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DoH deploys flimflam in battle for hearts and minds

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The Department of Health dramatically announced a non-story today, pausing from its negotiations with disfavoured ICT suppliers to publicly condemn - again - the computer systems they supplied under the National Programme for IT.

The department announced the "acceleration of the dismantling" of the National Programme. But could not say how it had been accelerated or what exactly was being dismantled.

"The statement today is a commitment to accelerate the process," said a Department of Health spokeswoman. "We are not giving today the detail of what that will involve."

The department announced a year ago that it was scrapping the National Programme for IT and has been in negotiations with suppliers ever since.

It is still in negotiations with suppliers and still announcing that it is scrapping the programme. But it cannot accelerate anything until the negotiations are concluded.

Primary programme suppliers BT and CSC have contracts for the supply of patient systems that extend to April 2015 and hold the NHS to paying a further £2.91bn for the scheme, said the National Audit Office in May.

Also over the summer, the Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority sent DoH its recommendations for the future of NHS IT. The DoH spokeswoman said today the MPA had concurred with its year-ago announcement about the scrapping of the National Programme. The year-ago announcement, made by Health minister Simon Burns, had concurred with Cabinet Office IT policy. The DoH today said it was concurring with the MPA recommendations.

The DoH refused to publish the MPA report. It said it was a Cabinet Office report. The Cabinet Office, which is big on government "transparency", refused to publish the report. It said it was a report about the NHS and therefore the business of the DoH.

The DoH 2010 announcement had unveiled a "Connect-All" strategy. This would involve introducing common systems standards so that any supplier could supply any system to the NHS, simply plug it in and it would integrate and communicate with any other system. This was similar in principle to Cabinet Office policy for government IT.

Coincidentally, a story fell into your humble correspondent's lap this week that the System One patient system CSC has supplied to GPs and community Trusts under the programme was not compliant with the NHS Data Model and Dictionary. It was therefore not interoperable, and not in keeping with either the terms of its National Programme contract nor the "Connect-All" policies of the DoH and Cabinet Office.

DoH's negotiations with CSC are the most excruciating of matters that must be "accelerated" before it can get on with "dismantling" the National Programme. Neither party was able to confirm the rumour about CSC's interoperability.

Also coincidentally today, trade association Intellect, representative of BT and CSC, produced a report on the interoperability of NHS systems. DoH's non-announcement had included one new detail, which was that it and Intellect were going to conjure up a market for the supply of health computer systems.

The market had of course been asphyxiated by the DoH's previous collaboration with Intellect members in the National Programme. Intellect today said it aimed to "create a vibrant marketplace" for small health ICT suppliers by its new venture with the department. It attached the interoperability report to its press release.

The department refused to discuss what was really happening: that was its negotiations with suppliers. BT and CSC also refused to discuss the negotiations.

All it and suppliers would say in addition was how much the National Programme had actually bought with the £6.35bn it had spent to date. That amounted to a national network, email and booking systems, and software to archive medical images.

Commentators thus found it hard to grasp exactly what had happened today. The Daily Mail reported: "£12bn NHS computer system is scrapped... and it's all YOUR money that Labour poured down the drain".

A hubbub ensued. The DoH was scheduled to make a major announcement about the programme later today. Word was, it was going to be scrapped.

David Rose, assistant news editor of The Times newspaper, got closer to the truth, or at least expressed a view that has echoed around the corridors of National Programme suppliers today: "Lansley bashes Labour ahead of that party's conference?," he tweeted this morning.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley had coincidentally been doing the rounds with a complaint about the financing deals the last Labour government had used to build hospitals. The deals had many years to run. They were expensive. They didn't fit with the coalition government's aim to dismantle the NHS...

Lansley didn't really say he planned to dismantle the NHS. His department presumably only wanted to dismantle the National Programme, and hospitals, and any residual reason anyone might have to suppress their cynicism in face of such flimflam.

UPDATE:

BT said in a statement it was not renegotiating its NHS National Programme contracts with Department of Health. It was nevertheless in talks of one form or another about the future of its relationship with DoH.

That was relayed in media-speak: BT "continues to work with the Department to explore how best to meet the needs of the modern NHS".

That includes also the contract BT has to supply care records systems to acute trusts in London at a price nearly 50 per cent over prices expected even in the £multi-billion National Programme.

