Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Scots and their whiskey!

Stephen Leacock, a Canadian travel writer circa 1910, wrote about Scotland :
Turning first to Scotland , there is no fear, I say, that prohibition will be adopted there: and this from the simple reason that the Scotch do not drink. I have elsewhere alluded to the extraordinary misapprehension that exists in regard to the Scotch people and their sense of humour. I find a similar popular error in regard to the use of whiskey by the Scotch. Because they manufacture the best whiskey in the world, the Scotch, in popular fancy, are often thought to be addicted to the drinking of it. This is purely a delusion. During the whole of two or three pleasant weeks spent in lecturing in Scotland , I never on any occasion saw whiskey made use of as a beverage. I have seen people take it, of course, as a medicine, or as a precaution, or as a wise offset against a rather treacherous climate; but as a beverage, never.The manner and circumstance of their offering whiskey to a stranger amply illustrates their point of view towards it. Thus at my first lecture in Glasgow where I was to appear before a large and fashionable audience, the chairman said to me in the committee room that he was afraid that there might be a draft on the platform. Here was a serious matter. For a lecturer who has to earn his living by his occupation, a draft on the platform is not a thing to be disregarded. It might kill him. Nor is it altogether safe for the chairman himself, a man already in middle life, to be exposed to a current of cold air. In this case, therefore, the chairman suggested that he thought it might be “prudent”–that was his word, “prudent”–if I should take a small drop of whiskey before encountering the draft. In return I told him that I could not think of his accompanying me to the platform unless he would let me insist on his taking a very reasonable precaution. Whiskey taken on these terms not only seems like a duty but it tastes better.
In the same way I find that in Scotland it is very often necessary to take something to drink on purely meteorological grounds. The weather simply cannot be trusted. A man might find that on “going out into the weather” he is overwhelmed by a heavy fog or an avalanche of snow or a driving storm of rain. In such a case a mere drop of whiskey might save his life. It would be folly not to take it. Again,–“coming in out of the weather” is a thing not to be trifled with. A person coming in unprepared and unprotected might be seized with angina pectoris or appendicitis and die upon the spot. No reasonable person would refuse the simple precaution of taking a small drop immediately after his entry.
I find that, classified altogether, there are seventeen reasons advanced in Scotland for taking whiskey. They run as follows: Reason one, because it is raining; Two, because it is not raining; Three, because you are just going out into the weather; Four, because you have just come in from the weather; Five; no, I forget the ones that come after that. But I remember that reason number seventeen is “because it canna do ye any harm.” On the whole, reason seventeen is the best.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Is that really me?

I was reading, in The Times, today some if the insights that social psychology teaches us about ourselves.....
We overestimate the extent to which others agree with us,
We underestimate the degree to which we are following everyone else,
We believe we are able to vary our behaviour depending upon circumstances, BUT,
that others are predictable,
We believe we are funnier, cleverer and more popular than we actually are,
We all think we are a better than average driver,
We are aware that these cognitive errors exist ......
But, that they only exist in others.

Come you lot will you pull yourselves together!

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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A hyperlocal virgin comes of age

Once again the blog begins with the comment that 'it's been a while' (which by the way is a great track by Staind - see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVC1iBVnKJk&feature=related ) but don't forget to come back to the blog........

Anyway, I met with Will Perrin (@WillPerrin ) yesterday to talk about all things local - hyperlocal sites, localism generally, activists being enabled and finding a voice through simple and easily avaialble technology and open data....and it was quite an eye opener for me.

The best way to get a handle on what's happening, it transpired, was to have a run through of some very varied 'hyperlocal' sites and hear the stories behind them and, particularly, the impact they can have on communities.

The sort of 'bible' for this kind of localism is probably openly local, see: http://openlylocal.com/ for the general site or http://openlylocal.com/hyperlocal_sites for a growing directory of hyperlocal sites.

Without doubt the site whose name was certainly the most 'interesting' is: http://www.birminghamitsnotshit.co.uk/ - yes you read it right.

Others that are worth a look are: http://parwich.org/ , Digbeth is good: http://digbeth.org/ , King Cross: http://www.kingscrossenvironment.com/ and one more, The Cricklade Bugle: http://www.cricklade.info/

There are plenty more examples from inner city, communter belt, rural Scotland and the moors and dales. Small community inspired, community developed, community sustained sites, many of which are becoming or have become a focal point for community buiding and community action and activists but are run by volunteers whose ages range from 21 to over 70 years old, many of whom had not touched a computer prior to their involvement but many of whom were equipped through training provided by http://talkaboutlocal.org.uk/. It really is great stuff. I come from a pretty small rural community in the North East of England and the attractions of a hyperlocal site are obvious and compelling - I can see an addition to the directory very soon....

In many ways this is 'big society' happening from the grass roots up without the need for politicians of any hew being the driving force or, even more importantly, without them being able to have any 'control'. Don't you just love it?

For me as the MD of Socitm, rather than me the local resident, this whole movement is a great example of people being empowered  and real objectives and community goals being acheived by the use of freely available and accessible technology. I guess one of the most glaring 'facts' arising from my initiation is that many councils either don't really know about what is going on or, worryingly, they do but treat it as a threat rather than an opportunity and an effective channel to real citizens. This is obviously not true of all local authorities, but I suspect it is of many.
The 'big society' aspect is fascinating - see how the residents used their hyperlocal blog to rally around and sort out their 'poo' problem: http://littlemanea.wordpress.com/environmental-issues/ . We see citizens doing it for themselves instead of just whinging that somebody else should do it. I'm sure somebody should have...but now it's now done, and the doing of it instead of the whinging about it has had a really positive and beneficial impact on a local community - result as far as I can see! However, there is also a strong element of rightly calling to account those public authorities who should be doing something but aren't...and that is also 'big society'.

It's not all just about activism, it's also about news, useful local information - from real people, it's about community 'feel good' , cohesion, purpose and many other really great, but all too easily lost, community characteristics. It's always the new converts who are the most evangeliistic...the test of course comes down the line, (I think there is a parable about a sower that deals with this.....)

Before signing off, we then touched on a related issue, open data...now there is an interesting area with still far to few public bodies taking it seriously enough. See http://data.gov.uk/ for more detail, but if you want to see the sort of information that can be made readily, easily and freely available see something such as the 'spending dashboard' on openly local: http://openlylocal.com/councils/spending. And finally, if you want to see how your council is doing with the publication of open data see here: http://openlylocal.com/councils/open , you may wish to encourage them a little....

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Cameron the confused?

I have not been particularly active in blog land recently - but Mr C's speech has moved me to a missive.

The reason he is promoting transparency (apparently) is because 'information is power'.... Hmmm, this could be taken a number of ways, but, importantly, it is at best a half truth. I am never fond of half truths and rarely trust those who trade in them.
For instance, I heard a programme on the radio last week in which they discussed the 'fact' that 'money is the root of all evil' - a cheap shot that, because as I am sure they well knew, the quote is that 'love of money is the root of all evil' which is fundamentally different.
So, information is power, - what a crock of crap! Information that I hold and won't release to you - but that you want or need - now that might affect the balance of power in a relationship!
What does a council buy that totals over £500? Oooh,now that's information I've craved for many a year.
Now that I know this I am empowered beyond my wildest dreams!

