeting that sector - just look at the paucity of the Windows app store compared to its rivals. So have we really reached a point where Windows is now all about protecting Microsoft's corporate base?

The promised seamless integration of software across mobile, tablet and desktop is clearly designed to appeal to IT managers looking to offer users more flexible working and greater choice of devices. And appeal to them it will - many big Microsoft shops will look to push users down the all-Windows route.

During working hours, PCs remain the primary device - this is reflected in web analytics for sites such as, and also But that dominance is declining.

Windows 10 is both the last hurrah for the operating system as the centrepiece of enterprise IT, and the start of a new Microsoft. Nadella is clearly preparing for a time 10 years away when Windows is no longer the company's most significant product - perhaps even no longer a significant source of revenue. A multi-platform Office 365 and Azure cloud services are the future of Microsoft.

Corporate IT was the making of Microsoft and the base from which Windows went on to dominate the world. Now the company has come full circle, and has to build again from its heartland in the enterprise.

Scalextric shows the way to winning the digital race

bryang | No Comments
| More
If, like me, your childhood featured the joys of Scalextric, then you can't fail to feel a frisson of excitement at the prospect of controlling the racing cars from your smartphone, and sharing race data with your friends.

This is just one of the innovations being considered by Hornby, the owner of Scalextric and Airfix models, as well as the iconic model railways brand. That's a lot of childhood memories encapsulated in one sentence.

For anyone of a certain age with fond recollections of those great toys, you can hardly think of a more traditional business than Hornby. Yet the hobbies company is investing heavily in digital to maintain its relevance to children (and some adults) otherwise infatuated with video games and the internet.

It's a great example of a seemingly old-fashioned firm embracing the digital age. And it's what every established company in any industry needs to do. Industry watchers often get somewhat blinkered by shiny digital startups and the ballooning share prices of internet companies, and forget the opportunities of taking everyday products and services and transforming them for the digital consumer.

In the next five to 10 years, there are going to be lots of household names that fail to make that transition, which will simply disappear. Many of us won't just be indulging in Scalextric nostalgia, we'll be reminiscing about the high-street names we used to buy from that didn't adapt in time. The list already includes the likes of Comet, Woolworths and Blockbuster, and they won't be the last.

In contrast, government isn't going bust anytime soon, but it's refreshing to hear the new Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock describing digital government as "a chance to build a new state". There's a growing recognition among senior politicians - at last - that technology is at the heart of reforming the public sector.

Even notorious technophobe Tony Blair said in a speech this week: "Technology and its implications for everything from the NHS through to government itself, is the single most important dimension."

Digital leaders reading this article might scoff and say, "Tell us something we don't know". But don't underestimate the number of companies - and IT managers - that still don't get it. The race is there to be won - on a Scalextric track and in the digital revolution.

Digital Britain needs better broadband - are BT and its rivals willing to share in the future of Openreach?

bryang | 1 Comment
| More
Telecoms regulator Ofcom has formally put the future of BT's Openreach subsidiary into play - and hence the future structure of the UK's critically important broadband infrastructure.

Over the coming months, you can expect to see some robust opinions from broadband providers such as TalkTalk and Sky, as well as smaller rural networks, about why BT's network infrastructure should be fully split away from the telecom giant's ownership.

Expect also to see an equally robust defence from BT about why retaining Openreach is the best option - but also some compromises on BT's behalf to address the justified concerns about what Ofcom called BT's "incentive to discriminate" against competitors.

I've written in this blog before that separating Openreach from BT is the right thing to do. I've also speculated that BT secretly wants this to happen, knowing the immense investment that will inevitably one day be needed to replace most, if not all, of the copper national network with fibre.

By creating Openreach 10 years ago, Ofcom helped to establish the most competitive broadband market in Europe at a consumer level - at least, for consumers in reach of BT's network. The move has stimulated demand and turned broadband into a utility - a must-have for most households and small businesses. BT points out that, by the time its superfast broadband roll-out has completed, high-speed connectivity will be available to more households in the UK than the gas network. But we need to make changes at a wholesale level too, to make the next step.

