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?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Tomorrow's public services and ICT strategies

Despite the 05:15 start on Monday morning, it was a great week.....

Monday was pretty full, and began with a meeting of our full 'management' team. This team includes the various heads of service, our business managers and marketing /PR and is very much the 'workhorse' of the Society in terms of getting stuff done. The remit of the group is broad and generally informal but focussed upon making the most of our combined resources to offer more effective service and support to our members. We looked at key messages from Insight and Consulting as well as the central policy themes and messages for the coming year. There are some interesting, if slightly worrying trends coming from our study of local authority web capability, but watch out for the launch of Better Connected on March 1st for more information on this.

We are continuing to develop our work on 'Tomorrow's (local) public services' and are focussing particularly on the links between this over arching policy and the Council of the Future work that is being developed and refined. Our National (spring) Conference on April 22 (https://www.socitm.net/events/event/87/ ) will pick up and further develop some of these themes. You can subscribe to an RSS feed and receive information about all Socitm Events
We also discussed some significant moves towards new membership and grading structures within the Society that will be a great step in our pursuit of professionalism. work continues on these and will be put before members at our AGM on April 22 (at the National Conference). We are continuing to develop a 'corporate membership offering' for both public / third and private sectors so watch this space for more news on these initiatives.

Talking of the Third Sector, Socitm has for some time now been developing its relationship with the third sector through our merger with CITRA (http://www.citra.org.uk/) and this week this particular alliance has been rebranded as Socitm Third Sector - see http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/it/news/content/6003/charity_it_alliance_announces_steering_group
There is a lot of important and exciting work going on within this sector and particularly our ability to speak with a common voice over issues of mutual concern (note our comments on the Government ICT Strategy coming up later .....)
With the start of our Head of Commercial, Karl Grundy, (karl.grundy@socitm.net ) comes a renewed focus on our supplier member community. As full members of the Society we acknowledge the different, but often overlapping, needs of this sector and are now actively developing new opportunities for engagement, partnerships and high value opportunities. Our Head of IA, Mark Brett, (mark.brett@socitm.gov.uk ) is very actively involved in many areas - but apparently he can't tell me what they are or he will have to kill me! Seriously, we, through Mark, are deeply involved with work in this increasingly important area on behalf of our membership. Security issues will feature 'large' in some key initiatives such as PSN and
G Cloud.
We have also published our response to the Government ICT Strategy this week and you can find it here
If you would like to subscribe to Socitm News feed click here
Following the managers meeting it was straight into a meeting with the Socitm Consulting management team to discuss our ongoing business development plans and particularly how we can develop our work across the Society in a less silo'd more integrated way. I am hopeful of real progress here.

Then it was straight to Waterloo for a workshop that was run with Socitm Consulting in conjunction with Cap Gemini looking at future service delivery. The event began with a meal somewhere near France (I think it was Weybridge!!) at which Andrew Stott shared the honours of speaking along with Pierre Hessler .

It was a good start to what turned out to be an excellent workshop the following day. We were hosted by Cap Gemini at their Woking HQ, in their ASE - Accelerated Solutions Environment and it was without doubt one of the most effective and productive workshop environments I have encountered. One of the many interesting areas we considered was that of ICT delivering real benefits out in the frontline service areas, the value of which, in terms of effectiveness AND savings generated was not realised within the core ICT function but, where it should be, at the front line. This is great - but only if there is a means to measure and attribute that value and ensure that the 'cut the ICT service to cut costs' brigade doesn't have its unsophisticated way. There will be opportunity to share the outputs with members very soon so I will keep people informed.

Returning to London I prepared for our Membership Board the following day. This turned out to be a very important meeting in which we made some great strides towards clarifying our new membership structures. The debate was stimulating and very beneficial. I believe it will, in the future, be viewed as one of the key milestones in our development as a professional organisation. At this meeting we also heard good news about our mentoring scheme and our ongoing work with the Cabinet Office and the GITP.

Read the full Socitm blog at: http://www.socitm.net/blog/socitmblog

And that, other than trying to deal with a staggering backlog of e mails, was pretty much that......now it's time for the weekend. to end on a light note, have you ever wondered how the stock market really works? See: http://www.burnabrain.com/how-stockmarket-works/

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Joined up government - at its best

Now as you may know, in my day job I have more than a passing interest in the way in which government does or does not live up to its claims....especially around service delivery..so here is the HMRC version of good service. Just this week, as it happens, I was told that HMRC have spent around £230M on call centres and that a punter...such as me only stands a 50% chance of getting through to them. I can't of course vouch for the accuracy of that statement but who would of thought that I would have the chance to test it out this very week.

I am, so it would seem, due a refund on my NI payments - having overpaid. Now this is a good thing, and because I have not yet received it my comments will certainly be more circumspect than they otherwise might.....

