Naomi Klein Oil Spill - Guardian 19/06/2010 http://ping.fm/PtYj5

From the top

From the top



Image by art_ikon via Flickr
I realise that I am never going to fit into my work environment.
I don't think that I can blog about this impartially. But, perhaps, usefully?
Before the work, specific lets set the scene.
We have a government that wants to grow and promote the intellectual capital of this country.
How are we doing?
The answer is probably surprisingly well despite, not because of, the government.
This applies particularly to my field of IT.
Translating requirements into an application is one thing, but translating efficiently, creatively and offering true value for money is something entirely different.
It is quite clear that government has no criteria for the later, and therefore, no depth of understanding of the subtle consequences of decisions that ensue from contractual arrangements downwards.
Largely the government in their many IT endeavours are ensnared by large IT companies who make it their business to justify the highest possible costs over the short and medium term.
Because those companies cannot show net profits above around 5% in the public sector they find other ways to make money: the most common pattern is that of over complicating requirements gathering and elongating the length of time it takes to fulfil an item of work. Attendant patterns are non-cooperation with IT partners and back loading costs to non-IT ancillary services.
All of this comes about because the Civil Service is inattentive to contractual detail. They are undermanned and under skilled in their oversite roles. They also consistently chose large suppliers rather than a series of small suppliers, which means that they delegate structural organisation in a way that discourages competitive innovation.
Let's look at the consequences of this.
The government could be promoting exemplary projects, and it would be important if they did so.
Three truths:
IT is a fluid field with much to learn, new ways of doing things on every level of the project. Experimentation coupled with uncertainty is the norm. This is so much the case that it cannot be said that further experimentation necessarily increases risk (within some parameters). Experimentation, trying things where results are uncertain, can reduce risk.
This truth is fundamental to understanding good IT governance.
The second truth is that top-down governance is intrinsically flawed. The larger the pyramid the larger the mass of detail that is essentially unknown and, hence, contains hidden risk.
The third truth is that large pyramids are intrinsically unstable and dangerous when one needs to interact with another, at whatever level up or down the pyramid.



The long, flat base


Image via Wikipedia
Notice how pyramids, as such, are functionally useless and are not part of a modern construction repertoire, by which I do not mean pyramid-shaped buildings, but actual pyramids. But emblematic they are and rightfully so. Engineering is more about bridges, road and rail lines of communication and various sorts of buildings, depending on function.
Pyramids, though, are emblematic of human structures, not without reason. The repetitious work is greatest at the base, hardest higher up. Slavery is equal at any point. How many people had to be ground to dust to prevent the remaining one of two that were hidden their midst from also being ground to dust? Large companies are similar, unless they are very skilful in their people management.
This is the problem:-
The broader the base the more pointless and tedious each component task, because each task at the base withstands a huge amount of pressure from above.
This is not intelligent design.
The pyramid, itself, is not an intelligent structure. But even if it were a bridge there are trade-offs between one massive bridge and several small ones. For instance one massive bridge would never have worked as a solution for bridging the Thames in London.
But this is what government does with IT, completely unnecessarily given IT's flexible and scalable nature.
These solutions have three disastrous consequences.
They cannot be efficient solutions.
They cannot be optimum solutions because they squeeze creativity out of those at the bottom who must implements them.
They cannot be economically competitive because they distort the market and deprive smaller companies of opportunity. What competition there is is at the expense of the first two points and this is ultimately disastrous for any policy that is meant to promote intellectual capital in this country.


