Some thoughts on SOCITM’s third party suppliers workshop

There is no such thing as a website

Websites are not as most people imagine them to be. In fact you could argue that there is no such thing as a website.

There are digital transactions.

We create a website by bundling them together so that they have a coherence, a consistent look and feel, common language, integrations.

When that happens, it does not, generally delight people. It’s how we expect things to work.

When it doesn’t happen, it’s weird, confusing and feels broken.

In local government we really struggle to deliver this consistency across our digital services.

Mind the gap

Often the break in consistency comes when you move from a digital service provided by the council directly to a service provided by a third party piece of software.

SOCITM, which tries to make local government websites better, organised an event to try to get underneath these issues. And it was largely successful in identifying the problems. It didn’t come up with the killer solution but there were examples of approaches that may help. (They were kind enough to ask me to give a short presentation opining on the importance of APIs and modular design.)

Though in a sense the solution is simple and self-evident: we should buy stuff that works properly with our other digital services. Of course if it were that simple we would already have done it.

Some approaches

Northamptonshire held an in-house summit with suppliers of third-party apps on their site. They involved some business owners (the people in services who hold relationships with the suppliers of specialist software), but on reflection they wished they’d involved all of the owners.

This is one of those ideas that once you’ve heard it, seems so obvious you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. But of course you didn’t. However now I’ve been told about it, I’m totally organising this as soon as possible back at base.

Rochdale have driven an extraordinary level of take-up of online benefits applications (nearly 100% of applications) by working with their third party supplier and making sure that the system worked for users.

At Herefordshire we encourage the use of APIs/web services so that we can handle the front end ourselves and guarantee consistency. This has additional spin-offs and if, as a sector, we could standardise around APIs on some of our services it could really transform the market for customer facing tech.

East Riding have strong governance, essentially they have found a way of describing what good looks like and then ensured that services can only buy systems that meet these standards.

We heard from a couple of suppliers of third party systems. They pointed out that some of the problems users experience may be down to poor implementation of their products. They also pointed to the truism that they sell what we buy.

And that’s the killer point. We can not blame suppliers. We buy what we choose to buy.

What does good look like?

Across the sector there is no real consensus on what good looks like. I think that within web teams there is an ever increasing consensus but our colleagues in other areas may not agree or, perhaps more significantly, may not understand why we think that good looks that way.

We need to find ways to bring other professionals, senior managers and elected members into our world. Because we can deliver excellent digital services.

If we agree that it matters.

Some links for emergency planners on drones

Why drones?

When I first went freelance in 2008 I decided to specialise in the emerging field of social media for emergency management. This was, on reflection, a terrible idea because I was attempting to sell people a solution to a problem they didn’t agree they had (for more on terrible business decisions see my blog on how to fail at freelancing)

If I were launching a freelance career now and wanted to be similarly unsuccessful I would specialise in how drone (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or Unmanned Aerial Systems) technology will impact on emergency management.

Droning on

Unmanned or remote control aircraft have been with us for many years and governments have been making increasing use of them. Until recently civilians were limited to model aircraft which are difficult to fly without training and have limited capability.

Advances in technology mean that UAVs can fly autonomously, take still photos (and monitor other factors) and stream and sound over large distances. Costs are falling and availability is increasing.

Why emergency planners should care

There are many, many positive uses for drone technologies.

The UAViators network is attempting to create an effective framework for the use of drones for humanitarian purposes.

The West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service has used a drone to identify people in need of rescue, direction and speed of fire spread, rendezvous points, access and egress to the incident ground evacuation zones and other issues around incidents. (for more on this read West Midlands Fire Service employs Unmanned Aerial Systems to protect responders).

There are several obvious anti-social or malicious use cases for drones, to harass or attack others. The use of drones by terrorists is seen by some as an increasing risk.

Regulation (in the UK)

In the UK UAV flights are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority and they provide guidance on the rules for different sizes and uses of aircraft.

The Information Commissioner has provided guidance on drones and data protection.

Find out more

There is an All Party Parliamentary Group on drones.

There is a thriving community of people designing, building and printing drones.

The tech blog Mashable has a regular “Drone Beat” news section.

Video

There was a demonstration of drone tech and a Q&A at this years’ BlueLightCamp.

Here’s a vido of the demonstration.