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A message from Bill Gates: thank you Mr Cameron

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Thumbnail image for David Cameron Big Issue Front Cover.pngA message of thanks from Bill Gates*.

People often ask me what its like being the richest man in the world.

Let me tell you, I always say, It's tough.

You have to spend a lot of time feeding starving children to stop people asking questions about how much money you have. And then you have to put up with dupes like Gordon Brown and David Cameron, our Microsoft sales representatives in Little Old England.

To be fair to Gordon, he turned into one of our best sales people. But Cameron got off to a really bad start. That imbecile made open source software an election promise. And now he can't think of a way to make up for it.

Gordon already gave me a Knighthood and a protectorate for my software monopoly. That's what Cameron said to me. He said, "But Bill, what do you give a man who's already got everything you can give?"

I said he could patch up my PR. So he gave me this spread in The Big Issue, a magazine for bums.

It was genius. You see its not just about PR nowadays. It's about information supremacy. That means you've gotta keep the bums happy.

Now that reminds me of something that happened recently when my motorcade got stuck in a road block. I hate it when that happens. You always get some schmo hassling you. This time it was some stinking squeegee. My security guards were a bit slow getting to him and he got his squeegee in my window before I had a chance to wind it up.

I was terrified. But he said something to me that got me to thinking.

He said, "Bill, we aint all that different you and me. I was born just like you. I worked sweat, blood and tears all my life. Hell, I made some mistakes. But I did some good things. And I gave it all I had, Bill, just like you. And now I'm gonna die, just like you'll die too one day.

"And you know what?," he said.

He said, "I aint got a pot to piss in."

He said, "I aint even got me enough money to get a cab ride. Now why is that Bill? You should give me a ride in your car, Bill. It's just as much my car as yours. I own a little bit of that car, Bill. You didn't know that, did you, Bill?"

And then he hit me with this line. He said, "You didn't know that I used to be a window cleaner, did you Bill? And I bet you didn't know that I used to wash your windows, Bill. Up at your fancy mansion in Seattle? Did you know that, Bill? Did you know that I used to wash your freekin' windows, Bill?

As my security guards were taking him down, he shouted: "I hope you enjoyed the view, man! I hope you enjoyed the view outta your freakin' windows!"

I was shaken, as you can imagine. But it got me to thinking. I thought, for crying out loud - this moron doesn't even know that Windows is a proper noun.

But it got me to thinking something else too. It got me to thinking that perhaps there was something I could do to make the world a better place.

You see, I do remember this bum cleaning my Windows. I remember taking in the view from my counting room across Lake Washington, as I often do. And I remember being interrupted by this stinking squeegee who was cleaning my Windows. And I remember thinking maybe I could make some automatic cleaning device so you didn't have to pay some stinking squeegee who spoiled your view and probably thought it gave him some sort of rights or something just because he cleaned your freaking Windows.

But even if you get rid of the bums, you've still got to patronize them. And nobody does that better than David Cameron.

"We'll give you hand up, not a hand out", Cameron told the bum's at The Big Issue. And that's genius because it makes them feel guilty for being losers and takes the heat off us for hogging all the money. Because we can't help being so clever that we get to keep all the money. And its not fair when stinking squeegee loser bums think they've got some right over it.

But as my good wife Melinda always says, just because some moron refuses to accept they're inferior, you shouldn't let them get you down. You've got to keep them in their place - but be nice about it. And she's right. Because they don't know how lucky they are that I'm not, like, one of those Nazi master race types.

I'm like one of those benevolent master race types. I won't exterminate someone if they're irritating me. I'll give them a few dollars to get off my back.

Because as long as they've got a few more dollars today and the promise of a few more dollars tomorrow, they're less likely to get jealous and start throwing stones at people like me, sitting on top of the tree.

That's what happens when you're Bill Gates. People get jealous. But I can't help being great. Just like they can't help being losers.

And that's why I want to thank Cameron for doing a good PR job for me. Because he made me feel better about myself even while he made me feel better than everyone else.

Bill Big Issue 1.pngBill Big Issue 2.png

* As imagined by Mark Ballard

Advisers foretold ID's doom

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The Identity Card Scheme offers a lesson in the infeasibility of IT systems held to political ransom. The cost of failure was too high for the Labour government. So the Home Office pressed on Quixotically with the system, despite never overcoming its critical weaknesses.

The picture that has emerged with the publication of last week's Independent Scheme Assurance Panel report is one of a government department hashing together on the fly a system of a size, complexity and sensitivity never before attempted. It may have been too big to fail, but it was also too much to handle.

The Home Office was obliged over the years to issue empty assurances that everything was under control and that it was addressing the repeated warnings given by ISAP. Can you handle a project of this size and complexity, asked ISAP in 2007. Yeah, 'course we can, said the Home Office - we've recruited some more executives.

In failing to deliver on those assurances, the department gave an indication of the amount of strain its IT experts must have been under. Working on a panacea project must be like happy-clapping at a cult.

The inconvenient imperfections of the ID plan were spelled out clearly in ISAP's 2007 report, compiled in the year after the Home Office cut the ribbon on the system blueprint and set their IT chumlies off on their futile quest.