Shortly after the publication of this article, the Cabinet Office published its Major Projects Authority review of the National Programme. It has not published other reviews and has been unable to say whether its policy is now to publish its reviews or not.

The BT London contract had anyway been so poorly managed, said the MPA Review, it had a "crisis" that almost resulted in termination. All has been well, apparently, since about January.

That raises further doubts about the department's claim to have "accelerated the dismantling" of the Programme.

Police ICT reforms evade detection

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Home Office plans to make police more accountable will make police ICT less accountable, and at a time when it is becoming in the words of Lord Wasserman, the man behind the reforms, "the key to fighting crime".

Chief police chief Sir Hugh Orde has already made the simplest connection between technology and jobs, warning overspend on databases means underspend on neighbourhood coppers. But Orde, Wasserman and Home Secretary Teresa May have been slow to factor a more important trend into their plans to make police more accountable: more police technology will lead inevitably to more policing by technology. Yet their plans to privatize police technology are designed to deregulate it too.

Their own deliberations have been less accountable than their talk of accountability would suggest. Now at least six months since Wasserman's guidance on police ICT was being distributed to senior officers, the Home Office has refused to release it under Freedom of Information, telling Computer Weekly it didn't exist.

Wasserman, Orde and May have meanwhile been promoting its unpublished recommendations and on 4 July officially announced its core proposal, the privatization of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), the quango currently responsible for police ICT. But there is still no documented justification of what seem like half-baked plans.

Wasserman got busy punting the plans on the policing conference circuit soon after their original publication deadline was missed last December and got settled into his seat in the House of Lords. The revised publication deadline for his recommendations nevertheless slipped again in June. May is said in Home Office records to have been reading initial guidance since December. MPs have meanwhile been denied the opportunity of scrutiny.

Andrew Love, Labour MP for Edmonton, asked in May for Wasserman's terms of reference to be placed in the Commons Library, along with correspondence and minutes of his meetings with the Home Office. Policing minister Nick Herbert fobbed him off. The papers did not appear.

Wasserman himself refused to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee, its chairman Keith Vaz MP complained as the committee considered the government's police reforms on 12 July.

Even if he was willing, Wasserman couldn't answer MPs that day because he was busy promoting his reforms at a conference of criminal policy wonks. He stood in "at very, very short notice" for Herbert, who had taken ill, and defended the plans against critical reports that had appeared that week in these pages.

The Committee had to make do with Sara Thornton, chief constable of Thames Valley Police, who shared a podium with Wasserman the day before at yet another conference. She was therefore more familiar with Wasserman's plans than MPs, so filled them in.

The other conference honoured with a briefing on the reforms was a "discreet" City Forum where Wasserman also shared a podium with industry bigwigs Paul Sellick, public services director of Steria, and Bob Quick, chief executive of police consultants Bluelight Global Solutions (of which more later).

Wasserman told the conference how urgent it was that the Home Office carried out his reforms, as trailed by the Home Secretary on 4 July, which involved giving suppliers (like Steria and Bluelight) shareholdings in a privatized NPIA - shareholdings, that is, in the same company that awards their contracts.

Thornton told MPs how Wasserman had told industry how his reforms relied on removing the Home Office remit over police ICT - making it less accountable, you might think. You would be right. Another central plank of the reform was making police ICT unaccountable under the law.

"If it was set up as a company, it could then be exempt from EU rules about procurement, which could make the whole process much speedier because it would be acting like a commercial company. I think that is the proposal," Thornton told MPs.

Police chiefs knew even in February of Wasserman's plans to turn the NPIA into a "GovCo", a private company over which the public sector retained part-ownership. A summary of his proposals has been on the Association of Chief Police Officers' intranet since 8 March. Two days later, Wasserman was promoting them at the Home Office-backed Policing 2011 conference.

All this made the policing minister's confusion before the Home Affairs Select Committee about what was and was not part of the reforms seem conspicuous.

When Vaz pressed Herbert on 28 June over the question of a GovCo, he insisted firmly, "No. There is no plan for a Government-owned company". Just to be sure, he promised that the House of Commons would be the first to hear of the plans when they were at last published.

Six days later, the Home Secretary broke the news at the annual conference of police chiefs that the NPIA would be turned into a GovCo after all. The actual plans remained unpublished.

