Signal in the Noise — Open Standards, Government and Public Cloud adoption — What’s Going Wrong?

There has been so much progress in the last 5 or so years around the whole topic of Digital and Government services. Agile, users needs, open document formats, a disagregated supply chain and lots more.

But one aspect of Government and technology still leaves me baffled. All the available evidence and anecdotes suggest that one of the differentiators of organisations that flourish in the Digital Economy is speed. Speed to ship, speed to market, speed to meet new customer requirements, speed to react to events speed to learn through doing not theorising etc. etc.

And in order to to move fast you need to use the right sort of technology platforms, and in most cases those platforms are going to be public cloud platforms. Whether it is to spin up new services on AWS and Azure or to manage customer relationships in Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics Online or to allow the workforce to share unstructured data easily in Box, Dropbox or Google — the speed required to thrive in the Digital Economy can’t be acheived on either legacy software or through building everything, bespoke from the ground up locally (although there is a place for that too).

But with a few notable exceptions the adoption of what I define as public cloud in UK public sector is almost non-existent. There’s a bit of Google Apps and O365 going on but that should just be a given by now. Also, some services have been built on special, built for UK government secure clouds and there is plenty of hosting dressed up as cloud but very little — “lets completely transform our business model, citizen experience and use of data through exploiting the crap out of these (relatively) fast, modular and open commercially available platforms.”

Is it because government departments and agencies are still locked into their bonkers outsourced contracts for a few more years? Is it, increasingly anachronistic, fears over data residency and security. Is it the inertia of CIOs and the self interest of their teams? Is it a lack of capability to know what is possible and therefore where to start?

With some of the platforms we use at Methods Digital I hear objections such as — “its not “open””, “its proprietary”, “we’ll be locked in”, “its not open source”. But no one seems to actually be operating to any defined standards and principles about software choices and related data standards. And these terms are thrown around casually with little challenge.

Of course I don’t mind people not agreeing with our opinion on what the right tool is to meet a particular capability — that’s their call — but its frustrating when you see the whole sector slipping back and you can’t get a clear view of what objection is.

So I thought I would have a look around online and see if can find the webpage which sets out the software, architecture and data standards that Government buyers of technology should be applying when making decisions. To me it is a very confused picture. I can find a fair bit about document standards and web standards and some of the more techie stuff is written very much from the perspective that everything is going to be built as opposed to consumed.

I have Government depts waiting to deliver transformation through some of these platforms but they are not sure whether they are able to or not — can anyone shed any light on this? I am missing something — maybe there is a page where this is laid out? Or maybe this is work in progress? I would be genuinely grateful for pointers from anyone that might know.

So far I have found the following. Which have some great stuff in them — but is there anywhere that pulls it altogether to help departments make smart decisions, quickly?

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