This week I attended the Intellect Cloud Computing Conference in London. Among the keynote speakers was Chris Chant, Director of DirectGov and Digital Engagement, Cabinet Office and acting CEO for digital; A role described by ComputerWeekly.com as having “absolute authority over the user experience across government online services and the power to direct all <central> government online spending”.
Among the topics was G-Cloud – a significant part of the UK Government ICT Strategy1.
I've listened to a few government IT/CIO speakers but Chris is different. Very different! For a start he was sitting down, not wearing a suit and, (and this is absolutely true) didn't use any slides! He delivered a fascinating insight into government IT planning from some notes on his iPad.
Chris comes across as very down to earth and pragmatic. I’d sum up my impression of him as being ‘from the school of common sense’. During a refreshingly honest assessment of past and current government IT management practices, including some very positive views on what the future could look like for government IT services, I picked up some gems of advice that I think warranted repeating...
In no particular order:
1. A user focus can lower costs: Chris highlighted how major IT projects are often planned with the organisations needs and aspirations in mind and only at the last minute is an attempt made to align with the users’ needs. Result? A poor user experience. He advocates that planning should focus on user experience first and foremost. It sounds very laudable. There is a simple logic; happy users get on better with the system, are more productive and generate fewer support calls and change requests. Hence a user focus results in lower costs.
2. Agility plays a role in reducing cost: The Open Public Services White Paper2 encourages the instigation of services nearer to the point of use, such as the local authority. As a result, services are likely to be better suited to the business needs. By ensuring a common service platform (such as G-cloud) on which to deliver these services, other authorities can leverage good ideas - a kind of Darwinian survival of the fittest meets AppStore.
3. Measure output, not activity: Too much focus has been paid in the past to preventing access to social media at work on the premise of maintaining productivity. The reality is that we live in a online, socially aware world and people increasingly use social media as a natural means of communicating and running their lives. Obviously there are security implications that need to be taken into account, in terms of content management for example, but in general it is better to embrace such behaviour and measure peoples’ output, not peoples’ activity.
All in all I was very encouraged by his perspective and his aspirations for G-cloud in particular, for government ICT as a whole and ultimately for how the taxpayer can be better served.
The above are just 3 points I took away from the many insights Chris gave. I apologize to Chris if I've not done his talk justice.
He does of course have a right of reply :-)
Chris, I'd welcome your comments...
Head of Cloud Services Solutions Marketing, EMEA
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