With all this unaccountable tinkering going on, the police service might be relieved to know Wasserman's on the case. As "Personal Adviser to Prime Minister and Home Secretary", he explains on LinkedIn, he has been charged with making the police service "more accountable to local communities" and "freeing it from interference from bureaucrats in central government".

Even Bill Bratton, the US supercop the Prime Minister wants to lead London's disgraced Metropolitan Police, knew of the plans last December, when Wasserman chaperoned him on what was for the sake of this episode in British policing his Westminster debut.

Bratton ought to have known anyway. Wasserman, who Bratton employed at the New York Police Department in the 1990s, has based his reforms of police procedures on the methodology with which the latter earned his spurs.

That's the CompStat system of data-based policing, in which cops allocate resources to hotspots on crime maps and, crucially, are charged with reducing and not merely detecting crime. That means prevention, and will revive, in conjunction with the liberalised procurement of police technology, concerns about a surveillance society.

Not that there are necessarily concerns with CompStat alone, it being little more than data.gov combined with some sort of Six Sigma process improvements. Though it interesting to note even former MET chief Lord Blair punted the Home Affairs Select Committee with the CompStat line on behalf of Bluelight, the police consultancy he now chairs. And when the policing minister introduced Bratton at a his sort-of-debut last December (where the idea of Bratton's leading the MET was floated) Herbert sang the praises of both the US cop and those of his methods Wasserman had incorporated into his unpublished but much promoted police reform plan.

But Wasserman's GovCo, of which we have now learned just a smidgen, is moving against the tide of accountability, knowledge and transparency that has swept in these other reforms. It's hard enough already to get information about police ICT out of the Home Office, even under Freedom of Information or with the power vested in our elected representatives. Imagine how hard it will be to hold the burgeoning progress of police technology to account when it's managed by a private company.

See also: Cabinet Office collars Liberata as NPIA police data deal crosses open source policy

Transparency skin deep for IDv2.0

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The thing rendered most transparent by the Cabinet Office transparency programme is the transparency programme itself: you can see right through it.

This became apparent when Prime Minister David Cameron dropped his pants over the News International phone hacking scandal. The government has made a principle of transparency where it suits, and a patsy where it does not. That's a shame, because there are things like the ConDem's next generation ID scheme that would really benefit from the sort of transparency the government made a commitment in its coalition agreement.

The promotional blurb for the Cabinet Office transparency programme declared its power to "strengthen people's trust in government" and "encourage greater public participation in decision-making."

Computer Weekly had this in mind when it sought details of Cabinet Office dealings with industry over the next generation ID scheme. Just like Labour's horrifying, original ID scheme, the ConDem scheme is being concocted in secret meetings with industry. Of particular concern is power it may give banks and markets over people's personal data.

But Cabinet Office refused the information because, it said, collating it would take too much effort. We bet it didn't take much effort to get the ideas from industry in the first place, nor to keep them informed about their progress.

Government actually finds transparency very easy to do when it suits.

Within hours of News International chief executive Rebbecca Brooks resigning under pressure from the phone hacking scandal on Friday, the Prime Minister had (under fire over the suspected intimacy of his friendship with her) published a list of meetings he had with the press in the last year. It was good to get this cleared up before police arrested her at the weekend. (UPDATE *)

Yet appeals under Freedom of Information law for details of government dealings with private business show how opaque government continues to be. We only know about the next generation ID scheme because Computer Weekly exposed it.

Now we know about it, we are refused further disclosure. We will likely not here more about it till the plans are finalised. So much for greater public participation in decision making.

ConDem transparency policy has always been opportunistic. Forged in the shadow of the 2009 expenses scandal, it has given us little more than open data, which was already afoot under Labour and quite conveniently serves serves the ends of the Big Society programme - that is, the dismantling and fire sale of public sector.

That's not to say that when this government's transparency programme was unveiled in the May sunshine after the 2010 general election, the Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg didn't believe what they were saying.

"For years, politicians could argue that because they held all the information, they needed more power," they said in the coalition agreement.

"Technological innovation has - with astonishing speed - developed the opportunity to spread information and decentralise power in a way we have never seen before. So we will extend transparency to every area of public life," they said. What is really astonishing is just how shallow this transparency programme is.