I'll tell you a scenario in which information would have been power - tell us before we vote what you are going to introduce that you did not put in your manifesto - now we are getting closer to information being power. I wonder how many other 'non manifesto' surprises we have in store? How about they publish them all on a website asap - then hold an election .....

And Nick Boles ..... What can I say! Give the powers of district councils to Parish Councils - has the man ever been to a Parish Council (no offence, but.....). I am all in favour of single tier local government but please - think it through!!!

It's not all bad - there were some very good and practical suggestions and I would have gone on to enthuse about some of them had the 'P' word not cropped up and rendered me speechless.....( that's Pickles - and I'm not talking onions)

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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

It's been a long time, been a long long time.....

Well, the summer has been busy and I have most definitely neglected the blog....although maintained a reasonably active twitter feed (@ach59 ).

Having spent time at the Cambridge Folk Festival (which was great) taken time out for a 'spa break' in N. Wales and then paid 3 (yes 3) seperate visits to the Edinburgh Fringe and then went to the Pyrenees (they were closed by the way!)

If you are looking for somewhere great (but quietish) to stay over there I can recommend http://www.mountaingite.com/  ......However, it has also been pretty busy with a number of internal business meetings (I know, how did I fit them in......) not many of which I can talk about or indeed anyone else would be interested in.......

Last week we had our anuual 'President's Dinner' at Trinity House ( http://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/ ) which was a great occasion and a time when Socitm and it's work is showcased to a range of members, stakeholders and supporters. We enjoyed the company of several central government colleagues as well as great representation from the third sector, supplier community and, of course, local government and associated organisations and friends. The e mails following the event would suggest that a good time was had by all.

Anyway, it's back into the thick of it now...the final run up to Socitm2010 in Brighton on October 9/10/11 (see http://www.socitm2010.net/ ) and some really exciting meetings at which we will be looking at how Socitm may partner 'down under' as well as conversations with colleagues in the higher education sector. We are also on the 'cusp' (good word) of our new professional membership options and new opportunities for public and private sector organisations to engage with us. It really is all go...and I'm having a new kitchen fitted which is probably the most stressful part of it all.

I did go and watch (yes watch not participate) the Great North Run on Sunday. Watching 54000 people run past you is quite an awesome sight although the most moving parts of a long day were the inumberable personal and human stories. An elite runner finishing in 59 mins is good, but it's not what it is about. The 70 year old finishing it for his son/friend/wife with cancer is the real occasion - the people carrying each other over the line having sacrificed their own 'best' time to help another runner - that's the inspiration, and I did come away inspired, particularly as someone was running for one of my sons. Inspired enough to run next year? We'll see.

It's time to meet the Aussies.....so hopefully good news to report a little later.

Monday, 28 June 2010

England the insignificant?

I am a huge England fan, patriotic,ardent and unrealistically hopeful when it comes to our national team. This is not the rant of one who deserts them at the slightest hint of defeat, nor will I desert them over this world cup debacle but let's have a heavy dose of reality as we perform the autopsy of another 'dead in its tracks' world cup campaign. There are probably 3 key issues that need to feature in the dissection:
1 the use of technology
2 the quality of the players
3 the belligerence of the manager

None of us will have failed to notice that FIFA, and particularly the moron and his cronies at the top, have no aversion to the use of technology that brings in the billions for TV rights and advertising. No, they have a personal love affair with technology at that level, so my initial feeling of calling them 'luddite idiots' was 50% wrong! One can only conclude other, perhaps more personal, reasons why they have not pursued the technology route as has every other major sport? One cannot fail to think there is some personal benefit being derived somewhere, or perhaps they really are just idiots? It would be foolish to suggest that all of our woes were down to one wrong, albeit serious,misjudgement by the ref. Our players were far too bad to hide behind that excuse but it would have changed the character of the game.

As we heard from some of 'our boys' at the end of the hammering they realised they had 'not performed well'. Apart from being the understatement of the century and the fact the same could be (and probably was) said after each of our matches it is the implication that, because they know they have not performed, this should somehow be repercussion enough!
This, of course, is such an insult coming from people whose WEEKLY salary is up to 5 times more than the annual wage of many fans who saved for months or years to be there! We could have lost with pride, performed well but been beaten by the better team, we could have got a 3-3 draw and lost on the final penalty and any number of other scenarios that would allow them to have walked away with pride - but not the abject, amateur, display of Sunday league errors that we have been subjected to for most of this campaign ( apologies to 'Sunday league' players).
I realise that certain changes are unlikely ever to happen whilst such easy access to the TV and advertising billions is available but how about sensible contracts, curbing the power of agents and a culture that expects to be paid on team and individual performance? Or, perhaps more achievable, how about playing key players in position, being flexible with our shape depending upon our opponents and never, ever, bringing Heskey onto the park! And better players maybe - or is that a little harsh? Our ball control, first touch, innovative and creative play and passing skills were so clearly sub standard compared to so many other teams, and I'm not just talking about the South Americans! In our analysis, which will doubtless rumble on, let's compare and contrast ourselves to the best in order that we might improve rather than to the worst in order that we could take comfort.

Which of course brings us onto the manager - and where to start on this one? Generally I am in favour of giving managers serious time to get to grips with the issues and being the manager of this or any other national team is clearly a different beast to club management. That said, when you get someone as stubborn and belligerent as Capello appears to be, who seems incapable of flexibility despite the circumstances, context and the weight of informed and expert opinion you have to wonder if the leopard can change its spots? I'm not jumping straight onto the 'he should go' bandwagon, but that does have to be an urgently and seriously considered option, followed by contractual arrangements that make some kind of sense.
Anyway - let's get on with the Euro qualifiers should we???

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Thursday, 24 June 2010

Socitm is go .....

I know that there will be very mixed views about the budget and particularly about it's implications in the public and third sectors, but, in Socitm, we still see some opportunities wrapped up in the many challenges, (see Jos Creese' comments on the budget http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2010/06/24/21715/soctim-president budget-does-not-recognise-importance-of.htm. )

Whilst Socitm is most certainly pushing out beyond the traditional 'just IT' boundaries we remain totally commited to its critical role in the efficient delivery of first class, user focussed public services. Any budget or strategy that fails to acknowledge this AND adequately account for investment and innovation is likely to run into trouble. In a culture and society where the expectation of easily accessed, easily used online service delivery is growing exponentially, a public service that does not embrace, exploit and deliver to these expectations will always dissapoint. This, I believe, puts Socitm at the heart of 'solutions provision', a part of the answer not the problem, and we are determined to rise to that challenge.
In terms of vision and credibility we have a team of people who are acknowledged as leading players in the public and third sectors and who are dedicated to delivering value back to all of our members to equip us to deliver the goods ( and plenty more waiting in the wings).
We are now well advanced with plans to introduce some significant professionalism and development initiatives and a Socitm social networking and knowledge platform. We continue our drive to provide up to the minute policy guidance, best practice advice and the continued growth of our regional networks.
OK, it's not exactly a bed of roses on all fronts at present and we have to deliver on some of the positive noises but we are well positioned to drive forward in a number of areas including member development, value added services, networking and knowledge sharing opportunities. It is a case of watch this space, or even better, join with us and 'create this space'....we really are only as good as our members.