After three years of development, the problems still had to be addressed. And very little of the blame could be put on the poor techies building the system. The snags were political. The fault was incompetent ministerial direction.

Writing on the wall

Data security risks identified in 2007 were never brought under control. And much else ISAP and good sense required of the ID project in 2007 was never fully addressed.

Public trust essential to the scheme was never secured. Inter-departmental differences over the accountability, funding and ownership of the cross-government system architecture were never settled. A "robust and transparent" system of data governance was never established. The system requirements were never properly defined and neither were its benefits, though both were crucial, it was and is commonly said, before the system could be properly designed.

Vital skilled staff were never recruited. A system of competent organisational governance was never established. Cross-government support was ever obtained and a cross-government standard of identity data and management was never agreed.

It was being built, against ISAP's advice and accepted wisdom, on "shifting sands". And contracts with suppliers were let, to satisfy a political timetable, despite these crucial preliminaries not being clarified.

This must have been especially awkward for the Home Office and may explain why it disbanded ISAP in 2009. No matter that the oversight panel was set up after the Home Affairs Select Committee said in 2004 that the Gateway review process (through which the Office of Government Commerce usually seeks to prevent embarrassing IT failures) couldn't be trusted to oversee a "project of this scale". Don't worry, said the Home Office, we'll set up an independent oversight board.

Had the Home Office given ISAP more credence, a lot of time and money may have been saved. The panel's first public warning put the writing on the wall: data loss will lead to a loss of public trust that, it implied, would be the project's ruin. There were real risks of data loss, it said. Something had better be done about it because people won't stand for it.

Mind bending

This was to be done with a PR exercise that would win public trust by showing how security concerns had been addressed. People would be told the system's tolerance for errors. Said system would have not only to be "robust" but also "well respected".

The problem was swept under the carpet. Civil servants were being sacked for snooping on the Customer Information System (the DWP database that was to form the biographical core of the ID system) before the scheme began. They were still being sacked after the scheme was scrapped in 2010. The DWP's precautions were shoddy, the security leaks were proving unmanageable and the DWP refused to reveal the error tolerance of the CIS. It may not even have known.

You have to wonder how the ISAP overseers felt about it all in the end. Nokia CEO John Clarke, Cranfield Professor Brian Collins, ex-First Direct Bank CEO Alan Hughes, BAA IT director Malcolm Mitchell, and ex-HSBC Bank CIO Fergie Williams: these sort of people are not used to being fobbed off.

Being from the commercial world, they are also accustomed to developing systems that rely for their success on customer choice. Paradoxically, they advised that the ID scheme would only succeed if everyone was forced to use it. This exposed the lie in Blair's ID sales patter, the come-on-you-know-you-want-it approach to civil security: everyone was going to get it anyway, whether they liked it or not.

Sad ending

"To be successful," the ISAP said, "the scheme has to become the government's (and the commercial sector's) primary means of identifying individuals and controlling updates to and use of their data."

It sounds preposterous now. Citizens no more like the Home Office watching them for their own good than foreigners like having bombs dropped on their heads for their own good.

The ID scheme gives us one other amusing paradox to ponder. From ISAP's perspective, it demonstrated how a lack of transparency in public policy and execution led inevitably to costly failure. Yet had the government come clean about the risks, it may never have won the public's support in the first place.

Transparency is the only hope we have of overcome the endemic problem of public databases being snooped.

What support people had given ID was befooled. The sands shifted so much under the ID scheme that it's hard to say what it was meant to do in the first place. Someone should nose around the Home Office with that very same question in mind. When they come across its fascistic database of identity-carded foreigners they might ponder whether it would ever have been approved either had the opening sales gambit not been ID-for-all.

Government plans for US-style IT openness - by 2020

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A government IT strategy to be launched next month promises more transparency on major projects, according to a draft copy seen by

"By 2020, we will follow the lead of the Office of Management and Budget and public sector CIO community in the USA by publicising the objectives and progress of our major projects, including naming the leaders and the results of all external assurance reviews," says the draft.

The Government ICT Strategy, subtitled 'New world, new challenges, new opportunities', sets out the direction for government ICT until 2020.

It is quite revealing. It envisages it could take 10 years to achieve in Britain some of the openness the US government has had for years. Which shows that the UK government is as enthusiastic about openness on IT projects as it would be to a corporate visit to the dentist.

Coyness over 'open tender' KPMG health contract - a systemic problem surfaces?

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The Department of Health has increased the number of its press officers from 26 in 2006/7 to 31 in 2008/9, according to a reply given to FOI campaigner Heather Brooke.

Some FOI details on the tens of millions the Department of Health spends on PR, marketing and advertising are in the tables at the end of this article.

The figures in the FOI answers are only part of the story: they do not, for instance, include the money spent by NHS Connecting for Health on PR firms such as Porter Novelli, Fishburn Hedges, Good Relations and its parent Bell Pottinger.
The Department spends millions telling us what its officials believe we need to know; they keep an electric fence around information they don't consider it profitable to release.

