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IT Directions

Keith Harrison-Broninski

A new generation of IT in UK government

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In the last few weeks I have been approached by several different UK government projects - all large-scale initiatives intended to reform a major aspect of service delivery. A common theme is integration, either between regional organizations or between disparate types of service provision.

From these discussions, it seems that things have improved somewhat since the early days of what the UK used optimistically to call "eGov". I remember working with UK government organizations a few years ago, and thinking they had been placed in an almost impossible position. Those in the inner circles of central government responsible for "doing something about the Internet" had clearly decided that the safest approach with regard to covering their own backs was to assemble a list of every three-letter acronym that appeared to be currently in vogue, then issue this list to all government departments and agencies as a "recommendation".

As a result, the many individuals in receipt of this list found themselves effectively charged with delivering something of unknown behaviour, but that conformed to at least 25 emerging, overlapping and often inconsistent technologies and standards. Money was being thrown at them, but what they were supposed to do with it was anyone's guess. It was a true Alice in Wonderland situation that could only arise in government circles.

Now people at least have clearly defined goals. However, I suspect that the problems ahead have become harder not easier. At least back then the situation was so obviously ridiculous that no-one could be blamed, whatever they did in response. Now there is the expectation that concrete results will emerge in a controlled fashion, yet the core problems that beset any large-scale integration endeavour have not gone away.

New systems mean new processes, both for doing work and for organizing it. Further, new processes have strategic and tactical dimensions as well as operational ones.

In a government scenario, many if not most such processes make heavy use of humans as participants - there is generally not as much potential for automation as one finds in a commercial setting focused around trade. Hence process analysis and re-engineering must cater for human needs - in particular, the humans involved need to explain what they do now, and see that their explanation is fully recognized in the proposed solution. Further, if the project is to succeed, they need to buy into this solution - which means empowering them to feel a valued part of it.

Yet the techniques for process mapping have largely not moved on for many years. As has always been the case, requirements modelling techniques are often applied piecemeal, not systematically integrated with development work, and (here's the crunch) suitable more for the design of mostly automated software systems than for the design of systems to support collaborative human activity.


It will be interesting to see to what extent those involved in the current crop of UK government projects take this to heart, and adopt Human Interaction Management principles to structure their requirements analysis and process implementation. Unless they do, the IT press may well be able to enjoy reporting yet another bunch of major IT failures in a few years from now.

Keith Harrison-Broninski cuts through the hype in his hands-on guide to where enterprise IT is really going

Keith Harrison-Broninski

Keith Harrison-Broninski is a researcher, writer, keynote speaker, software architect and consultant working at the forefront of the IT and business worlds.


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