Skip to main content

Increasingly meaningless

I should start this piece by saying I understand that the English language evolves and no doubt have also used terms incorrectly myself in the past. So consider this as a disclaimer that I know things change, and that there's also a touch of hypocrisy in me writing this.

I saw a few things this week that prompted me to write this piece, and one was this tweet


which neatly highlights the problem.

Another was watching a presentation from a well respected thought leader around government digital in which he said that "digital platforms aren't tech". I beg to differ. Take away the tech and see how far a digital platform gets you. See how these new ideas and service designs work without ones and zeroes.

I'm reminded of this spoof of "Utah Saints Unplugged"



Whilst digital platforms certainly aren't all about tech, and tech should be an enabler rather than a driver, we are redesigning things around what tech now allows us to do, so tech shouldn't be forgotten or downplayed.

Mind you, the speaker also said that re-designing government around digital was a "once in a lifetime opportunity" which fundamentally misunderstands that digital design isn't a one off, it's an iterative process that evolves as both user needs and the tech that could be used to meet them does too. When I see people questioning that the Government Digital Service (GDS) are looking at rebuilding bits of GOV.UK
I say good on GDS. Three years is a long time in tech and they're a different organisation to the one that originally built GOV.UK. They should be looking at their core offering and considering how they could do it better, every organisation should.

The tipping point this week was when I saw someone write that "Open source is not really about the tech". Yes it is. The term was coined to describe making the source code of something open and usable by everyone.

So why's this happening?

Well at best it's a misunderstanding of the terms being used and at worst an attempt by some to jump on the digital bandwagon to sell their wares. Think "technical sales" in IT. A generalisation I know, but these are often people with a little bit of tech knowledge and a slick line in sales patter trotting out buzzwords to flog something.

So what's the problem with this, surely no one owns these terms and they can be used as seen fit? Yes that's true, and as I said at the start language evolves, but terms like "digital platform" and "open source" are now being used to define an increasingly different array of concepts and products so much so that they're becoming meaningless.

Ultimately this harms the process of producing better, cheaper, user centred services because no one knows what anyone talking about any more, and we're starting to see the same old stuff being re-sold with a shiny new "digital" badge.

So next time you hear "digital platform" or "open source" think about what it's being used to describe and the motives of the person using it. Are they doing so to promote better, cheaper, user centred services through the use of tech, or to flog a product or their own services which just offer a passing nod to enabling tech to meet user needs.

Thanks for reading; my book and speaking tour on enabling digital transformation by engaging communities with open source thinking will be available soon. ;-)

Popular posts from this blog

Digital best practice checklist

This week I finished the draft of a digital best practice check-list. It's not digital strategy, in fact I'm increasingly thinking organisations don't need a digital strategy, they need a delivery strategy.

My draft has check-list of seven questions and recommendations, with one overall recommendation regarding best practice for delivering digital. Ideally it would be incorporated into a wider service and information delivery strategy.

Below I've omitted the bulk of the content, the reasoning behind arriving at the recommendation from the question because it's still in draft, but here are the seven questions and eight recommendations:

1. Is the council properly promoting its digital services and content, to reduce avoidable contact?

Recommendation: Establish a “digital first” ethos to the promotion of services and better targeting what, when and where they're promoted.

2. Are the digital services the council offers, especially where the design and development ha…

Pipeline Alpha

In September 2014, officers from 25 councils met in Guildford to discuss a platform to enable collaboration across Local Government. A "Kickstarter for local government" is the missing part to Makers Project Teams, a concept to enable collaborative working across different organisations put forward by LGMakers the design and development strand of LocalGov Digital.

Based on the user needs captured at the event, LGMakers created collaboration platform Pipeline and by October people from over 50 councils had signed up. Pipeline is an Alpha, a prototype set up to evaluate how a Kickstarter for councils might work. It is a working site though, and is being used as the platform it is eventually intended to be, at present without some of finer features a live offer might have.

So what have I've learnt in the eight months since we launched Pipeline?

There's a strong desire to collaborate 

LocalGov Digital isn't a funded programme. I wrote about how much it LocalGov Digita…

Defining transformation to a wider audience

For the past month I've been putting together a paper on the next steps of digital transformation, for the organisation I work for. I'm proposing we look at two capabilities and two business areas, and if approved I'll be writing more about it.

It's been a great exercise in gathering my thoughts and helping me to define digital transformation to a wider audience and how it fits into the bigger picture of service improvement.

Here's some of the stuff I've learnt or had affirmed:
Transformation, digital or not, starts with understanding the needs of the user through research. This should be obvious, but in local government too often I've seen "build it and they will come" approach applied.

It's unlikely a commercial operation would launch a new product without first researching the market, so why would a digital service be any difference?
A couple of years ago I wrote how the phrase "digital transformation" was hindering digital transf…

Superfast highways

You may have seen this slide I put together to help explain digital transformation

This week we launched a new beta service to report speeding traffic. It looks fairly simple but to give you an idea of what's happening in the background I thought it might be useful to show you the before and after.

So here's the before

and as you can see it's completely a manual process. Stuff might be recorded electronically but it takes someone to do something seven time to make the process work and send it to the parish or the district.

Here's the after

What this doesn't tell you is that it's basing whether the request is for the parish or district on three questions. It's also doing a spatial look up to find the parish and returning the parish clerk details using the Modern.Gov API.

Because these are already part of our platform this is data that we currently maintain, so there's no additional work to keep this up to date and we've reduced the human interactio…

Carl's Conundrum of Internal Influence

I'm writing this partly as a reply to an excellent piece that Carl Haggerty published about the disconnect between internal and external influence and partly due to various conversations over the past month about how to make using tools like collaboration platform Pipeline common practice.

This isn't really about Carl though, or Devon County Council, or any other council specifically, it's more a comment on the influence of digital teams in local governments, or lack of, and how to resolve this.

So here's the question that prompted this piece. How can someone who's been recognised nationally for their work, first by winning the Guardian's Leadership Excellent Award and who has more recently been placed in the top 100 of the Local Government Chronicle's most influential people in local government, "sometimes feel rather isolated and disconnected to the power and influence internally".

First, let's consider whether is this a problem to unique t…