Project National Health - policy driven IT

Innovation
Image via Wikipedia
How can an IT project grow from 2.3 billion to over 12 and no-one question the manner by which the project is set up? I find it very odd that any country can engage in such a huge project in such a wasteful way. We know that government want to mitigate risk by risk transfer and that can only work if the company is sufficiently solid to bear the putative risk. At first sight this seems obvious and good business. However, look at the figures and imagine the cost of this risk mitigation. No sensible project would be underwritten to that degree. The reality is that large contractors revisit the risk on the government, just as the banks have. And the reason for this is poor, unimaginative management.
The NHS IT project has been an absolute disaster for the tax payer and for the IT industry in this country. For the former in terms of value for money and for the later in terms of boosting innovation and competitiveness. What I find very difficult to understand is how it is that a government can expound the virtues of intellectual capital and competitiveness on the one hand and act in such a crass and destructive manner on the other?
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The reality is that large contractors revisit the risk on the government, just as the banks have.
The dynamic is not the same as it is an absolute that the banks should not fail, but, in that this project is a flagship of government policy and the government does not want to be seen to fail, this project cannot fail. Except that, by any sensible measure, it already has failed.
Feed the insatiable appetite of large IT companies has decimated innovation that can only thrive in the competitive environment that is fostered by healthy small firms.
To understand all of this fundamental principals have to be revisited.
Definitions of intellectual labour need to be understood, especially in the context of IT engineering, something that government simply just does not get at all.
I shall lay some trails.
One of the strong motives to Open Source software is subversive, while the other is that of wishing not to have to repeat behind closed doors what may need to be done only once if the doors are open.