UPDATE 22 JULY 2011

Oops. This story originally said that the Prime Minister's disclosure revealed only two meetings with Brooks, and did so in a way that implied this was convenient to him:

"Lo and behold, he had only two meetings with Brooks, though more than any with News International as a whole," it said.

It did in fact reveal seven meetings with Brooks, three with the Murdochs and about 36 per cent of press meetings (26 in total) with News Corp. overall.
 

Doom clouds gather over parliamentary IT hearing

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A couple of the great mandarins of government IT got top billing at the Parliamentary inquiry into computing last week. They set a gloomy scene for the government's forthcoming IT strategy, which CW anticipates will be published on Wednesday.

They were upstaged by a bunch of small town IT directors who chirped on about the information policy principles everybody expects to become formal policy, and which they claim to be adopting already: small, agile, open, interoperable, entrepreneurial.

Goverment CIO Holds Court at the PASC - edit - 22 March 2011.pngIt was tempting to think of this as the Old Guard's last gasp. It was a horrible sight.

Joe Harley, government CIO and chief of IT at the Department for Work and Pensions, and Phil Pavitt, CIO at the megalithic HM Revenue and Customs, lumbered on about how well their multi-billion pound contracts were performing, using PR-approved factoids that ticked all the faddish boxes.

They showed just how deep the IT establishment is dug into these most powerful departments of state and propped up the 10-year, multi-billion pound alliances it has with the large IT suppliers. The government might not have machinery big enough to shift them.

It looked awful for government policy, awful for the open source movement that has driven its reforming bent and awful, paradoxically, for the neo-Labour movement these old boys represent: a lose-lose situation the extent of which is hidden by confidentiality clauses from all but a chosen few.

Big Society ITopia

It had all looked bright and breezy as the Public Administration Select Committee's inquiry into government IT set into its third week.

Three local government IT chiefs cheerily extolled the virtues of an IT ecosystem modeled not on power hierarchies but on the networked society.

Socialization - Solidarity - Humanity.pngTheir ideology makes the Big Society sound desirable as well as possible, if only it wasn't also used as an excuse to slash and burn public services.

The idea is that interoperable computer systems and open data will form a "backbone", or "glue", or "WD40" on which it is possible to imagine civic Britain as the primordial soup, humming with evolutionary potential, bustling with community co-operatives and do-gooding corporations.

This take on the Big Society vision has become so irrefutable it even has Marxist academics praising the health-giving properties of free-forming, quasi-capitalist societies.

That's what Professor David Harvey told BBC's Hard Talk when he published a book on the subject last year.

Homogeneity was losing favour with the left as well as the right. Diverse, decentralised, self-deterministic communities had proven their worth, Harvey told the Beeb's Sarah Montague.

"Utopia is about continuous change," he said. "Human beings are astonishingly creative. Capitalism has got to the point where its not using that any more."

What crippling contradiction it can cause, to be so transported when such ideas are presented by executives from Tory councils among those most zealously making the public service cuts being used to force through these reforms.

While we hear persuasive chatter from the likes of Mark Adams-Wright, chief information officer of Suffolk, the "virtual" county council, and David Wilde, the CIO at Westminster City, the Old Guard lets the side down. The IT establishment hasn't got a reason why. It doesn't have an ideology. It doesn't even have a spiel that can justify its ugly great contracts.

Kelvin Hopkins MP.pngIt's left to PASC members like Kelvin Hopkins, Labour MP for Luton North, to meet these upstarts in debate.

Watkins pelted them: outsourced public services in places like Westminster are supposed to be "wonderful", he said. But they're not.

Then IT suppliers bamboozle public bodies and charge them outrageous fees, he said.

And what about private care homes, he said, which are dreadful despite being propped up with public subsidies?

Universal credit

The Big Society ITerati doesn't have answers to questions like this. Neither did Professor Harvey, funnily enough.

The Old Guard at least has big IT contracts, and we haven't seen the last of them, for all the talk we've heard from Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude.

Most of Universal Credit, the coalition's first gargantuan IT project, was already being shoed into existing contracts with large suppliers without an open competition, the Old Guard told the Committee.

They didn't say why, or how. But Malcolm Whitehouse, group applications director for the DWP said something about how important it was to keep the same people on because they knew the ropes. African dictators are fond of that excuse.

