Bad tempered blog – the bad business case

I read this article last week and it irritated me enough to make me curse out loud whilst sat in one of our German offices, causing consternation amongst my Teutonic colleagues.

It reports on a speech given by a bloke who works for a company that spells its name funny (starts with small letters, capitals in the wrong places, my English teacher would have fainted at such grammatical terrorism), who was reported as saying something like ‘councils don’t have websites, they ARE websites’. He points to Amazon, identifying that the global retailer of ‘just-about-everything’ employs more people in the warehouse alone than most councils, yet most people only think of Amazon as a website, not a huge workforce of people in beige warehouse coats.

It is hard to describe just how damaging this sort of rubbish is. But I’m going to have a go anyway.

The Council website is a means of communication and purveyor of some transactional tasks. It does not protect vulnerable children. It does not ensure little old ladies get their meals. It does not work out why mortality rates are different on one side of a city compared to another. It may help out, but it’s by no means the sole solution, and frankly, if it goes down, the aforementioned services take precedence.

Putting your Council on an App (an idea I have heard floated) so people can instantaneously report a damaged wheelie bin is a ludicrous idea, because the App will get used a few times and then deleted. Most people interact as little as possible with their local authorities because, frankly, they are doing other more interesting things.

The point I’m trying to make is that ICT departments can enable change, can reduce costs, and can help make staff mobile and more productive. But let’s get some perspective here. The business case for ICT spend is always, always, always about reducing costs or improving service delivery. It can’t replace vital services and staff relied upon by vulnerable members of the community. Some perspective is called for when making grand sweeping statements, and care taken when setting expectations.

The final point I noted is that the chap talking at this conference got a rousing response. Of course he did. He was talking to the people that run the websites. They were who attended the conference, because that was what the conference was about. I wonder if he had delivered the speech to a load of Chief Execs, they would have given him the same rousing reception, or instead been as rude as those funny looking business types off Dragons Den? Preaching to the crowd achieves nothing. Go down to any house of religion and tell them how much their God loves them and you will be very popular. Send Richard Dawkins down and you have a much more thought provoking discussion.

Doesn’t matter who’s right on these topics, I’m just saying that telling people what they want to hear isn’t good enough. At a time like this we need to be challenging assumptions at every turn, not getting silly about business cases.

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About Graeme Stewart, McAfee

I work for McAfee as Director of Public Sector Strategy and Relations, UK&I
This entry was posted in Efficiency, Government App Store, Government ICT strategy, Govt ICT Strategy, Information Security, InfoSec and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Bad tempered blog – the bad business case

  1. Hello Graeme,
    Sorry to hear Tom’s piece made you splutter! Nonetheless, it’s interesting to read your counterpoint.

    First, it might be worth pointing out that Tom has written a blog post which may offer a slightly more cogent version that the transcript you saw: http://www.mysociety.org/2012/07/18/governments-dont-have-websites-governments-are-websites/

    The underlying point is really that citizens are, more and more, coming to expect to interact with their services – public and otherwise – online. And that if your online services aren’t up to scratch, that matters these days. If you are providing excellence in other areas, you need to care about excellence in how they are represented, and in some cases delivered, online.

    mySociety (silly name, yes, hands up on that one) has a track record of creating online tools and mobile apps that allow users to interact with their representatives, and contrary to your predictions, they are much used. Our FixMyStreet site, which works on desktop or mobile, for example, has been running since 2007 and has been used to report over 250,000 street problems (such as potholes and graffiti) to the local council. We believe its take-up is a reflection of how easy it is to use – and of the fact that citizens do have a desire to interact with their local authorities, once they know how to, and once the bar to doing so is lowered.

    • Hi there

      Always welcome a chance to debate my views with someone! I don’t claim to right (well, not all the time), just trying to stir some common sense into the mixture

      My points were solely based upon the premise of bad business cases, which is something that the public sector does a lot of. ICT for ICTs sake is not good enough. I’ve seen too many projects which picked up the eGovernment, digital by default and other such monikers as their raison d’etre and now, more than ever, scrutiny needs to be paid.

      There is a danger we over egg the importance of the Internet in local Government. It is a tool for communication, nothing more. it’s an important tool I agree, and has facilitated the reduction of costs in a dramatic way, but care needs to be taken when describing it as driving some sort of revelatory change. I’d even go so far as to say that in some parts of the UK, it’s of secondary importance. Areas of low average literacy, low connectivity or multiple-ethnic, multi-language centres need the focus, not citizens that are already connected and web savvy. And yet these areas are less likely to see the benefit of the website since by their nature, their issues are complex and can’t be dealt with by clicks and electronic form filling.

      I should say I applaud the work you do – I’m chair of intellect’s local gov suppliers group and I have seen great examples of your work. I’m just sceptical that you’ve extrapolated too far here and given the website a credence and a position it does not warrant

      All the best

      Graeme

    • Chris F says:

      “The underlying point is really that citizens are, more and more, coming to expect to interact with their services – public and otherwise – online”

      In my view in a job spanning over 8 years in IT and meeting real people who actually have real issues and need to engage on these issues with thier local council, and other service providers, there is a VERY significant section of our society who do not wish or are unable to engage online but are in fact forced to. Placing any service online requires great skill. To be able to produce an online service smart enough for the techy mainstream and yet simple enough for the very many “IT challenged” we still (and will always have) is were the real skill is.

      It’s not about putting a service online, we are well past that, it’s about putting it online in ways which meets what society wants and needs and not we we think they need.

      Many of us so called IT literate types often say “customer this” and “customer that” but very few of us actually meet any of them.

      Chris

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