Anyway, the refund. I received the letter informing me of the good news and requesting that I filled here, ticked there, signed the bottom and returned post haste, which of course I did. A number of weeks have passed and I just wondered, in an idle moment, where it had got to. No problem, I thought, Directgov will steer me in the right direction......so I called the number given,....and I listened to the options, none of which fitted, so I pressed the obligatory last chance and last choice button, upon which I was passed to someone who would, I was assured, 'deal with me'!
I am sure it was their intention to do just that, but no, they were unable, at the HMRC, despite me giving them my NI number, to tell me anything about me, or my payments - under, over or otherwise. The result being that they decided I was speaking to the wrong people (you don't say) and that I needed another department....did they transfer me?  No, I had to write down the number and redial...which I did. It was engaged, for the next 2 hours, but like Robert the Bruce's spider I persevered, and got through. And, having given them my details again, and been put on hold, it transpired they could tell me something - but only that it was another area dealing with my claim, so they couldn't help me!. I asked if he meant somewhere overseas as the number I dialed was advertised as the national number so I could only assume my claim had been sent offshore...It went quiet....and I was expecting to be given another number to ring, but not this time, variety being the spice of life, I was told I couldn't ring another number, this other area (beginning to think it may be area 51) would ring me - presumably to deal with me! 

I have to say that all the staff were extremely pleasant and helpful in a 'we have poor processes but we will do the best we can' sort of way and probably resigned to the sounds of customer dissapointment as their (allegedly) £230 million pounds worth of technology cannot transfer the punter.

However, there is a moderately happy end to the story, as the most upbeat and chipper call centre person I have ever heard called me back within 10 minutes (that's the moderately happy bit) to tell me that they couldn't pay the refund.....yet, but that I was being dealt with by the exceptional case unit...As my now grown up kids would have once said - Dad, that's because you're special!!!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Socitm extends its scope and breadth and influence

In the light of my recent post in which I commented on my neccessary change of focus from external matters to the largely internal business of running a company it is worth reading my colleague, Martin Ferguson's, post on the Socitm blog: http://www.socitm.net/blog/socitmblog/post/26.

Under Martin's leadership of our policy work we are seeing the reach and influence of the Society extended far beyond our traditional areas and, more importantly, having significant input in those initiatives and policies that are going to define the shape of public services in the next decade and have such far reaching implications for our members.

Getting used to facing inward

In my previous role within the Society I got used to being seen around various bits of government and getting involved in policy and steering groups and all kinds of outward facing activity, but now it is very different.


However, as an aside, part of my old role, policy, has been taken up with energy and skill by Martin Ferguson, Head of Policy, who is steering it, and the Society, exactly where we have wanted to be. Martin is, so to speak 'putting himself about a bit' so much so that there are weeks when I am fairly sure he must have a clone as he appears to be speaking or meeting in at least two places simultaneously. If you would like to learn more about the Head of Policy role and its importance for our members at the coalface there is a great double page interview with Martin in this months GC magazine. To remain for a while on my detour, Martin is ably aided and abetted by Mark Brett, Head of Information Assurance, who seems to be equally committed to the quest of omnipresence. Mark will be at the CIPCOG event in York on Feb 24th and 25th so if any of our members are going and want to collar him, why not give him advance warning mailto:mark.brett@socitm.gov.uk


As I looked out from the beginning of last week it dawned in me just how much of my role involves attending internal meetings, getting into the details of running a company and very little getting out and about in government. That's not a complaint at all, as too many companies suffer for lack of attention to the running of them, it's just a difference to which you need to adjust. Tuesday saw me considering the details and implications of becoming a charity, something we have often considered in Socitm but which is certainly not yet the right course of action. I caught up for a one to one with Mark Brett on Wednesday morning, before going to the Insight steering group. The group is held at Seimens offices near the Old Bailey, for which we are incredibly grateful to Seimens as they are our regular hosts for a number of Socitm meetings. ( http://www.siemens.co.uk/entry/en/ )


It is going to be an exciting and fairly bumpy ride over the next few years right across the public sector but IT is still ideally, possibly uniquely, placed to enable the delivery of significant efficiency savings. There may well be a wave of pessimism, but those who focus upon the real business benefits that appropriate and properly implemented IT can deliver will reap rewards. The Insight programme, as with other initiatives across the Society will have more to say about these issues as the year progresses. As a Society we will be looking at the realities and issues around achieving 'better for less' (we are not too taken with 'more for less' as it contains no qualitative element) our overarching policy framework looking at 'Tomorrow's public services' will begin to examine future options and opportunities in the light of a better understanding about psn, G Cloud etc. Of course with our expanded corporate vision we also have a remit to consider the interests and requirements of members from the Third Sector who often get a pretty raw deal when it comes to national government initiatives. Their names are often scattered throughout a strategy document but with precious little practical detail so they can easily end up with the responsibility of service delivery without the resources or infrastructure that we may take for granted. We have a lively and growing Third Sector group from whom I am sure we will be hearing quite a lot.


After Insight I rushed up to 1 Alfred Place (quite a find, check it out: http://www.onealfredplace.co.uk/) to meet with a guy called Bill Wells (an introduction made on Twitter.....) who has a company called 2dot0.co.uk (www.2dot0.co.uk )and they have some phenomenally clever visual technology that can enhance and add value to any digitally streamed video...I was well impressed and will certainly be exploring this further. I am considering how it may be used in conjunction with Socitm TV (www.socitm.tv )Watch this space.........