SemanticC: Open Contract http://ping.fm/xnWjM

Open Contract

Published on Friday, June 11th 2010. Edited by Rat Outzipape. tag

Cameron's Strategy of Open Government
I completely agree with David Cameron's strategy of opening up data including salaries in the Civil Service.
There is something about this that the Prime Minister cannot say, so I will say it on his behalf.
This policy is designed to tackle any hint of corruption.
This means there have been many hints of corruption and malpractice in dealings between the Civil Service and its suppliers. This also means that a Civil Service that once had an unequalled international reputation for propriety can no longer be fully trusted. That shoddy and sometimes shady business practice has gained the currency of acceptability in the corridors of power.
No moment of reflection is required to see how appalling this really is.
The Weapon of Open Data
Open data could prove the most powerful weapon ever unleashed in this arena because it naturally leads to requests for open contracts and open scrutiny of existing contracts, many of which now become non-legal due to breach.
The Integrity of the Incumbents
Beware of those to whom these contracts are let as they fight to the last for their revenue streams.
They will also fight to refute any impugning of their integrity.
On this last they are the most vulnerable.
They are vulnerable because, of all accusations, people do not like to be told that they are doing something wrong in a moral or reputational sense.
The Example of the Gulf Oil Spill
The BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill is an example of resistance to impugning a reputation made personal.
There is too much detail to describe the whole range of these distressing circumstances but just looking at the pressure President Obama is bringing to bear on the BP and the unfortunate comments of its Chief Executive, Tony Hayward is illustration enough.
The point is the way that responsibility is being redefined in the context of an environmental catastrophe.
Quite correctly, Obama is not letting responsibility be defined by business and legal rules, that is who owned the rig, for instance.
For the Whitehouse it is all BP's responsibility.
The Parallel with Government Supplier Contractual Relationships
In the dealings between government and its suppliers things are slightly more nuanced.
However the parallel that can be drawn is the environmental catastrophe as a metaphor for the excessive amount being spent, and therefore wasted, on IT with all of the very dire consequences of this (a sort of pollution in itself).
And, while there is no single entity like BP who is responsible, there is the collective arrangements between government and its suppliers where the responsible parties have not been able to take control of the forming and execution of the contracts they have entered into.
That is the moment of 'corruption', the moment that an undertaking is given by both sides that both sides know will not be adhered to and will always lead to a quiet life for the client and a 'get out of jail' (no real onerous penalties) for the contractor.
Benefits to the Government Contractual Party
While it is straight forward to see what benefit might be in this arrangement for the contractor it is more difficult to see the benefits for government.
Is my notion of corruption in this context too attenuated?
First of all I should say that I have come across pill sweeteners. The promise of board appointments on retirement, for instance.
I have also come across figure mangling, costs being lost or hidden and KPIs being redefined from their original contractual intent under the knowing eye of the most senior Civil Servant responsible for the contract.
But I don't think any of this, common though it maybe, is really the heart of what I would call corruption.
It may seem like these are the issues that must be pointed out and sorted out but they are a distraction from the real issue. That lies in the reluctance or inability of the customer to keep in view value for money.
The customer has immediately been compromised by the nature of the way in which contracts are written and awarded.
The Illusion of Tax Payer Benefit
My idea of corruption and what the benefit is for government is this: government enter into the illusion that while they are spending several times more than what a project should cost, extracted from them by dint of supplier lock-in, somehow this extra spend, so elaborately justified by the supplier, is value for money.
The corruption is the play of forces between very poorly written contracts that become impossible to be fulfilled in their specifics to the customer satisfaction, the monopoly to whom the contracts are offered and the exaggerated and often spurious benefits offered by suppliers that government accept as a substitute for the full contractual satisfaction.
The Open Contract Business Proposition
All of this sort of malpractice will become easy to detect, the first step to rooting this out, with what I am calling open contracts.
Much has been said about open source and open source in relation to government supply.
I no longer think that open source is the issue.
It is a weak business model to propose to take work already done and repackage it on the basis that only the repackaging will have to be paid, which is often what the open source proposition sounds like.
The strong business model is that there are optimum sized teams (in numbers and by value) to deal with the complex operation of 'repackaging' i.e. integration, which entails intimate knowledge of the possibilities of the proposed solution and the customer requirements.
The entire value is in how customer requirements are translated into a solution.
The Increased Market Share To SMEs
To understand the real value proposition we have to step back and look at the larger picture briefly. Total IT spending is £14 billion/year.
As I don't know I shall invent some further figures.
Half of this is software related and half of that could be fulfilled for a tenth of the cost (I believe this last figure).
This means available savings in software procurement run at about £3 billion/year.
Vince Cable has also said that 25% of all ICT procurement should be through SMBs, I take this to mean by value, although the statement I read was not clear. This is a tricky but important detail as SMBs should be bidding in at much lower cost for equivalent function points and bidding for much smaller contracts.
This should mean, if played fair, that even where the government does the most obvious thing to cut costs in ICT by simply cutting budgets (10%-20%?), the volume of work into SMBs is set to rise radically.
The first responsibility of SMBs here, then, is to ensure this is played fair.
The Attitude of Centralised Control
From the above we can see that the very large IT project spend has an appeal that rests in cultural attitudes to cost and control that include a belief in its effectiveness in providing value for money by various measures: meeting KPIs by the supplier and keeping management costs down in the customer.
This positive perception is compounded by a reluctance to have these perceptions challenged by a decentralised model.
The decentralised model fundamentally challenges the ethics of centralised control, and that rankles the most above all for administrators schooled and experienced in the centralised model so actively promoted by the last administration and the Troy administration preceding it.
It is far better to have this issue out in the open well acknowledged than to avoid it.
The Decentralised Model of Control
The decentralised model relies on forces inherent in the overall business process to ensure cost, quality and control as much as the specific monitoring of many contracts.
These are the forces of the market.
There is another way of explaining this.
It is a misunderstanding that large commissioning specifically in the field of software development is any less time consuming than managing several contracts with different suppliers.
It is just that here techniques would have to be adjusted. This is a difficult area as the natural response, and one that government is trying in some areas, is to introduce a technical provisioning layer in the form of another contractor. Unfortunately this will lead to the same problems that already exists where that contractor then becomes the large supplier.
Five Broad Principals of Integration
There are five broad principals that can be extracted from the integration of small projects that are entirely lost in large projects.
1. The First Law of Modularisation.
This should be established as a practice in the initial contract. If any dimension of the contract is anticipated to burst through a predefined ceiling it should be subject to competitive rebid. Each identifiable module must be built in such a way that it can be utilised painlessly by another module.
2. Customer requirements can be throttled back.
The most powerful incentive to this is the low bid placed by the supplier. By mutual understanding every contract should have an element of work on requirements thinning.
3. Software is never complete and there is a long tail which is first improvement then moving into maintenance.
Each of these issues must be dealt with very strictly. The First Law must be applied. More over there is a relationship between these three phases and the rate at which money is spent in any one period. Wise provision will curtail front loading thus increasing quality and expected life while decreasing cost over the initial period.
4. Components must be interoperable.
Processes of interoperability can be highlighted, captured and themselves become modules comprised of components. There is no longer any mystery about this art. It just needs to be applied consistently. No longer the £100 k price tag for changing a URL on a server! Or £10 million price tag on software when evaluated on function points should cost no more than £1 million, but is justified because it 'reuses or integrates' with an existing system!
Spreading costs more evenly as in 3., an approach that is only viable with small interoperable modules.
5. Processes must reflect the reality of software development.
As with 4. it must be recognised that there are orthogonal processes entailed by but not immediately apparent in a problem domain. These are primarily the unavailability of the needed or the expected, whether this be a URL or data. Modern applications dealing with LOD in a RESTful manner can ease this situation.
But it is crucial to understand the necessity of systematically identifying these processes.
It is this core knowledge that needs to be extracted from the few privileged suppliers for anything like a level playing field and fair chance of success.
The Open Contract
The Open Contract is a concept designed to facilitate the five points mentioned.
It extends to the divulgence of source code, what previously will be covered by Crown Copyright will now be made available under OS terms.
This is one of the most astonishing and forward looking commitments made by David Cameron, and yet there has been very little comment about it.
It behoves SME interested in open source to take this point up vigorously.
To release code as open source also implies a whole management process to bring this about dovetailing closely with the concept of Open Contract.
Here, it must be borne in mind the discipline that open source imposes on code repositories for any benefit to be derived from them that is far greater than that typical of code management in government projects. From the above, taking point 5., in particular, pressure must be mounted on Whitehall to divulge what has previously been treated with commercial confidentiality: contracts with suppliers.
To achieve this some compromise may have to be reached.
There is no doubt that existing contracts hold a wealth of detail as well as making commitments that, on scrutiny, may not have been fulfilled.
It is the possibility of the latter that may provide the leverage necessary for the former to be revealed sufficiently for SMEs to begin to formulate their own strategies in this market.
And then, with the Open Contract process in place, it remains a level playing field for all concerned. We know the Open Contract will prevent such practices as sweeteners whereby a price is bid low to gain a foothold and, preferably, lock in, on behalf of a supplier.
However, the issue remains of whether competitive advantage would be lost to the putative supplier making it unattractive for them to enter into the bidding process at all.
These are open issues.
For instance on what basis would such bids be assessed?
It is clear that the technical skills of one supplier will not necessarily be equivalent to an other. Success will surely be a function of the aptness of the proposed solution combined with the possibility of technical success within time and cost constraints.
How this is measured will prove crucial to the functioning of these innovations.
Finally
As more variety of technical solutions are being encouraged, each with the absolute constraint of interoperability in their context with other solutions, expect a flowering of diversity and innovation.