BT will continue to get as much performance out of its copper network as it can - but inevitably, at some point in the future, the UK needs fibre. Copper can be pushed further, that asset can be sweated for all it's worth, but a world-leading digital economy is going to need the capacity that only fibre can offer.

TalkTalk and Sky are happy to criticise Openreach and campaign against the status quo, but perhaps the big question they need to be asked is how willing are they to put their money behind their anti-BT rhetoric.

The Openreach network is a national asset - among the most critical of our critical national infrastructure. It will never come into public ownership and never again should. But it should be owned by the industry, with shared risk and shared investment.

BT's rivals ought to propose a new ownership structure for Openreach. BT deserves to be compensated for its stewardship, and if the likes of TalkTalk and Sky are serious, they should put up the cash to do so. Shares in Openreach could be sold to BT's major rivals - for example, TalkTalk could own a proportion of the company corresponding to its market share.

A shared network, with shared investment and shared profits, is fair to all players, fair to BT which as market leader would still be the largest shareholder, and fair to rural broadband firms which can take a small share and be protected by stock market rules that prevent discrimination against minority shareholders.

It would be a hugely progressive statement from BT if it were to propose such a solution. It would be the acid test test of BT's rivals if they were willing to stump up the cash. The future of the UK's digital infrastructure is at stake, and the big players need to find innovative ways to secure it.

IT employers must finally commit to tackling diversity in UK tech

bryang | No Comments
| More
Computer Weekly's annual event to announce our list of the 50 most influential women in UK IT has become our most popular event of the year. We're delighted with the way the IT community has engaged with the programme to recognise and promote the amazing female role models in technology.

The programme goes from strength to strength. This year, we had nearly 150 women nominated for the list - three times the number when the list was first put together in 2012. Our online reader vote attracted over 7,500 votes - 50% more than the previous year. And the social media activity around the announcement this week generated more than 10 million Twitter impressions from over 1,100 tweets.

At one stage, our event hashtag #CWwit50 was trending as the sixth most popular Twitter topic in the UK. If it weren't for the Budget, the Ashes cricket, Wimbledon and One Direction, we might have been number one.

That's a huge endorsement of the need to encourage more women and girls to consider a career in technology - and a massive nudge to recruiters to actively seek to employ more women in IT.

And yet...

The reality remains that the proportion of women working in UK IT continues to fall - some surveys put the figure as low as 14%. Even if you consider the wider definition of people working in digital jobs, the proportion of women has dropped consistently and is now just 26%.

These are figures that continue to shame and humiliate technology employers in the UK. It is a brutal fact that the UK will fail to make the most of its opportunity in the digital economy unless it can find the near half a million people estimated to be required to address skills shortages in the next five years. We will not fill all those jobs by only recruiting from half the talent pool.

Furthermore, as the digital revolution increasingly touches every aspect of our lives, the UK needs a technology workforce that reflects the full diversity of the people who use that technology.

But frankly, we've written exactly those sentiments every year, and nothing has really changed, despite the growing awareness of the problem. As one senior female IT leader said at our event - we need to forget the past, and work out what to do in future instead.

So that's our intention - to build on the broad support and huge engagement we received for this year's influential women list to identify some specific ideas that might, hopefully, finally, make a difference if employers and government take action.

Please get in touch if you have ideas. There is still a lot to do, but wouldn't it be great to be able to report substantial progress when we convene again in 2016 to celebrate the vital role of diversity in UK IT.

Have you entered our awards yet?


Recent Comments

  • Bryan Glick: This comment also comes from Tim McCormack, and was sent read more
  • tim mccormack: Hi - just been pointed out to me that your read more
  • Stuart Mitchenall: Apart from the incorrect identification of the digital leaders in read more
  • Bryan Glick: You're absolutely right John - and on review I can read more
  • John Hohl: I might be out of line but, Microsoft does not read more
  • Philip Virgo: I echo others in congratulating you on a very thoughtful read more
  • David Moss: Mark Thompson's belief that GaaP could make 1½ million public read more
  • John Alexander: I do hope, but don't expect, the Cabinet Office to read more
  • Sarah Suisse: No support for Liam Maxwell, the CTO. Pointedly only his read more
  • Christine Conder Christine Conder: More altnets could show openreach and BT up well and read more




-- Advertisement --