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Friday, 18 June 2010

Brighton - what a pleasant place

It was time for the Delivery Management meeting......which in case you don't know is a meeting of a group of people from various government sectors and departments who all belong to, or are eager to promote, one of the most senior and practical competency streams from the SFIA framework . These periodic meetings are worthwhile for a number of reasons. Firstly, they always meet somewhere interesting, Brighton this time, and focus on input from local hosts, secondly, it is a great group of interesting people from whom you cannot fail to learn something and, finally, 'delivery management' is at the sharp end of what we have all got to do.... deliver stuff!!

We started out last afternoon / evening (16th) with a guided tour of the Pavilion, courtesy of Brighton and Hove City Council , which was fascinating - it was my first time ever in Brighton so everything was new... We then met up in the local Pizza Express where, alongside eating, we had robust discussion on a wide range of subjects, not least of all procurement across government - it was 'Chatham House' to save all kinds of embarrasment!

Anyway, the real business was today, again hosted by Brighton & Hove,  at which we heard about progress from G Cloud and the Apps Store. This was a great presentation with lively discussion and some really positive Cabinet Office input. There are still a number of IT types of varying seniority (none of whom are part of this group) who still prefer the 'ostrich' approach to cloud, or, if you prefer, they are playing the metaphorical 'King Canute' and trying to stop the tide. Oh dear! This doesn't mean there aren't serious questions to answer and issues to resolve but that's what you expect when you are pushing the boundaries. We then had a great presentation and discussion lead by Brighton & Hove which outlined some of the real issues faced by the council and some of the plans for transformation and improvement in service delivery. Much of this goes under the 'strap line' 'Getting the Council you deserve' - which of course can be taken a number of ways... We finished with a round up of news and information from a variety of areas including Cabinet Office, Home Office, MoD, Transport, Local Government and Fire.
This group is one of the more proactive strands emerging from the Government IT Profession (although it's not at all certain what's happened to that initiative......) but it now offers value that goes beyond GITP and should certainly outlive it - although we are all hoping to see GITP alive and kicking again very shortly.

For those that don't know, our 'flagship event' Socitm2010 is in Brighton from Oct 10-12, and it is shaping up to be a really great event which not only has some great speakers lined up, but will also deal with live issues faced by CIO's, IT Directors, Resource Directors and Service Delivery Managers across the public and third sectors. Having had my introduction to Brighton this week I am really looking forward to October.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The 8 monkeys approach

I know this has been kicking around for some time now, but it's still good:

Here is the '8 Monkeys' process........

The 8 Monkeys

(This is reportedly based on an actual experiment conducted in the U.K.)
Put eight monkeys in a room. In the middle of the room is a ladder, leading to a bunch of bananas hanging from a hook on the ceiling.

Each time a monkey tries to climb the ladder, all the monkeys are sprayed with ice water, which makes them miserable. Soon enough, whenever a monkey attempts to climb the ladder, all of the other monkeys, not wanting to be sprayed, set upon him and beat him up. Soon, none of the eight monkeys ever attempts to climb the ladder.

One of the original monkeys is then removed, and a new monkey is put in the room. Seeing the bananas and the ladder, he wonders why none of the other monkeys are doing the obvious. But undaunted, he immediately begins to climb the ladder.
All the other monkeys fall upon him and beat him silly. He has no idea why.
However, he no longer attempts to climb the ladder.
A second original monkey is removed and replaced. The newcomer again attempts to climb the ladder, but all the other monkeys hammer the crap out of him.
This includes the previous new monkey, who, grateful that he's not on the receiving end this time, participates in the beating because all the other monkeys are doing it. However, he has no idea why he's attacking the new monkey.
One by one, all the original monkeys are replaced. Eight new monkeys are now in the room. None of them have ever been sprayed by ice water. None of them attempt to climb the ladder. All of them will enthusiastically beat up any new monkey who tries, without having any idea why.

And that is how most companies' policies get established.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Parties and stuff

This week began well because it wasn't in London, which means there was time to actually get stuck into stuff without meetings interupting..... Then it was CST (Corporate Services Team) meeting - which may not float your boat but it does keep the show on the road. As in any organisation, those up front get the glory and those in the back office make it happen.
This was followed by a meeting to discuss and plan the next stages in our web development..... now that's a meeting where you'd want to be a fly on the wall!
We had John Fox facilitating ( and his dog Molly) who between them dug out a number of real issues that we can address pretty quickly, so..... result!

That was followed by a mad rush to London to join Martin Bellamy at his leaving/joining drinks do in Covent Garden. It was really great to catch up with a number of old acquaintances and to be convinced that 'Mr G Cloud' will certainly be taking a whiff of vapour with him to his new role in justice. We remain committed to the vision.
Anyway, I'm now looking forward to the weekend, a family celebration - my wife's birthday (today) my son's birthday and his (finally) finishing university- plus his new job at the Audit Commission.....And there's a(nother) bank holiday with the promise of motorbiking up to Hartside...quickly. (google it) :-)

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Cometh the axe man.....

Well, with the cuts announced it’s all over bar the shouting...if only that were true! It’s always risky to say too much too early or to do too much too soon in the face of quickly implemented large scale change, although that’s a lesson neither the press nor politicians seem particularly prone to learn.

It is interesting to read some of the press, including the ‘technical’ press, some of whom have been at the forefront of criticising many of the large IT systems that are now about to be ‘scrapped’. In fact I seem to remember some of them have called for this type of action in the past – although not specifically on economic grounds. With Labour still maintaining that spending is the way out of our debt problem and the coalition having reached a negotiated conclusion that immediate and radical savings (cuts) are the only way to start it seems that only time will tell...quite risky, but what can you do?

For most of us (well the non economists) there is something counter intuitive about spending your way out of debt – certainly my credit card provider would not agree with the theory, although the way they still try to push credit on me you’d be forgiven for thinking they have had a change of heart! For those of us who are trying to run commercial organisations at this or any other time we know that the ‘spend’ message is a little more subtle than it first appears. If the spending is the type of spending that creates opportunities and jobs and increased revenue then it has genuine merit. However, if the spending is focussed in areas where nothing new is actually produced then it is never going to dent the debt. From a commercial company perspective the answer would seem to require two seemingly opposite but actually complementary areas of activity. The first is the identification of savings and this may need to be radical and tough but this surely must operate with a parallel policy of investment in areas that are designed to create opportunity and generate income. Even the most basic logic dictates that cuts alone will ultimately fail as a strategy.

Another area in the programme of cuts is that of renegotiating contracts with private sector contractors. Again, hardly a strategy that gives a high confidence factor in terms of its likely success. That is, unless the government(s) acknowledges that significant contributory factors have been very poor government procurement processes (all flavours of government) often combined with programmes that are too large, overly complex and poorly specified.

Anyway, as they are saying, ‘the David will be in the detail’ so I’m sure we all await with interest the parallel investment strategy, the growth plans and the ‘hope factor’. Whilst cuts are hard to live with they are relatively easy for the politicians to target whereas the investment and growth strategy will be far more comfortable to live with but it’s much harder work for the politico’s to develop. Let’s hope they learn very quickly!