CIO Harley claimed the government had learned its lesson from past IT failures, before trotting out a list of things he was doing to make his multi-billion pound IT contracts more palatable.

The committee heard earlier how 400 benefits systems in local government were serviced by just two or three suppliers.

Storm Clouds.pngBad omen

Socitm has been warning that the large government departments will block the Big Society reforms.

And so it seems the Cabinet Office IT strategy may be forced into a fudge with the very IT oligarchy it has been chipping at for the last six months.

So Pavitt said HMRC liked this idea that government IT systems might be broken up into smaller, interoperable components.

But he said it would be "foolish" to break up HMRC's existing system. It handled £435bn of tax and transacted with the DWP 3bn times-a-year.

It is also locked into a 13-year, £8.5bn contract with Capgemini.

Pavitt trotted out some tired old marketing slogans to shore this Aspire contract up in front of the Committee. It will have cut £1bn from HRMC's IT costs by the time it terminates in 2017, he said. It has even built an open source website.

No matter that the work was only meant to cost £3bn when it was contracted in 2004. Nor that its three year-extension from 2014 is to cost as much as the contract is supposed to have saved over its life.

Nor that HMRC will likely to have no choice but to grant another five-year trigger-extension in 2017. The deal is so uncompetitive HRMC had to pay Capgemini and others nearly £52m to take it on.

It's so uncompetitive HMRC has to build artificial incentives into the contract, as though it were the Department for Health trying to force an NHS trust to mimic the market.

Capgemini logo.pngHush hush

The lions share of the money goes to Capgemini and its two main subcontractors, Accenture and Fujitsu.

HRMC pays Capgemini over £800m-a-year for everything from application development and data centres, to call centres and maintenance.

Another 238 suppliers get a piece of those billions. One must wonder why there aren't more of them. But we don't get to see the numbers.

Even the Cabinet Office's much trumpeted bulk renegotiation of Capgemini's government business is commercial in confidence. Capgemini's executives and major shareholders will have the details. We shall have to trust them and the Whitehall mandarins to ensure what little competition they have is sporting enough.

G-Cloud: introducing the neo-database state

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Now the Home Office has destroyed its prototype ID database in a publicity stunt, the government is putting the finishing touches to plans that would put the real Identity Scheme databases at the heart of a powerful government data sharing system.

The Government Cloud (G-Cloud), an ambitious Cabinet Office scheme to share IT resources and data across the whole of government, is seeking to remove all technical and organisational barriers to public sector data sharing.

Reports published last week by the Cabinet Office describe how G-Cloud will exhume the data sharing systems that underpinned ID Cards, along with the fatal data security risks that went with them. The principles will be applied to all government data. The plans have been overseen by the same executives who oversaw the ID Scheme's data-sharing system, the ill-fated CISx.

Damian Green Destroying ID scheme Hard Disks - February 2011 - 500 by 415 dpi.jpgThe reports state that the only limits to data sharing between government departments in the G-Cloud would be those imposed by law. It is presumed that whatever sharing is required will be permitted.

The principle was established a year ago in the G-Cloud Vision, which was drafted by Martin Bellamy, the same civil servant who advised ministers to proceed with the CISx as one of two core components of the ID scheme.

Bellamy's Vision cited the CISx as an example of the sort of data sharing that would be possible within the G-Cloud. The CISx plan had involved turning the Department for Work and Pensions Customer Information System database (CIS), which contains personal details of everyone in the country, into a system that could be accessed across the whole government.

"As it develops, the G-Cloud will become the repository of a significant portion of Public Sector data," it said.

Linking data

Bellamy's Vision laid out architectural principles explored in greater detail by G-Cloud working groups under the coalition government last year. The most fundamental was that the government should seek to ensure that data items were harmonized across government so they could be linked.

The G-Cloud seeks to harness the power of the internet to create a network of interchangeable and interoperating systems. It is envisaged that the near entirety of public computer systems would be assimilated by the G-Cloud programme in 10 years.

John Suffolk clarified the vision before he stood down as government's chief information officer last year. The government CTO Council would oversee the development of common data standards G-Cloud required.

"These standards will also ease the process of sharing data between different public sector organisations," he said.

After Joe Harley was appointed CIO in January this year, his division of the Cabinet Office put its stamp on the most up-to-date of the draft G-Cloud plans, the G-Cloud Services Specification.

