Fixing the Flaws in Government IT

The Institute for Government – situated in London in the elegant surroundings of Carlton Gardens – has recently published a report on Government Information Technology programmes. The starting point is to recognise the (total) inadequacy of these programmes so far, and to develop a new approach. The report was made by top government insiders, and so can be seen as authoritative.

I went to the launch the other week, which was packed out. I thought I might find some parallels between the lines on technology I have been pursuing in previous posts and the problems and solutions outlined in the report. The difficulties which project planners and government institutions have in managing the new technologies might be similar to those faced by regulators and law makers with data protection concerns, with the bonus that the technology issue would necessarily be addressed more directly by the former.

The report can be found on the Institute’s website, and it is worth taking a look at the Executive Summary. Here are some extracts:

“In the last decade we have witnessed extraordinary advances that have changed the way we interact with each other, consume media, work, shop and play. These were mostly in ways that were unpredictable.”

The theme of unpredictability is taken up again with some emphasis:

“Traditional linear IT approaches, like the V-model and Waterfall, assume that the world works in a rational and predictable fashion. Specifications are drawn up in advance, “solutions” are procured, and then delivery is managed against a pre-determined timetable. In reality, priorities change rapidly and technological development is increasingly unpredictable and non-linear.”

The challenge to rationality and predictability is, when you think about it, quite remarkable. The report proposes – as a response – what are called Agile Projects (adaptable and flexible) as a way of identifying and accepting the unpredictable when it arrives; and Platform, a shared government-wide approach that will, among other things, deliver common standards. There is an apparent tension between the need to recognise unpredictability while developing common and reasonably permanent standards.

This way of viewing the nature and effects of the new technologies, and developing appropriate responses, is stronger and more dramatic than, for instance, the way in which the Commission (on data protection matters) views these technologies – and note I am pointing to a source on the same organisational spectrum as the Commission.

So the report seems to be an interesting corroboration from an informed quarter of some of the themes I have been pursuing about the effects of the new ICT’s.

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