Lots of press coverage has used the word ‘draconian’ with regard to the announcements and a real worry with hastily implemented ‘draconian’ measures is the high probability of unintended, but equally ‘draconian’ consequences. The coalition needs to learn from the last crowd who got the implementation of ‘fag packet policy’ down to a fine art, the consequences of which will continue to play out for some while to come.

A final word about where IT fits into all of this. There seems to be a great danger that both baby and bathwater are about to be jettisoned on the basis that because the hoped for efficiencies appear not to have been delivered under the previous administration it is somehow the fault of the technology itself! I believe nothing could be further from the truth. The effective implementation and running of the correct technologies is still the business critical bedrock of any real efficiency, transformation, service delivery improvement and the delivery of key business objectives. Just because the IT industry is saying this (well they would wouldn’t they) doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It is certainly something Socitm wholeheartedly endorses.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Another week looking inwards

Looking inward isn't negative, it's important,just not the sort of stuff that is particularly interesting if you're not at the meetings. In fact I'm fairly sure there are quite a few people at the meetings for whom it isn't particularly interesting either! That's one of the burdens the professional meeting goer must bear! However, one of the reasons I am able to spend more time on company stuff is the fact that my 3 relatively new and relatively recently appointed colleagues, Martin Ferguson, Ellen Jessett and Karl Grundy are so good at doing their stuff. If you hadn't noticed Socitm is very active in the policy arena and you can follow Martin's activities all over the place but especially on his Socitm blog. There are great foundations being put in place in terms of Socitm membership development by Ellen and we are certainly having very constructive engagement with an increasingly active supplier community through Karl. All good stuff. As sn aside, our annual conference, Socitm2010, is in Brighton this October and is promising to be very popular and well attended with Socitm in a great position to be the meeting place for the public, third and supplier sectors. There will be information appearing very shortly on www.socitm.net about main themes and speakers. If you are a supplier and would like more info please e mail Karl ( karl.grundy@socitm.net). We are also pleased to have our new President, Jos Creese, up and running, as it were. He will be blogging on the Socitm blog and you can follow him on Twitter @SocitmPresident.

Whilst I am not really sure what to make of our new government(s), it is clear that many of our hacks (especially the one's whose intellectual capacity is.... challenged) are really struggling. If they cannot find a fight they seem determined to invent or provoke one, and some of them don't seem to mind which. However, they'll soon have one in full swing in the good old new but slightly tarnished labour camp. For me I'm not really seeing anyone join the 'race' who is a natural.... should be interesting. On the topic of the now departed it is interesting to hear the stories from senior civil servants about unjustifiable and profligate spending by the old government in the period before the election. Still I suppose that explains Liam Byrne's note to his successor '....there is no money left, good luck'. Liam never did beat about the bush.
Ooops, this is the moment I really wish I'd checked the train timetable more closely - that was Darlington flying by, we didn't stop - now what?

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Location:God's country

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

BaaFest 2010, then work.....

Well, those of you who follow any of the @ach59 stuff on twitter will know that I spent the bank holiday weekend up in lovely Northumberland, at the Riverdale Hall Hotel in Bellingham (thoroughly recommend the hotel) attending the very first Bellingham All Acoustic music festival. The weather was, well, very Northumberland.......but the weekend was great. Not all the music to my taste, but a good 80% + was.....It was great to get introduced to new bands and singer songwirters - Mother's Ruin, for instance were superb, but haven't even recorded a CD yet...sure they will soon. Then there was Lucy Ward form Derby - what a great voice. some of the other highlights were Gareth Davies-Jones as professional and thought provoking as ever and the brilliant Yvonne Lyon...I could go on, but one last act, someone I have never heard before, was a geordie guy called Pete Scott - you gotta hear some of his stuff, it's hilarious... see him performing 'fantastic pastie' in the states....

Also, to add to the pleasure, the wine list in the hotel was superb and north east (as opposed to London) prices...does it get any better.

But this morning down to earth with a bang with alarm set for 05.45 and an early flight to Exeter to meet for discussions about the Socitm National Advisory Council and its development...the rest of the week is a bit of a mish mash really, with the next stop being Birmingham for meeting with Socitm Consulting.  More on those later in the week.

I'll leave you with a picture from Hadrian's Wall, just down from Bellingham - Sycamore Gap at sunset:

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

AGM and Socitm spring event

Last week I had such a bad cold that for the first time I can remember I had to cancel meetings on the Monday and work from home. Not a great start to a week that was already over full!

With the exception of the conference and the AGM most of the week was full of internal meetings that either I can't tell you about or you wouldn't be interested in - probably both. However, our spring conference in Birmingham - which apparently is now called our National Conference as opposed to our Annual Conference (which is also national).......don't worry, it's changing! - was an excellent day. Opened by our outgoing  President, Steve Palmer, we then had an introduction to the day from Martin Ferguson, Head of Policy at Socitm which really set the scene very well. Michael Frater (ex CEO of Surrey CC) pulled no punches and went down exceptionally well with the delegates. We had a great presentation by Simon Norbury (@redpepper52 ) who stepped in at the last minute and saved the day when Prof Colin Talbot was unavoidably prevented from speaking.  A number of the presentations from the plenary sessions and the workshops can be found HERE.

I have to say that I was 'on edge' during the morning sessions because I knew there was the AGM at lunchtime. In the event I had no need to be as the members were supportive as ever, although quite rightly some serious questions were asked.

Apart from 3 new and extremely capable vice presidents: Kay Brown, Glyn Evans and Steve Halliday we were voting on two crucial issues for our Socitm vision and development plans.

The first was the introduction of new accredited professional membership options which will be optional and run in parallel with our current membership route.
If anyone would like further details about this new structure please contact ellen.jessett@socitm.net

The second significant vote, which was related to our agreeing new articles of association, was the broadening of the criteria by which a member is elegible to become a vice president, and therefore president of the society. Following the vote any senior member from the broad public sector (ie not just local government) and the third sector is eligable to be considered for the highest elected offices within Socitm. These decisions are entirely in line with the vision agreed by members in 2008 which focussed upon professionalism, democracy and inclusion. Thanks to the great new team of professional senior staff we are making real progress in embedding the vision and seeing it shape the Society.

And.....part way through the buiness our then President, Steve Palmer, who has presided over, and paved the way for  these significant changes handed the mantle (well a ridiculously heavy chain) over to our new President Jos Creese. Jos, I know, also has some great ideas about where the Society is heading.

All in all, a great event and a very positive AGM. Thank you to all our staff and members who continue to support Socitm and just make it all happen.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Wed 21 April

Night before the Socitm national conference - our local guide ,Karl, took us out to a restaurant - what a great night :-)

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, 19 April 2010

Run up to our AGM

I have been back at work a week and it has been manic. It is all systems go for our National Conference on Thursday 22nd at the Hilton Metropole Birmingham NEC at which we also have our AGM. As in the past couple of years we have some significant areas for voting at the AGM, not least of all new articles of association and changes to the criteria for becoming a vice president (and therefor President). These are part of the continuing development and professionalisation of Socitm. We are also voting for three new vice presidents who, jointly, will be responsible for guiding the Society through the next few years. I was due to go to the 'inaugural' meeting of the resuscitated  Socitm NW Region today in Manchester, but unfortunately develop an horrendous cold over the weekend - lost my voice, the lot. I know all you women will just say 'man flu' and think me a wuss but I cannot remember the last time I was ill with anything. Anyway I just couldn't make it to Manchester so Martin Ferguson will, I am sure, do an admirable job of being me.