The specification took the idea of G-Cloud as crucible of government data sharing and rebranded it as system for "Information Access". This involved different public bodies sharing one another's applications in order to access one another's data.

Threads and shreds

It used precisely the same language as the year-ago G-Cloud Vision to describe the framework within which G-Cloud data sharing would operate.
 
"This service will only be permitted where statute allows the data to be shared with the requesting public body," said the reports.

The only other data sharing proviso would be that "information assurance requirements for the data are adequately supported across the G-Cloud," they said.

Shredded ID Database parts - Home Office - February 2011 - 5433789496_eeb5941e9b.jpgThis lesson will be fresh in the minds of those in the Cabinet Office putting the finishing touches to the G-Cloud strategy. Harley was CIO at the DWP when the CISx plan was devised and was still there when it was scrapped last year. Ian Watmore, his boss at the Cabinet Office, spearheaded the Transformational Government strategy by which the Labour government had sought to increase public sector data sharing. The CIS got a special mention in the Transformational Government strategy as well.

The Home Office said last week its minister Damian Green (pictured) had destroyed Labour's ID database. But he only destroyed the temporary system the Home Office erected in a hurry so it could get ID cards on the streets before the 2010 election. It had still not proceeded with integrating the real ID databases because it was still trying to work out how to resolve their excruciating data security problems.

The photographs of Green shredding hard disks on an industrial estate in Essex were a publicity stunt staged to destroy a publicity stunt. It was always said the ID cards were a only a token of the sort of computer systems that have already become well established instruments of government.

The databases still exist. The government still has a plan to integrate them. And the security problems inherent in public sector data sharing have still not been resolved.

Whitehall power brokers pick at Open Sores

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Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom is about as reliable a source as a Libdem election promise or a Tory public service.

The ostensible data sharing tzar has nevertheless published a book of absurd tweets that might help distract you, if but momentarily, from the despair of working another January day in the pay of some tyrannical bureaucrat or despotic bourgeois.

They are as reliable as a Blairite dodgy dossier, but a single Sir Bonar tweet is said still to contain more truth than a whole year of government press releases. That's despite the fact that they're all utterly untruthful, especially the ones about private companies who might sue for libel.

But don't buy the book, ffs. It's sad enough that you are reading this blog.

We read it so you don't have to. Here's what he had to say about open source in government.

"Microsoft advise me that all this Open Source business is overrated. Fine for fanatics, but not for serious business."

"Indeed, one hardly gets invited to Lords by Open Office plc, does one?"

"We in the civil service feel that the OpenOffice and suchlike are perhaps more appropriate for the voluntary sector and the Third World."

"I am also advised that Open Source software is unAmerican, and using it therefore possibly prejudicial to the Special Relationship."

"I find the public spiritedness of government's major IT suppliers encouraging; hear-warming, in fact."

"It's a fine day at the Oval, and circumstances are very propitious for discussing the achievements of the CRB working with Capita."

"By Capita's projections, 80,000 incidents of abuse have been saved by the interventions of the CRB - my, that one turned!"

"It would be ludicrous to suggest that conduct could be influenced by the offer of a meal or attendance at a function."

"I've just received some apparently extremely important documents sent by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. I look forward to reading them."

"We've had them sent out to be converted into Microsoft Word. Patricia can print them out and I'll have a look."

"Just had a excellent luncheon courtesy of our friends at FACT (the Federation Against Copyright Theft) UK. They do the most tremendous work."

"EDS are the most fearful bores and Experian are somewhat arriviste. The best catering is done by a firm called Trafigura."

"EMC's top brass keep telling me about Data Whorehouses. Is this some kind of Texan joke?"

DirectGov spunks £200m

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Has DirectGov really spent £200m producing websites, Jerry Fishenden, LSE fop, former Microsoft suit, and general man about town, asked last year.

Since Fishenden had asked the question via Twitter of Sir Bonar-Neville Kingdom, the ostensible Data Sharing Czar of Her Majesty's government, we have to wonder whether whether standards might be slipping at the London School of Economics. Or whether, as Sir Bonar has himself remarked, Autumn 2009 was a particularly good season for mushrooms. 

Nevertheless, it was this week that Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude pledged an historic review of the government's web site estate. It's historic in the sense that we never had so many websites to scrap before.

