We’ve been writing recently about how both central and local government is starting to use cloud computing more effectively. Many of you have also been asking about how this new architecture could potentially speed up the release of new services. So it was really good to come across this video by Mark Foden. Mark is a change management consultant who currently spends most of his time helping the UK government to apply technology more effectively. He’s been heavily involved in the change strategy for the G-Cloud programme and also in the use of social media by government departments.

In just over three minutes, Mark sets out to demystify cloud computing in government, and explain how it will help to break up supplier monopolies and improve user experience. He describes the current situation: services delivered through IT on a relatively small scale, mostly using bespoke systems created by a few big suppliers. Each of the current services provided online is separate from all the others. As he says, this is “expensive, hard to change and not that good. Boo!”

But already things are starting to change. Each service provided by government can be thought of as having three parts. ‘Levers and Dials’ are the things that users interact with such as forms, websites and telephone calls. Machinery is the basic architecture that drives the system: printing presses and now IT systems. And in the middle, there is what he calls ‘gubbins’. This is split into ‘common’, or shared by all, such as identity checks, and ‘specific’, such as tax calculation or passport printing.

As technology develops, these three parts can be untangled and replaced separately. ‘Common gubbins’ will be possible to untangle even further, into its constituent bits. So not only can each component of each service be improved, but some of the new components can be shared across several services. The new gov.uk website is an example of a shared ‘Lever and Dial’ service, and the Identity Assurance service is one of ‘shared gubbins’.

The other essential component of these changes is a difference to suppliers. Previously, with a need for large IT systems to cover a whole service from end to end, systems needed to be bespoke, and only a few big suppliers were able to manage that. But with services being split into their separate components, more and more smaller suppliers will be able to supply off-the-peg solutions to government. This not only makes IT cheaper but also much more flexible: as new solutions become available, they can be added, replacing outdated or less good elements at relatively low cost and disruption to the whole system.

Another visionary who has tackled this subject is Tim O’Reilly. This Irish-born founder of O’Reilly Media has discussed Government 2.0 for a few years, and his series of presentations can be seen here. In the discussion about governmebt as a platform, Tim proposes that government is moving from a ‘vending machine’ model, where citizens put in taxes and get out services, and where protests are analogous to shaking the vending machine, towards a system where government becomes a platform. Just as Apple’s 15-20 apps became 200,000 when they made the iPhone into a platform and allowed the marketplace to develop, government too needs to do this, and cites weather apps as a good example. The government posts the weather data, and companies take that data and present it in myriad different ways in their own apps, so that users can access the data they need: by location, for windsurfing and so on. Government needs to act as a platform to tackle the big issues of the day: healthcare, education and so on, as government can’t solve these problems on its own.

Have you come across any other online discussions about the future framework for government? Tell us about it here.

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