Bentham's Panopticon and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

The theory of Panoptical control: Bentham's Panopticon and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Harry Strub. 2006; Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences - Wiley InterScience http://ping.fm/NqPto

Diaspora Part Six - The Diaspora Vision

Adam Saltiel - SemanticC
Diaspora Part Six - The Diaspora Vision
Published on Tuesday, June 1st 2010. Edited by Rat Outzipape. Updated on Tuesday, June 1st 2010 at 7:56 PM.Recent Facebook changes, Has Anything Changed? I promissed that I would review the recent...
Published on Tuesday, June 1st 2010. Edited by Rat Outzipape. tag
info Updated on Tuesday, June 1st 2010 at 7:56 PM.
Recent Facebook changes, Has Anything Changed?
I promissed that I would review the recent changes to Facebook in the light of Diaspora as a Facebook alternative.
These are the most interesting articles that I have found about the changes to Facebook privacy settings.
Two are from the UK newspaper, The Guardian.
OK, I have my bias, but I did read other sources too.
Facebook: our hiccups on privacy
The first few comments are worth reading as well.
Facebook Privacy Settings Red Herring
This is a commercial blog post.
List Helpful Posts And Videos About Facebook Privacy Settings
10 Reasons Why Privacy Issues Won't Drive People Away from Facebook
The main points get repeated so I wont repeat them here.
My conclusion from reading these articles is that the near distant future is of more interest than the immediate effect of slight adjustments to the Facebook privacy control user WGUI.
The Crunch Question
What seems to be a crunch question is whether people in large numbers want an alternative and what sort.
There is a difference between creating a project that is Open Source that has the attention of a few thousand potential users to creating a viable and sustained alternative Social Networking medium.


