s01e02 weeknotes — SaaSsy

The grass is always greener

We finally shipped our defect reporting integration. Strong start to the week. Now we’ve got our beta out I’m pretty confident it meets all of the needs we discovered, though not in the most elegant way in places. But hey, iteration!

Focus shifted to another super contentious issue within the authority — grass cutting. This time of year when cutting season is upon us, there’s an enormous amount of interest both internally from members and in the real world with people around the county. The threshold to improvement was quite low as previously cutting dates have been displayed in PDFs, and not really updated in a timely fashion.

It’s turned out to be far more tricky than we’d imagined. Getting access to data is hard. Harder than it should be for such an asset. We’re data rich, access poor, which always slows down progress. I don’t know, but it feels like Tesco before dunnhumby or Amazon before the Bezos SOA mandate, something like that. The goal for this is to provide a clear visual representation of grass across the county, coupled with some useful contextual information like next cut date, the parish the patch is within and any issues reported.

The underlying driver for a lot of this work is demand management. It’s the response to diminishing budgets and reprioritisation of services, both focus and resource. Does that mean we should lower expectations, or reduce the value services provide? I’d argue the complete opposite. Let’s take the constraints and use them as levers to change the conversation, properly rethink our approach, be bold and make it happen. The irony of spending a ton of time thinking about making it happen though. @millsustwo would cry JFDI.

Back on topic — customer services are hammered throughout the grass cutting season, so we’re trying to provide a really useful tool to add clarity and transparency for people. The hypothesis is if you’re informed and have easy access to clear information, you’re less likely to need to pick up the phone, and as a user you’ll actually know where you stand. Makes sense. I spent some time helping the team by wading though data sets and spreadsheets to get them to a point where they’re useful for us. The season starts next week, so it will be touch and go whether we get something beyond the alpha out in time.

Throughout the week, the internal work on our intranet platform continued. We’re really trying to tighten up platform and struggling to get to grips with the inconsistent experience it provides. Software may be eating (or are we at ‘eaten’ now? Because mobile) the world, but bad software could blow it up at any minute. When SaaS gets SaaSsy. I had an interesting call with another (potential) product user, that was after a reference initially. It turned into a good discussion on strategy around internal tools, and it’s always interesting to see how other public sector orgs approach SaaS procurement. G-cloud is a tremendous effort in trying to add some rigour and standards to this stuff. It still seems like the majority of the time there’s either a big name with a monopoly on a niche use case or function, or a preferred supplier already in the wings though.

Elsewhere, I’ve been enjoying the Co-op design manual. Particularly the sketch file with all of their style assets. It’s really slick, and coupled with the static site gen tool they use makes prototyping really quick. I keep thinking about how much value these things add when they’re out in the open. Both externally, and also internally. There are times when I struggle to articulate our process and expectations — maybe we need more ‘artefacts’ like these.

One random observation that’s been bugging me for a while, and made more apparent as the new financial year hit. Our finance system indicates underspend in red and overspend in green. Backwards surely? I bet unknowingly there’s some behavioural economics at play here. Just seems really counter-intuitive to me and I can’t help but think someone at Oracle has come up with the perfect metaphor for the perception of public sector finance.

Outside of the work-work, I finally got around to deploying a new version of my personal site to production. Getting my head around react and its components lately so thought it would be a good idea to give gatsby.js a whirl. Still have a love-hate relationship with JavaScript. Gatsby added a good chunk of ‘love’ to that though. Really fast and flexible.

Also loving the export to Medium draft function in iA Writer. Will definitely help the weeknotes workflow.

Looking back on paper, it doesn’t feel like much happened — but it did, and I’m proud of the team for keeping things trucking forward.