My voice has returned, albeit very croaky, and I am gearing myself for the Conference.
What a week we've had, a British one / two in the GP, Newcastle will take the Championship and people are talking positively about the Lib Dems, who'd have ever thought it....? Apparently Nick Clegg is now the most popular party leader since Winston Churchill see: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article7100966.ece , now it doesn't get much more surreal than that.

Talking of elections and  manifestos and all things government, Socitm has just produced its 'Seven point plan for IT in public services' and will shortly be posting our analysis of the main parties’ manifestos against the plan.

Scott Mansfield a 'young professional' from the Society, who normally works with Leeds City Council, won our GWC travel award and is currently in Australia - actually NZ as of two days ago -  where he has been sorting out, sorry, learning about, how government happens in Oz and NZ - and particularly regarding online gov. You can read about his trip and experiences on his blog 

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

It's manifesto time

As I start to read the manifesto headlines and highlites, I will get around to reading the full versions, I already feel beset by cynicism although I was determined to avoid that pitfall. I wasn't far into them before I began thinking 'do I even come close to believing them?'. I realised that I don't, so what's the point? But I have an uneasy feeling that this attitude isn't helpful so I am searching for a helpful one. A search that has so far proved fruitless. It is quite sobering to read the last manifesto before the current one (although it doesn't assist in the attitude search) because you realise just how much is wishful thinking ( i am being generous here) and how little accountability our elected representatives actually have for their manifesto 'promises' once they are in power. The usual cry of 'you can express your feelings at the ballot box' is pretty empty and meaningless especially bearing in mind how much damage they can do in the interim.
The trouble is, is there a better way? - answers on a postcard please - so I guess until those pearls of wisdom come rolling in I've got some reading to do.

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Having a break

Well, here I am in (not too sunny but there is always hope) north Wales:

....and you know what- I'm not bothered about the weather, it's just good not to be working :-)

I was reading yesterday about the need for rest and how, in our current culture, many have been conditioned to think about rest or 'inactivity' as fruitless instead of fruitful and I came across a great phrase, "don't just do something, stand there" Well, it's working for me!
Anyway, a 5 mile walk yesterday in what can best be described as 'brisk' conditions was a good start, although having just this minute seen a 60 year old friend return from a run I am now thinking that perhaps I should be running rather than walking, and that may have just ruined the holiday. No......it's OK, over it now :-)

If we do get any weather that allows us to see more than about 100 yards then Snowdon is on the itinerary, otherwise it will be morning coffee, cream tea, reading and some sessions at the conference that is being run here, and obviously avoiding seeing my friend begin or end their run! Will be back online next week, probably a little heavier and probably thinking about running! Oh, I went to see a guitarist last night called Roo Walker (that's not a typo) and he has got to be one of the best (and most entertaining) guitarists I have ever seen. ( http://www.roowalker.com/ )

-- Post From My iPhone

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Pre holiday blog - demob happy

 I'm off to north Wales next week, so demob happy and I'm not bothered what the weather is like as long as I am not working :-)

This week has been full of variety and challenges, or should that be opportunities?

It has been our main board meeting today and that usually becomes the focus of the week, and this week was no exception. As ever there was much to discuss and most of it was about serious issues that will (hopefully) have a positive impact upon the Society and its members. We have some far reaching plans for the restrucutre of Socitm commercial activites, all of which are ultimately there to provide resource to support and develop members, as well as some very positive resolutions on professionalsim and membership going forward to our AGM in April. We are beginning to see real progress on the far reaching decisions taken at the 2008 AGM at which we broadened our membership base and introduced a much more inclusive statement of vision.

Earlier in the week I met with a great company, Premier IT, having been introduced to them a couple of weeks previously at a charity IT conference. We are exploring options for the  provision of online CPD ,mentoring and social media functionality as part of our membership services.

At the board meeting today we had a comprehensive report form Martin Ferguson, our Head of Policy, and it was really encouraging to hear about the amount of significant and relevant activity and collaboration that Martin, on behalf of our members, is involved in, for more information see the Policy section of our website. As ever, there are a lot of actions with my initials next to them but that's all for the week after next........

In the meantime these may should amuse.....  :-)



Sunday, 28 March 2010

PiPs, 2dot0 , internal development and the budget....

Last week I attended the PiP group (although we are not supposed to call it that) – Partners in Professionalism – to give it its correct title. This group grew out of the ProfIT (Professionalsim in IT Alliance) and consists of a wide ranging group of organisations from across public and private sectors seeking to advance professionalism within IT and to work collaboratively in order to maximise the impact we can have. The meeting chaired by John Higgins of Intellect considered how best to take the group and the subject forward in ways that were beneficial to each of our constituents and that would achieve significant profile, not for the group, but for professionalism generally and individual members specifically. We had some very interesting discussion around the development of cloud based computing across the public sector and particularly the implications of such developments for many within public sector IT who are unlikely, yet, to posses the required skills or professionalism in this and related areas. The pace of change in technology, the application of technology and the huge expectations created by the functionality we all enjoy ‘at home’ presents serious threats and opportunities in equal measure to those tasked with delivering efficiencies through the implementation of technology. This is a subject to which I am sure we will return.

In the middle of the week a budget happened which contained further requirement to deliver savings and efficiency gains upon people who are finding it more difficult to deliver the year on year savings they are being asked to. From our perspective there is a clear challenge, to which we are rising. We need to continually demonstrate how our key products and services actually enable our members to deliver better and more for less and, on a personal level, to equip them for the other challenges, financial and technological, that are following hard on the heels of the current ones. The plans we have for restructuring our service offerings and the developments within professional and personal development opportunities are all geared towards this end.

I attended an event at the Royal Courts of Justice, hosted by Global Crossing which was a really good networking event and the surrounding were stunning. I am often in the position of seeing clear synergies between organisations I speak with and this was no exception as i was left wondering about the benefits of companies such as this getting down with the likes of JANET (appropriately of course) who presented at our recent Socitm Futures group.....we’ll just have to leave them to it I guess.

I made my monthly trip up to Northampton for our Corporate Services Team meeting where we review the support we are able to offer the Society as a whole, plan for future requirements and events and, most importantly, are starting serious discussions about how we can offer a more consolidated business and member support service from a coordinated Socitm Office to ensure we make best use of all resources and reduce much duplication. I think 2010 will see significant moves in this direction. The website continues to cause equal measure of joy and pain although we are beginning to see our way through to some of the hoped for benefits....I am sure that the saying about ‘the best laid plans’ is never more true than when you are talking about the development of websites and particularly keeping content current and in a format that everybody ‘likes’.....