Finding an Alternative Answer
There is another perspective to be had on this.
Social Networking is a medium that is evolving out of the substrate of the Internet.
The ease of use, including choice over exposure, association and privacy is increasingly going to become integral to the substrate of this medium. It is being built in.
This means that the Internet is evolving. As it does so its users will find many different ways of dealing with these issues.
In this regard all the articles I have read have been short sighted.


The Diaspora Vision
I think that the Diaspora team has this vision.
It maybe that there will be difficulties in finding how to pitch Diaspora, which parts work and which do not; difficulties in how users will adopt varous aspects of what it offers.
But finally Diaspora is part of this evolving Internet. How people come to think of the Web and use it will be influenced by the possibilities that Diaspora make available to users as it finds its own place in this evolution.


A Legislative Framework For The Decentralised World
Although the UK broadcasting model is informative, I doubt this model will be adopted by the Internet, in fact I think broadcasting in the UK is going to be subject to less control in the near future. Anyway, that model of control depends to a large extent on centralised authority, the very thing that the new Internet, Diaspora, will begin to dispell.
What I do think is that the means of delivering a new user experience will improve and that this will mean that the need for large social networking sites will change. To survive, they will have to offer something else to keep users interested.
They, too, will have to correspond with the new Internet.

Adam Saltiel


June 2010

Resources
1: Facebook: our hiccups on privacy
2: Facebook Privacy Settings Red Herring
3: List Helpful Posts And Videos About Facebook Privacy Settings
4: 10 Reasons Why Privacy Issues Won't Drive People Away from Facebook

Published on Tuesday, June 1st 2010. Edited by Rat Outzipape. tag

Recent Facebook changes, Has Anything Changed?
I promissed that I would review the recent changes to Facebook in the light of Diaspora as a Facebook alternative.
These are the most interesting articles that I have found about the changes to Facebook privacy settings.
Two are from the UK newspaper, The Guardian.
OK, I have my bias, but I did read other sources too.
Facebook: our hiccups on privacy
The first few comments are worth reading as well.
Facebook Privacy Settings Red Herring
This is a commercial blog post.
List Helpful Posts And Videos About Facebook Privacy Settings
10 Reasons Why Privacy Issues Won't Drive People Away from Facebook
The main points get repeated so I wont repeat them here.
My conclusion from reading these articles is that the near distant future is of more interest than the immediate effect of slight adjustments to the Facebook privacy control user WGUI.

The Crunch Question
What seems to be a crunch question is whether people in large numbers want an alternative and what sort.
There is a difference between creating a project that is Open Source that has the attention of a few thousand potential users to creating a viable and sustained alternative Social Networking medium.


Finding an Alternative Answer
There is another perspective to be had on this.
Social Networking is a medium that is evolving out of the substrate of the Internet.
The ease of use, including choice over exposure, association and privacy is increasingly going to become integral to the substrate of this medium. It is being built in.
This means that the Internet is evolving. As it does so its users will find many different ways of dealing with these issues.
In this regard all the articles I have read have been short sighted.


The Diaspora Vision
I think that the Diaspora team has this vision.
It maybe that there will be difficulties in finding how to pitch Diaspora, which parts work and which do not; difficulties in how users will adopt varous aspects of what it offers.
But finally Diaspora is part of this evolving Internet. How people come to think of the Web and use it will be influenced by the possibilities that Diaspora make available to users as it finds its own place in this evolution.


A Legislative Framework For The Decentralised World
Although the UK broadcasting model is informative, I doubt this model will be adopted by the Internet, in fact I think broadcasting in the UK is going to be subject to less control in the near future. Anyway, that model of control depends to a large extent on centralised authority, the very thing that the new Internet, Diaspora, will begin to dispell.
What I do think is that the means of delivering a new user experience will improve and that this will mean that the need for large social networking sites will change. To survive, they will have to offer something else to keep users interested.
They, too, will have to correspond with the new Internet.

Adam Saltiel


June 2010

Resources
1: Facebook: our hiccups on privacy
2: Facebook Privacy Settings Red Herring
3: List Helpful Posts And Videos About Facebook Privacy Settings
4: 10 Reasons Why Privacy Issues Won't Drive People Away from Facebook
 

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