Agile and Future Governments


There are two bits of the UK Government that have shown clear beneficial results from a wholescale embrace of agile methods: the Goverment Digital Service and GCHQ. Both are technically focussed organisations (there are a large number of other differences).

GDS is dragging other departments, often kicking and screaming, into digital competency. GCHQ has had “pockets of competence” for a while, and we now know how that has played out in respect of the law. If “insanely arrogant” applies to most Whitehall departments, it certainly applies to the department that is gchq.

So how may that continue to develop over the next few years? Universal Credit is a debacle, and all of the blame is being put on technology and failure to deliver. What happens when GDS fixes a large chunk of that problem?

The next Parliament will see both the HMRC and DWP major contracts come to an end, and are likely be replaced in the GDS model. HMRC uses Oracle; DWP uses SAP. One (unstated, but apparently key) reason for the differnce, is to maintain fiefdoms, and ensure the departments couldn’t easily merge. A side effect is that, while DWP and HMRC each already have an entire copy of the other department’s data, they are strongly limited in practice with what they can do with it. GCHQ argues that collection only happens when someone looks at something, HMRC/DWP may have a similar view, but generally, they don’t have the processes to look at it.

As a long term solution, relying on organisational incompetence has never seemed wise. It will continue to decreasingly be a protection for vulnerable groups, as a wave of agile development sweeps across Whitehall departments. Agile is a tool, it is the decisions that get made about what that tool is used for that matter.

“Insanely arrogrant”.

There is an incentive for Whitehall to believe that a Whitehall intervention will fix everything; after all, “The road to Hull is paved with good intentions”.

How will those intentions play out over the next few governments? Depending on your perspective, with a prime minister of Miliband or Boris, maybe Farage or Lucas, or Osborne? No matter your preference, sometimes the other people win.

The incentives on Whitehall are likely to change several times, and any assumptions now about the government in 7 years are likely to be either widely varied or hugely inaccurate. We just don’t know, yet they will have responsive tools for delivery of those agenda.

To be effective in a modern world, Government will wish to be equipped with modern systems, capable of linking, with agile infrastructures. Those infrastructures will deliver political goals.

What does that mean in a world of linked identifiers? In a world where systems can be linked easily, and that past policy promises are no longer considered binding?

HMRC are already thinking this way. Their plans are somewhat scary.

We are already on the path to that world. How should it be constrained, in a way which is not at the whim of a transient policy decision?

Nov 2014
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