I rushed down from Northampton to meet with Bill Wells from 2dot0. I have mentioned them before and am as impressed with their business now as I was the first time we met....it really is one of the examples of a technology that can have an immediate and beneficial impact on a business. As it happens it was also the 2nd birthday party of 1 Alfred Place, where we were meeting, so I stayed on for the celebrations (as you would)...but I really wasn’t expecting to meet a hero there. If I say that I am an avid – very avid – fan of Pink Floyd, then follow that with the fact that Nick Mason joined the party...other fans will get the picture. Now, it’s weekend preparations for next week’s board meeting, which I think will be a significant one.

Picked this up in The Register ......you'll like it!

Monday, 22 March 2010

CFDG (who?) and other interesting things

Last week I attended an IT conference that was put on by CFDG - for the uninitiated that's the Charity Finance Directors Group ( http://www.cfdg.org.uk/cfdg/cfdg.asp ) Firstly I want to congratulate David Membury and the events team for a fantastic event. It was held at the Royal College of Surgeons on Lincoln's Inn Fields, which was a great venue.It ran like clockwork, had a bustling exhibition area at which, form our perspective, delegates were generally eager to visit and chat, and had a simple but information packed structure.

With John Tate in the chair, following a brief introduction, we began with a 50 min session from Dave Aron from Gartner, who was excellent. This was a very pleasant surprise having had mixed experiences with Gartner in the past.

Some of the thought provoking one liners are probably worth a repeat or two:

• CIO's suffer the problem of 'being horizontal in a vertical world'

•Security and enterprise applications are moving to tactical rather than strategic issues for the 1600 CIO's surveyed.•CIO's are now focussing on 'lighter weight' technologies - virtual, cloud, web 2 , ( survey of 1600 CIO'S globally)

•Collaboration technologies now on the 'plateau of productivity' (Gartner), as is mobile commerce, social web2 on the way.Efficiency: do more with less: productivity: work smarter not harder: Not how much has IT saved per unit, how much benefit has it produced per unit•IT managers can too easily focus on efficiency rather than productivity and heavy IT systems rather than light and agile

•IT directors often not good at communicating benefits of IT , it's not all about cutting costs.

•Many IT orgs can be described as follows: great landing, wrong airport
 That's probably enough from Dave......

The final plenary session was Prof. Peter Cochrane who, as ever, was stimulating, controversial and sent you away thinking hard about a number of your previously held preconceptions.

To see more about him, visit his site, but two things got me thinking.

He started talking about 'wicked problems' and we all thought he was joking, especially when he referred to IT as a wicked problem....for more on wicked problems see here, then apply it to IT

And to finish, a great quote from a Chief Exec:

'infrastructure is everything just below the things I really care about'

All in all a very good day with loads of ideas and thought stimulation to bring back with me.
Here we are, and very pleased to be here:

And, if you're not squeamish you really must visit the museum at the Royal College.....

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A mixed bag of a week....

It’s been a pretty hectic couple of weeks so have not updated the blog as I should......last week began with the funeral of a very well known and popular Socitm member and stalwart of the events organising group. These occasions are always times for reflection and for assessing one’s perspectives and priorities. It was then up to Durham for a meeting with the Delivery Management group. There is a great mix of people from across central and local service delivery organisations and always good to talk informally with Martin Bellamy about the progress of ‘Cloud’. I always like this group because it begins with a social occasion – a meal and drink or two – and is always really practical, down to earth and at the level of ‘OK we’ve heard the strategy, and had the discussion, but how are we actually going to deliver something?’ They are the sort of discussions that are invaluable for future planning and activity. Unfortunately I could only attend the social part of what was only the prelude to a full day of discussion as I had to travel to London – a 5am start (thought I’d drop that in) for our Membership Board.

The board was, as always, stimulating – and I am being serious – as we put some of the final touches to our proposed new ‘accredited’ membership grades. These proposals will be going before the AGM on April 22nd which forms part of our National (Spring) Event – if you are a member of Socitm please do have your say. One of the issues that we are aware of and which we will be addressing is that as we broaden our membership, our traditional base of senior managers and CIO’s may appear or be perceived to be diminishing in importance or indeed focus. The concept of ‘networks & communities’ that is being developed will provide networks based on areas of common interest, common issues and may be based upon sector, job role, specific technical areas and so on. We are working on a number of such communities at present, one of which is focussed upon our senior members and support of that particular community. Following this meeting, and in many ways not unrelated, I met with Karl Grundy and Vicky Sargent to discuss future developments around our communications and marketing activity – something we have long known requires a more detailed focus. The following day, Thursday 11th, I was at Northampton with David Goddard, our Head of Systems and Corporate Services, to assess progress on our newly launched web site and to prioritise the outstanding issues. Among other things we were discussing the (then) imminent go live of our online sales and retail module (now live) and the re-programming of our online members data base so that it can be sorted in ways that actually make sense. It was a significant meeting in terms of progress towards a more fully integrated front / back office, a road that we are, at least, now travelling.

Just to address a question that i get asked a lot “Why is the site beta?”

There are some significant elements of functionality in terms of integration , business logic and intelligence that may well not be up to multi national trading organisation standards but , from our perspective, is certainly new, challenging and as yet incomplete....so it is still beta.

A rush down from Northampton to London to meet with Dave Briggs from Learning Pool (@davebriggs if you are on twitter) Always a pleasure, always stimulating and I think we have found a way for our respective organisations to move forward together in a number of areas which I am looking forward to getting stuck into. Well that was last week...trying to get up to speed with this week now......

And here is something you may want to consider.....

Monday, 8 March 2010

Cyber war and Tory ICT plans (not necessarily connected)

I realise that our more 'spooky' colleagues will be only too aware of the threat from cyber attacks, and indeed being of the disposition they are will probably read this article and say "this doesn't even scratch the surface", although it is quite alarming enough for the rest of us...

One of the numerous fascinating statements and facts , apart from the 1.6 Billion attackes per month on US government systems (that's about 90 attacks every second of every day!) is that 'there is no effective response to counter malicious attacks'. Assuming we can find out who it is - it's China - (although they obviously categorically deny it, so we must be wrong!) the reasons for why there is no effective response could be very interesting. On the 'raiding of secrets level' it could of course be because we have lots of info the want but they have 'nowt worth anything to us' - unlikely I would think. Perhaps our technology isn't up to penetrating their systems - equally unlikely. Perhaps it is because ny measure that may be effective in preventing them hacking would need to be on some other politically sensitive level - such as some sort of sanctions on technology, trade, finance etc - but that would be tantamount to cutting of the proverbial nose or the bullet in one's own foot scenario. so maybe there are measures that could be effective in stopping the cyber attackes but would be so detrimental in other areas that the balance of risk dictates that the attacks should continue and we will keep shouting about how there is nothing we can do...but be doing something anyway? I'm beginning to understand why the spooks need to be spooky. Interesting artical though.

According to PublicTechnology net the Tories have plans, for ICT that is, and they are likely to bring fresh challenges as the frocusmoves away from 'big ticket' high risk projects and adopt a more 'small is beautiful' approach. This, for Socitm, is not a party political point as it is an approach we have been advocating in much of our thinking on 'Tomorrow's publiic services' and about which we will have more to say irrespective of the outcome of the general election. See more on Socitm's developing key policy areas 'here'

Better Connected, Cabinet Office, good financial advice and R Buckminster Fuller

I cannot begin an account of last week without reference to the fact that 8am on Monday saw the launch of Better Connected 2010. This meant that the weekend was not without some tension and a little lost sleep.