The following is an example. It goes into detail because journalists tend not to write about their dealings with Whitehall press officers, a reticence which, perhaps, makes it comfortable for departments to say nothing when asked difficult questions.

It should be remembered that when press officers don't answer journalists' questions, it's probably because they can't get the answers from within their department: officials don't want to answer the question.

Computer Weekly asked simply on 3 August 2009: did a contract awarded to KPMG to review NHS IT go to open tender? The reply from the Department of Health's press officer was straightforward: "It was an open tender." 

Whitehall dismisses Tory review report of NHS IT

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The Tories are due today to publish the results of a review of the NPfIT, led by Dr Glyn Hayes, former chairman of the British Computer Society's Health Informatics Forum.

Dr Hayes, chairman of the review, told the BBC:

"The review [of the NHS IT scheme] makes clear that NHS IT will only succeed in improving patient care if information is held locally and centred on the patient.

"I hope this report helps redeem the national programme for IT from its current difficulties and transforms it for the benefit of patients and doctors alike."

The Hayes review does not seek the abandonment of the NPfIT. It is reported that the Tories have promised to halt and renogotiate Local Services Providers (LSPs) contracts, dismantle the IT central infrastructure and allow health trusts to make their own decisions, be that to continue with legacy systems or choose their own suppliers.

The Department of Health has already dismissed the review.

HMRC to offshore tax work? Follow-ups by Times, Telegraph and Mail

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The Times, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail have reported our article on HM Revenue and Customs' Quantum project - a scheme which seeks savings of £205m a year on HMRC's IT budget. Our article was also mentioned on BBC and commercial radio news

Their reports include HMRC denials that some of the work being done by the Capgemini under its £8.5bn outsourcing contract with the department could be transferred to India to save money.

Interestingly, HMRC gave Computer Weekly gave no such denial when we had asked it to comment on the possibility of tax work going to India.

Homerton rejects FOI NPfIT request

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Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is important to the public image of the NPfIT. It's arguably as important to PR on the NHS IT scheme as Alastair Campbell was to Tony Blair's administration.

MPs on the Health Committee visited Homerton during their inquiry into the NPfIT electronic record systems. Connecting for Health has many times invited TV and radio journalists to see Homerton's Cerner Millennium systems. Computer Weekly has had an invitation too.

Numerous articles on the NPfIT, and several TV documentaries, have cited Homerton when countering criticisms.

Ben Bradshaw, former NPfIT minister, mentioned Homerton as being satisfied with the system when he answered a Parliamentary question on the progress of the Cerner foll-out on 23 July 2007.  

Treasury silent on its mistake over £7bn DII project

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With alacrity, ministers and some senior civil servants regularly criticise the media for not checking facts properly. And now the Treasury has made a basic mistake in a formal report on the £7bn Defence Information Infrastructure.

On the first page of the part of the report which gives facts and figures on the DII, the Treasury attributes the project to the Ministry of Justice. It's an MoD project and has nothing to do with the Ministry of Justice.

Has the Government become lazy with checking the facts?

Twice this week I have put it to officials in the press office of the Treasury that the mistaken attribution of a £7bn project to the wrong ministry may cause people to question the accuracy of other parts of the report, in which the government gives assurances about progress on the scheme.

For some reason the Treasury has gone silent.


The Treasury's mistake - Computer Weekly's report

The flawed report in question


OGC loses FOI ID Cards battle - does it care?

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The BBC reports that "ministers have been ordered to publish two reviews into the controversial ID Cards scheme after a four-year Freedom of Information Battle".

This is true. But the BBC doesn't mention that the two "gateway reviews" in question, on the ID Cards scheme, may never be published.

12 most visited pages on IT Projects blog in 2008

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1) Fujitsu to withdraw from the NPfIT - what happens now? 

Summary: Only a week ago a deal aimed at rescuing the NHS's National Programme for IT in the south of England seemed imminent... But at what one NHS official said was the "59th minute of the eleventh hour" Fujitsu informed Nicholson that it was withdrawing from the negotiations...All that the NHS had been relieved to negotiate in the contract re-set has evaporated... It will be of little comfort to the Department of Health and ministers that Computer Weekly warned them in 2002 and 2003 that the NPfIT was too ambitious to be achievable, and that the programme incorporated some of the biggest mistakes of the past. For this warning ministers and some parts of the media branded us doom-mongers.
We still hope our critics will prove us wrong. But it's six years since the NPfIT was announced. How much longer do they need?

2) SAP go-live leaves 18,000 unpaid bills at Europe's largest local authority - what went wrong

[Not the shortest of headlines]

Summary: The lead for Birmingham City Council's IT-based transformation programme said of the unpaid invoices after go-live with a SAP-based financial system: "What has led to a larger backlog than we originally anticipated is a combination of all these factors. We probably anticipated every one of them but what we didn't take into account was the cumulative effect."
The lead for an IT transformation scheme at Europe's largest local authority, Birmingham City Council, has expressed "regret" after the troubled go-live of a SAP-based system left a backlog of more than 18,000 unpaid invoices.

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