We've already seen DirectGov's top brass cleared out. This is but the beginning. To mark the occasion, it would be worthless republishing Tweets written on the matter by Sir Bonar, HM Government's first official Twit. That's why we're doing it here.

His Tweets, it is whispered around the fagging sheds outside the corridors of power, have had civil servants squirming in their seats.

"I have no doubt the £66m spend by the DoH in the last three years on two of its Web Sites is excellent Value for Money."

"We will further improve the DoH Web Sites by getting rid of most of them. This will be a great improvement."

"We feel Transform's DirectGov report represents fair value for what we paid them."

"The confirmation of DirectGov's central role as government's Web Publishing Platform in the Transform report is uncontentious."

"Incidentally, we are rebranding Directgov as "DirectGov" to give it a more comtempory feel."

"Now we can recommission these absurdly cheap MySociety Web Sites from proper suppliers like IBM, ATOS and Qinetic."

"One could hardly sustain an indigenous IT industry on the unrealistic budgets bandied about by these NGOs. We need serious Web Sites."

"I feel we should shut down Google and use DirectGov and a national email service. As I recall CESG developed one..."

"Clearly we need a Government Search Engine. We could call it google.gov.uk."

"The UK's flagship Web Site Direct Gov is still looking for a head of innovation. Please apply by last August."

"I have a splendid idea: let's dust down that old promise to put all public services online. It always works!".

"We must be seen to be active. Let us launch official versions of things which people are successfully doing already!"

"We should promote democracy with a web site. We could call it mysociety.gov.uk."

"Let's promote the government agenda for mothers with a website, called both netmums.gov.uk and mumsnet.gov.uk, just to be sure."

"We must ensure that any feedback about Health Services comes from authorized sources via an approved contractor such as capita."

"In light of the irresponsibility of the news media we propose a new Government Newspaper. We plan to call it www.independent.gov.uk."

Sir Bonar has published Tweets in a book, at the launch of which he gave a rather tedious speech you can watch here.

One reason Health minister is secretive over paid-for Google ads?

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Three years ago, the then NPfIT minister Caroline Flint condemned a PR company which had placed pay-per-click keyword adverts with Google. The PR company was working for NHS Connecting for Health on improving the image the of NHS IT scheme, NPfIT.

Flint in 2007 promised an investigation into the placing of the ads. She said in a Parliamentary reply that the Department of Health had terminated its arrangement with the unnamed PR company.

With the help of Conservative Shadow Health Minister Stephen O'Brien, Computer Weekly discovered that that some of the ads had been a form of spin: when Google searches pulled up articles that put the NPfIT in a negative light, an ad link to NHS Connecting for Health appeared prominently on the first search page.

A Google search on the Public Accounts Committee, which had published a critical report on the NPfIT in 2007, pulled up a NHS Connecting for Health sponsored link, where people were directed to positive stories about the NHS IT scheme.

image-11-feb small.jpg

 

How much do you trust Government press releases?

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With the political parties launching their election campaigns, it's worth looking at some of the IT-related claims that have been made in Government press releases. Below is an example.

In 2001, a Department of Health press release said that by March 2005 every adult in the country "will be able to access their own at-a-glance electronic health record", the Health Secretary announced.

Five years later and we're still years away from every adult in England - about 55 million actual or potential patients - having access to their own electronic health record. 

This was the DH press release:

NPfIT minister's to do list?

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A  comment by an anonymous reader sounds authoritative. The comment is in response to the Government's announcement that more than £6bn will have been spent on the NPfIT by the end of the 2009/10 financial year. 

The writer says:

Mike O'Brien to do list:

1) Take over-ambitious and hideously complex IT project and split responsibility for delivering it across various departments/heads

2) Claim your own departments targets have been met

3) If they haven't:

a. Pass budgetary costs to subsidiary departments and blame them/department heads for failing to reach targets

b. Siphon any other costs into 'Capital Charges' black hole

4) Claim project is on target

5) Wait to be moved away as head of NPfIT to ensure a lack of clear accountability. Some time in 2010 sounds plausible.

Links:

NPfIT spend of more than £6bn - IT Projects blog

Frenetic activity on the NPfIT in the year to March 2010? - IT Projects blog

New NHS IT clinical director - a good choice - IT Projects blog

Will IT improve efficiency and safety? - Association of Americans and Surgeons

 

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