I was in the Socitm Office last year for the launch of BC09 and it was genuinely manic. From 8 am there were phone calls - a lot of them, from people who could not access the material for a whole variety of reasons. This year, as you surely know, we have the recently launched new website....and all the questions around how it would cope. Unlike previous years where we really were constrained by our technology and had to send the same single password out to all Insight subscribers (and only one contact in each organisation received the password......)the new site has intelligent individual authenticated logon so we really do know who you are and where you work and if you have subscribed etc etc....so in theory the system would just let you have it if you had permission to access it and it wouldn't if you didn't. And it worked as we started the day averaging 700 downloads per hour, with very few phone calls. So all in all it was well done the central team who set up the site, turned up early on Monday and made it happen. More on BC10 here

Perhaps a word or two on the new web site, which, by the way, is now fully integrated into our back office CRM system. It has come in for a little criticism following its launch but by and large it is streets ahead of what we had previously in terms of functionality, capability and flexibility for the future. Of course it is not yet as we want it, but we are getting there and we very much appreciate your 'bearing with us' during this beta phase. For those who are not aware of quite how much infrastructure work has been going on within the Society over the last 18 months, we have in this period changed our hosting and e mail service provider without so much as a hiccup for end users, moved our domain to .net, sourced and moved to a totally new data centre, changed our technical support provider, procured and implemented totally new CRM (Gold Vision) and CMS (Jadu) systems and integrated them to each other and the finance system. I realise that many of our members do this kind of thing in their sleep but this has been achieved on a budget of less than £100 K for the systems and with 1 technical member of staff and one webby.... (and a lot of support from our partners) So, while its not perfect it has been a fantastic achievement and it is only the beginning of the process.

So, after that little diversion, it was good to start to the week, albeit unexpectedly, by travelling to London to sub for Martin Ferguson at a meeting in the Cabinet Office considering some of the requirements, opportunities and implications of 'future public service delivery'. Well, it was a little more than attending on his behalf; it was giving a presentation to the assembled group which outlined our take on 'Tomorrow's public services'.

Whilst not being able to report much of the detail of the meeting at this stage, it was refreshing in its honesty and the depth with which participants were prepared to share about the barriers and cultural issues that still exist, particularly, but not exclusively, between central and local government. These issues will be ignored at our peril and to the detriment of the quality and efficiency of future public services. However, there was also a genuine optimism based upon the opportunities we can all see in identifying and moving forward in a more collaborative and open way. Unlike many such meetings I have attended it was not just 'nice sounding words built on the foundations of zero intention'. There was genuine intention move us forward towards the goal of 100% digital delivery of all appropriate services. As we considered the notional concept of 'digital place' it was good to do so within a framework in which real people, real communities, real businesses and their needs were the drivers and in which digital issues had in mind real benefit for users not simply enforced migration to cheaper delivery channels (although in today's climate there is no escaping this factor).

One of the messages that Socitm is very eager to place at the forefront of people's thinking is that or better (not just more) for less. The introduction of a serious qualitative element is, for us, very important because in the public sector we do not and should not inhabit the warehouse festooned world driven by a particular "stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap" retail mentality. Nor for that matter should we flirt too closely with the budget airline philosophy which rather disingenuously seeks to bedazzle with 'good value' prices only to leave you paying and paying again for anything remotely resembling satisfactory quality. We did hear a rather amusing example (well, it would be amusing if it were not true) of a particular project (which will remain nameless) whose programme board decided to investigate to the nth degree a budget variance of £1M (which represented a relatively insignificant proportion of the total budget) and spent more than £1M conducting the 'inquisition'.... It would be wrong to finish on such a sceptical note as that would not at all give a fair representation of the meeting. Many of the discussions around subjects such as the Total Place pilots and 'Tell us once' certainly demonstrated that there is innovation happening, that there is both opportunity and maybe even emerging 'solid evidence' for a genuine 'paradigm shift' in our approach to public service delivery. Then it was off to Birmingham to meet with Glyn Evans over a pleasant meal at Chez Jules (recommend it if you are stuck for a place to eat in the middle of Brum).

On Tuesday I was at the next in a series of meetings with our Consulting business team during which we are looking at ways in which we can further and more effectively develop not only this particular area of our work but also how, as an organisation, we can operate in a more integrated and coherent way to produce better value for our members and more effective processes within our businesses....we are making progress. Next stop Lincoln, to meet with our finance director and finance manager in preparation for a meeting with our financial advisors Wright Vigar. I highly recommend them as purveyors of direct no nonesense financial advice - in plain English, now what more could you want? . We are in the process of forward planning, looking specifically at the governance and financial structures of the organisation over the next 36 - 48 months. There is a game plan..... and we are fast approaching the point where it will be sufficiently robust and coherent to take it outdoors......so to speak. The rest of the week (it is Wednesday evening and I am currently on a train northwards - that's the right way for those in any doubt) will be spent at home putting further detail around the outputs from some of these meetings.
And finally....this is a great quote (at least I think it is) and particularly relevant to what goes on in the name of 'progress' within some of the 'transformation' agenda.

If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday's fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem. -
R. Buckminster Fuller

Monday, 1 March 2010

Can the second time still be a one off experience?

Although I am not so presumptuous to assume a. that anybody will have read previous posts and b. that they will have remembered anything about them...here goes.  I posted recently about my experience with HMRC and their super call centre (please note a healthy dose of sarcasm .....) Well I realise that a bad experience can always be passed off as a one off - they were just having a bad day etc etc (although I have to say it was a very very bad day), but as the situation did not appear to have been resolved I had cause to call them again. So, full of hope and optimism, prepared to accept the 'one off bad day' line of thought regarding my first engagement I called them again.

It goes without saying that I had to  repeat absolutely everything from the previous call...at which point my readiness to believe that the last experience had actually been a 'one off' was rapidly dissapearing into the same ether that seems to be the location of HMRC customer records (because they certainly cannot be found in their new CRM system!). As the call progressed (with the first of 4 - yes 4 - members of HMRC staff on 3 seperate telephone numbers, more later) I was beginning to realise that my previous call had been a case study in efficiency by comparison.
Firstly, despite having given my national insurance number they seemed to have trouble locating me at all, let alone the actual status of any payments I have made or refunds I may be due. I was, at one point, beginning to doubt my own existence, or at best that it was a dream...a bad one. Eventually, presumably due to actually looking a little more closely at the screen, my existence insofar as HMRC was concerend, was at least acknowledged, although my entitlement to any refund, the same refund that HMRC had informed me about, in writing, the proof of which was in my hand as I spoke, was catagorically denied. And as far as the call center operator was concerend 'the computer said no', and that was that. Hmmm, maybe not - the now ever so familiar request was made, 'could I speak to somebody else please?' - I even suggested who I might speak to - the particular unit I eventually spoke to last time - who at least were able to tell me that I was (probably) due a refund. At this suggestion I was informed that there is no such unit and we then shuffled off into the surreal....I appeared to be asking to speak to a part of HMRC who, only a couple of weeks ago actually called me - but now have ceased to exist. The lovely fella on the other end of the phone then actually suggested (you'll love this) that I 'contact the police as I may be the victim of somebody trying to get money out of me by impersonating a non existent (according to him) HMRC unit. They phone me confirm confirm I am due a refund (which, admittedly, had not arrived) which is really a scam to get me to send them money...I was waiting for the guy to ask me if the HMRC staff had Nigerian accents!

