Gubbins of Government

Good news (and a caution) about "Government as a platform"

I wrote about my enthusiasm for the idea of "Government as a platform" in 2010 and again in 2013. It's (genuinely) great that Sir Jeremy Heywood - the recently-appointed head of the UK Civil Service - has just done the same in the post - More than just websites. He says...

We do not want to continue running government as a series of disjointed silos ... we are increasingly focusing on an idea called “Government as a platform“.

The idea of "Government as a Platform" is a huge thing that could fundamentally change the performance of Government. Necessarily, with this improvement would come an equally huge change in the shape of government (see the Gubbins of Government). There will be inertia: Sir Jeremy should not let the focus lapse.

Alpha-Beta-Live is not enough

For me, this picture of the Alpha-Beta-Live model for implementing a service is one of the enduring images of the government's 'digital transformation'. I see it presented often.

When do I see it, I often think that - although it works well for starting services up - it leaves much unsaid about what happens afterwards. I know it's not meant to; but I just think that.

Last month, I talked with some people managing a digital transformation in a government department and found they felt much the same. They needed a clear way to explain how their transformation would work at a macro scale; in particular to show how new services might mature and replace existing ones over time.

I thought and I came up with the picture at the foot of the post - which they liked. It combines two ideas from my past work:

First, a model of the future structure of government services - a transition from vertical silos to a horizontally-layered services-oriented structure - explained in my Gubbins of Government video and represented in this picture (by Paul Downey)...

Transition to the Gubbins model
Transition to the Gubbins model

Second, a capability maturity model - the 4Ex Model - that I developed for a digital change programme I worked on. This is a screenshot from a Prezi that explains it...

4Ex Model
4Ex Model

The 4Ex Model shows four stages of the maturity of a capability. These are linked to the current and future business benefit the capability creates. I named the stages: Experiment, Explore, Exploit and Exhaust according to the management/delivery culture appropriate to each. I put everything not yet delivering benefit (even though well developed technology might exist) in a box bluntly called Idea. This model was, for some years, the dominant concept of agile working in the department I developed it for.

Stealing an (excellent) idea from Simon Wardley, I put the Gubbins 'stack' on the y-axis and the 4Ex maturity scale on the x-axis; and (using Paul Downey's symbols) ended up with this diagram of the current state of progress...

Gubbins Transformation Model
Gubbins Transformation Model

I’ve not tried to beautify it. It is an incomplete and crude thought-in-progress but it meant something to those I shared it with. If you struggle with what I mean by it, take a look at the Gubbins and the 4Ex models.

Capabilities in each of the layers of the Gubbins model advance left to right, like chess men across a board, as they mature - each move being one or more Alpha-Beta-Live-like cycles.

The exemplars are in the Idea and Experiment ranks. Although the services work well, the organisation has still to learn from and adapt around them. It is as much a reflection of the 'digital maturity' of the department as of the services themselves.

The Alpha-Beta-Live model is used across government and is a great way to envisage a single service implementation. There is also a need for a simple, commonly-accepted macro-level view of the state of progress of a particular transformation. Maybe this is the beginnings of one.

I'd be interested to hear what you think.

Video - The future of local government services

A new video... The future of local government services

It was made with Anthony Kemp of London Borough of Hounslow and Mark Thompson of Methods to support an event - called "#HashHounslow" - which was a discussion between local and central government managers about shifting to more customer-centric services using cloud technologies. See the Computer Weekly write-up.


Right! Here we go: 4 minutes on future of local government services

Meet Martin Gaffer, Chief Executive, Citytown Council.

He and his team have been jolly busy lately. “Gosh we’ve been jolly busy lately”, says Martin

And they have been. Councils have been working hard to improve services. But this is a slog. Technology is a big part of the problem and frankly the council piggy bank has been taking a bit of a pasting.

I’ll explain Here is Citytown Council Delivering services to local people It’s one of hundreds in the country All doing the same kinds of things

Look inside Here’s are Citytown’s major services Housing, Children, Adults, Environment, Public Health

Let’s wind back to Environment... It is itself a collection of services, say: Development, Waste, Parks, Cleaning

In one way or another these all depend on technology Usually separate, proprietary technologies that are not very flexible and not easy to join up.

Looking at just one of these services. It’s made up of components... doing very similar things to the components of the other services. Things like Case Management, Mapping, Addresses, Payments and so on.

Usually only a small part is specific to the council’s own way of doing things.

Look at it all together. There’s quite a lot of costly stuff that could be more effective.

Now, Martin’s been thinking. Here’s a picture of Martin thinking.

What if were possible somehow to group the common tasks together. Putting all the red bits - lets say case management - one technology. Then the blue stuff - maybe mapping. Similarly with the green bits and the yellow bits.

Not only that, what if it were possible to group these, not just across a single council’s services but across all councils.

And perhaps we could find ways to put those specific, unique bits of the councils service together too.

So, this is where Martin’s Head of IT comes in. Meet Steve Techyman. Yes he does look a bit potty, but he knows his stuff; and he’s got good ideas.

“I think I know how to do this”, says Steve

And I think he’s right. It’s now becoming possible to access computing capabilities over the internet and to knit them together to create better services without many of the restrictions of traditional technology.

“Cloud”, shouts Steve

Which is quite a popular thing to shout nowadays. Many technology companies are getting involved. All of the big ones. lots of medium-sized ones and gazillions of small ones.

Together providing a rainbow of capabilities and funky new ways of doing things. At - much - lower - cost, than now.

Councils can package together whatever combination of these technologies they need Steve cos he’s a tech bloke, gives this a name - “platform”.

Whatever, the good thing is - this could make a huge difference for residents..

Here’s a Cynthia a Citytown resident.

Using Steve’s platform thingy the council can knit her just the services she needs

And knit different services for Cynthia’s son Cyril And also for Cyril’s mate Aziz And Aziz’s cousin Issi And Issi’s friend Lizzy And perhaps even knit a bobble hat for Steve

And there’s another thing... says Steve

This will change what council staff do. Because they will be less burdened with running the council machine and gluing its non-joined up bits together, they will be able to focus more on providing vital people-facing services that machines just can’t.

And there’s another another-thing... says Steve

This doesn’t have to be restricted to the council - It will be possible to knit in other services like... Health, Police, Charities, and Third Sector organisations

So… ...Councils all over the country could turn from deliverers of a standard set of services for all residents to providers of exactly what each resident needs.

All this enabled by new technology platforms made from bits of cloud.

OK. Hands up. All this does mean big changes in technology and in ways of working; and it certainly won’t happen overnight. But there are big prizes...

Better, more responsive, services, more openness, people more connected, increased growth, maybe even improved democracy.

Which is nice... Martin is showing signs of making friends with his piggbank. And steve’s so chuffed... he’s phoned his Mum

And that… as they say it

Video - How new technology will change the mechanics of government services

Lately, I have had some blank looks from Mrs Foden when I have been talking about my work, particularly about how new technology ('cloud' computing et al) will alter the workings of government. I thought I'd have a shot, with the able help of John McCubbin, at a simple explanation in this video... How new technology will change the mechanics of government services (in plainish English)

There was a positive reaction to it, including...

See other reactions from folk like Mike Bracken, Liam Maxwell in this Storify.

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