February 2011 Archives

From On-line Prefects to Cyberwarriors: opening up the career paths of the future

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Google has obtained serious publicity for a modest "me too" exercise to train children to help address on-line bullying. I very much hope that this is not just gesture PR but a trial to see what works. If it works, I hope that Google will follow through with the muscle that only it can mobilise - working with others and not in isolation. Whether or not those in Google who decided to support this exercise saw it that way, they are addressing one of the points of leverage that will make or break the future of the public Internet as a safe, reliable and family friendly place to do business, as well as to learn and play.


Why do we never learn? Because good practice is punished hardest when it matters most

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The written evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee makes depressing reading. Much is not new. It raises the question "why do we never learn". I alluded to the core reason in my blog comparing the proposed IT strategy for the Universal Credit with that for a Universal Patient which led to the National Plan for IT. The punishments are draconian for "speaking truth to power" at the time when it matters most: when everyone is admiring the "vision" and those at the top are at their most gullible. Anyone asking awkward questions will be condemned as a naysayer. Hence the dilemma of Mr Brickworth in C Northcote Parkinson's little essay on "High Finance".

My own submission to the enquiry was as follows:    

Put PFI Contracts On-line for Public Scrutiny

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The Treasury plans to start scrutinising the many PFI contracts it has inherited, beginning with an exercise on the Queen's Hospital in Romford to refine its guidance. There is risk this approach will lead to trench warfare, enriching armies of lawyers and accountants on both sides and saving little, if anything. The legal profession is already gearing up for this .

Why not outflank them and be serious about transparency?

Many of the most egregious PFI contracts are unprofitable, or would be if enforced. Public scrutiny would identify a multitude of ways of incrementally improving quality of service and removing overheads that could add shareholder value at the same time as cutting public costs. 

What is the difference between NHS NPfIT and the DWP IT Strategy for the Universal Credit?

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Today (Thursday) sees the release of the written evidence submitted to the PASC enquiry. Tommorrow (Friday) will see the release of the National Audit Office Landscape Review of Infomation and Communications Technology in Government to today. I have much bedtime reading and will confine myself to a little riddle. 

What is the difference between the IT plans to support the "vision" of a universal patient record (based on accurate information available at the point and time of need) and the IT plans to support the equally attractive "vision" of a universal credit (based on accurate information available at the point and time of need)? 

What is the case (business or clinical) for a "universal patient record"?

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The "vision" of an all-purpose "Universal Patient Record" appears to be going the same way as that for a "Universal ID Card". The currently envisaged records, were the system to work, are a very expensive compromise, unfit for most clinical purposes. That is partly because there is no agreement on the purpose of the record, who owns the data contained and who is responsible for its accuracy, availability and security. But the "vision" also ignores the basic principles of good practice in information management and governance as well as those of information systems engineering. Equally interesting, at a time when expenditure at all levels is being scrutinised is that way that the "vision" has evaded scrutiny - whether clinical, professional or financial.



How much of your personal data will go on sale as an unnecessary side effect of cost savings

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We can expect hundreds of thousands more personal computers and servers being shipped to Third World Countries for "recycling" as a result of Government departments, agencies and their suppliers seeking the cheapest means of disposing of surplus kit.

How much of your personal information will be going with them?

Meanwhile the administrators of private sector organizations, including outsource suppliers, that go down are under obligation to get best value, not to meet data protection or other regulatory requirements designed for ongoing businesses.

But this is not the cheapest, let alone the best (social, economic or environmental) way.

Using broadband infrastructure investment to help engineer economic recovery

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Last monday the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) organised a meeting to discuss how market forces could and should be unleashed to pull through investment in broadband and bring about economic recovery. We learned how Felixstowe, the hub of European trade with China, is cut off from the rest of the UK with third world communications (its broadband and rail service would put most African and South American ports to shame). Meanwhile the communities of Cumbria have accessed world-class expertise to install high capacity communications networks at a fraction of the cost quoted by the major players. 

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