I was duly given another number to call (not transferred.....) which I called...and repeated everything again, this time I asked why the system did not record any of this particular customer query, only to be told that 'we don't use the same system as the last person you spoke to and they don't talk to each other'. I was wishing I didn't have to talk to them either! I am not sure how they know they didn't use the same system as they didn't ask who I was talking to, I didn't tell them and as I had to dial a seperate number rather than be transferred they had no way of knowing...but I let that one pass. At least this person found me straight away...progress. They had a record of an amount being paid back to them from my employer...but denied the reality of the refund to which the letter from HMRC, which I had in my possesion, so clealry referred. They, I was told, have not sent me any letter, because it was not registered on 'the system'. Still feeling very 'zen' about the whole thing, and remaining remarkably calm, I asked to be put through to the non existent department, only to be told that, you guessed, it doesn't exist.

Anyway, just to get rid of me I think, they suggested I try another number (no transfer). I dialed the number and I must have entered the twilight zone because the non existent department answered the phone. They did ask me to repeat everything again because they were not on the same system as their colleagues! (actually they may have said 'in the same system' and been referring to the solar system).

This time - and this represented real progress - the fact that I was due a refund was readily acknowledged, although its whereabouts remained a mystery..so I was put through - actually transferred to another person. I assumed that the alternative universe in which the non existent, but increasingly promising, department operated had superior telephony technology. A very pleasant lady came on the line, requested my national insurance number (and that was all...) told me immediately that I was indeed due a refund, confirmed the amount, which corresponded exactly to the amount in the letter they did not send and informed me it sent sent on Feb 15th. Excellent...so where was it?  Ahh, she informed me....when I say 'sent' I mean it was approved internally at which point it began its progress through the process so I should receive it 'soon'. Knowing how to 'finish while the going was good' I thanked her and hung up, pinched myself to confirm my continued existence , was beamed back into the world of real, but relatively unhelpful departments and pondered the governments committment to NI14 - avoidance of unneccessary contact. So, although I am no statistician, I am guessing that these experiences were not one off, nor were they simply an unusually 'bad day' for HMRC and that others have had similarly interesting journeys through the new HMRC call center process....
However, applying for car tax online is a dream.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Are we clinging to piano lids?

Great quote (I think) - and particularly relevant to what goes on in the name of 'progress' within the so called 'transformation' agenda.
"If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday's fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem." - R. Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, 20 February 2010

A week of moving forward....

I knew this had to be a week of 'getting things done', by which I mean nailing some of the internal stuff that just didn't seem to want to go away.......This meant of couple of other external meetings needed to wait till later. One of the meetings I really didn't want to miss, but had to, was with Peter Tinson of UCISA (our oppo in higher education). However, I think he got a better deal because Ellen, our Head of Membership, stepped into what proved to be a very useful meeting. I will report more about this developing relationship as there is more news. We are quite excited about a number of relationships that we are developing with universities on a number of levels. I did manage to meet with NCC this week to discuss some interesting work they are doing around accreditation for IT departments...another space to watch!

Wednesday was our monthly commercial board meeting, which is rapidly becoming a focus for much activity. For those who are not aware, Socitm generates its own income to support and develop its membership programmes and services from a wide range of services, products and growing consultancy - see http://www.socitm.net/ Obviously the content of this meeting is for the most part confidential but suffice to say we are extremely encouraged by the opportunities we have and particularly the recent appointment of Karl Grundy as Head of Commercial.
If you are a supplier to the government or third sectors and are interested in knowing more about how the Society may be able to help you please contact Karl : karl.grundy@socitm.net . Following this meeting it was straight up to Leicester to meet with Jadu, our CMS partners, to plan out the next major phases of our new site - the transactional functionality....then back to London to meet with our FD in preparation for a meeting in Brum on Thursday with our new legal advisors, Anthony Collins Solicitors. Now I have to confess that, based on my experience with lawyers and legal advisors generally I have gained the impression that they always like to make an industry out of whatever issue you bring to them...possibly a little stereotypical, but that is my impression. What a pleasant and unexpected surpirse I got, a two hour meeting full of straight questions, straight answers and no nonesense advice..I'm looking forward to our next meeting. There is at least one other lawyer I have met who also fits that description... Simon from Sprecher Grier Halberstam  : see http://www.socitm.net/info/161/membership/17/benefits/2 . I had to rush away from this meeting - well pleased - to get back to London where we were having a meeting with our third sector colleagues to give details of the new Socitm Third Sector community . The meeting went extremely well with a welcome from William Hoyle of CTT and presenations on our new proposed membership structures from Ellen Jessett and an overview of Socitm Insight from Martin Greenwood. There was a really good level of participation and range of questions, which continued into the bar afterwards.

Unfortunately I had to leave early to get to the CIPFA Annual dinner at the Intercontinental...and that is where it all began to go wrong..I left London Bridge at 6 pm and by 8.20 pm I had still not reached Park Lane - in fact I was only just at Covent Garden. I had to give it up as a bad job because the meal started at 7.30. Having e mailed my profuse apologies I ended up in an Indian on my walk back from Covent Garden to my hotel. Still, in the big scheme of things a minor glich in an otherwise great week.

Remember the 'good ol' days? http://www.shoeboxblog.com/?p=15314

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

This isn't party political, nor is it maths, nor does it make any sense.....

There is a great article in the Times today, which although it focuses upon the Tories is probably symptomatic of most if not all current political parties. Part of the Conservative 'broken Britain' campaign is a document in which it is claimed that 54% (yes that's fifty four percent) of all girls in deprived areas become pregnant before they are 18....now that is  an unbelievably bad statistic.......unbelievable - which is good because it is not true, bad because they got the decimal point one place too far right. The real figure is 5.4% (five point four percent). It wouldn't be too bad if it was a typo, but it is repeated three times at different places in the paper. However, anyone can make a mistake, and when one does the best policy is probably just to admit to it and reassess the situation..but not the Tories. A Conservative spokesman insisted that the error made 'no difference at all' to the conclusions of the report. I cannot better the conclusion of the Times article to suh a statement: "A political case that is unaffected if you over state a statistic by a multiple of ten does not rest on evidence. It is a faith based initiative"  See the full article: http://bit.ly/ahRIqP . I can't wait to read their policy on the teaching of mathematics or one of their spokesman for the 'broken Britain' campaign bemoaning the current state of maths in this country. 

The notion of policy being more of a faith based initiative than anything based on real evidence has resonance whichever party you may be thinking of...although as we approach the election date I have no doubt this will not so much resemble faith based activity as it will pure fiction, at best , fantasy in many cases....or of course, in the case of some manifesto promises, 'wishful thinking' (for the hard of imagining that is a euphemism for lies). Am I being too hard on our elected representatives and their intentions? You be the judge - BUT, the people I meet who I have known when they were working in large government departments but are now working elsewhere (by choice,not having been 'fired'!) have so many tales that reinforce this picture , surely they can't all be liars, can they?