Rewired Culture – 27th March

Just launched the Rewired Culture event for the 27th March at the Guardian offices in King’s Cross.

What’s Rewired Culture you ask?

Well here’s the description and big thanks to the Rewired State crowd:

Rewired Culture

Britain is a creative culture. We have a vibrant developer community, a growing and active entrepreneurial base and a vast, rich array of culture assets. How can we bring these together to create new opportunities for data owners and developers? How do we encourage links between data repositories such as museums, broadcasters and the wider community like data.gov.uk or the “London Datastore”? How do we ensure that the exciting work already underway in a number of organizations is shared more generally, so even smaller bodies and SMEs can learn from best practice and find workable routes to market? What are the cultural content business models for the 21st century? How do creators, curators, developers and entrepreneurs work together?

Rewired Culture is a day long event on 27th March 2010 organized by DCMS which is intended to explore these issues and more besides.

Rewired Culture has two strands – the first is a hackday bringing together data owners, data users, developers and people with ideas to see what they can create in a day. This builds on the very successful Rewired State events held in 2009.

The second strand is a halfday unconference style event starting at midday and running in parallel with the hackday for data owners, entrepreneurs, data users and communites to discuss business models, funding mechanisms and challenges.

We will be encouraging constant communication between the two strands because by the end of the day we want the event to have come up with a number of projects that people want to take forward on technical or business grounds, preferably both!

These chosen projects will then be used as exemplars for the Chief Executives and Chairs of the major national cultural institutions, broadcasters and key figures from the creative economy. They will be used as both an inspiration and a challenge to that community.

Rewired Culture will be open to all and you can register at http://rewiredstate.org/culture#register. If you would like more information then read the FAQs or contact us at rewired@culture.gsi.gov.uk.

FAQs

What about IPR?

Rewired Culture is not intended to solve every issue around intellectual property rights, instead we intend to focus on freely available assets and where IPR is then identified as a showstopper we will capture that point and raise it at the later meeting of Chief Executives and Chairs.

Why should I give away my ideas?

Ideas only have value when shared. We want to encourage people to share their ideas about both projects and business models. This is an opportunity to engage with the wider community and test your ideas. If you then want to take them to market then we will cheer you on. The only IPR we retain is in the Rewired Culture concept itself – everything else is down to you, the participants.

What happens to the Rewired Culture Projects?

We are still working on this and will be testing them at the event but the current thinking is that we will support the shortlisted projects where possible with hosting and facilitation.

We are also looking at the idea of running a simulation where one or more chosen projects would be given the opportunity to work through a pseudofunding round complete with an industry mentor and real VC’s.

Who should attend?

The event is open to all. If you are a developer, interested in data use or reuse, a data owner, someone who has an idea for an application using cultural data, a member of a cultural institution, someone who relies on public or private data for your business, an entrepreneur, someone who is passionate about open data or access to culture, someone in education, or someone who has taken part in previous hackdays.

You can sign up for the developer strand, the business strand or as someone with general interest in the subject. And we encourage people to move between the strands.

Why Rewired Culture?

There are lots of great individual initiatives out there – the BBC/British Museum A History of the world in 100 objects is but the latest. But these do tend to be individual initiatives and we want to encourage a wider flowering of cultural data initiatives from a variety of sources – public sector, third sector, entrepreneurs etc.

How much will Rewired Culture cost?

Attendance is free. We will obviously be posting the costs of the initiative itself as part of our commitment to data transparency.

What IT is for

It is now a week since the launch of a major game changing initiative which will touch all lives and change the technology landscape.

I of course refer to the launch of the new UK Government ICT strategy and Open Source. Open Standards and Reuse Action Plan.

Sorry, did you think I meant the iPad?

Ah the iPad, which should really have been called the iBlankslate given that it has become a surface for people to project their hopes and fears.

The iPad will destroy the personal computer, it is not for work but every other moment, it is overpriced, it is just a big iPod Touch

So many views on something which has only be seen from a distance. My favourite is that line that the iPad is the machine for those who don’t use existing computers. I assume the advertising campaign will be “Are you dumb enough for the iPad?”

But there are some interesting points of connection between the Government ICT strategy and the iPad.

The ICT strategy is based around the dual pillars of a cloud based approach to system/information delivery and an Apps Store which provides a range of tailored and need-specific tools for working with the cloud systems/information. The iPad is based around the same model.

The ICT strategy seeks to tackle digital inclusion by not just tackling the user interface part of online transactions but also looking at how we can radically transform service delivery models to design needless complexity out of the service. The iPad offers the potential to tackle the former and could help us rethink some of the latter.

The ICT strategy, and in particular the OSOSR action plan, seeks to drive down costs and encourage SME’s/entrepreneurs/Third Sector to work with government by reducing the barriers to entry, facilitating reuse and shifting to a more agile business model where we are more about rapid collaboration and facilitation. The iPad … hmm, well is the iPad about less barriers to entry, more reuse and more flexibility?

My thoughts on the iPad are as idle as anyone else’s but I find it interesting to muse on the links between two groups wrestling with some of the same technological and business model challenges.

I shall return to this.

5 “Shared Services” concepts I never want to see again

I like Shared Services, my first response to any business need is to look around for a service which can provide it, only if all else fails do I develop it myself.

And Shared Services offer the opportunity to work with like-minded partners who have similar business needs and where we can work together to drive up service levels and drive down costs.

So why do I too often groan when someone suggests a new “Shared Service” offering to me?

1. Economies of FAIL

Your Shared Service offering is more expensive on a per item basis so I will lose money on each transaction.” “Don’t worry, you’ll make it up on volume!!!

Economy of scale is a perfectly reasonable concept, tried and tested over the years, the marginal costs of delivery will tend to fall in line with the volume. However too many Shared Service offerings start out more expensive than a traditional offering and never reach the point where they are cheaper.

2. The Spanish Prisoner

Our Shared Service will save you money on each transaction, however there is just a small upfront fee to make use of the service…

Some Shared Services, particularly those based around a catalogue or framework, offer ease of use and a discounted rate but to get to use them you have to pay in advance.

This is a perfectly reasonable business model, provided it is the user’s business model it works for. If paying 5% of total costs up front will save me 10% then that is great.

Unfortunately a number of these Shared Service offerings are based on the supplier’s business model and paying 10% of total costs up front to save 5% is not a winning pitch!

3. The Incomprehensible

We promise to undercut any competitor and provide free biscuits for all users!

Now I understand business models, private sector firms are there to maximise shareholder value in the same way I am here to maximise taxpayer and societal value.

So why do people present me with Shared Service offerings which do not make economic sense for the supplier?

Sometimes this is a loss leader, well selling tins of baked beans at below wholesale prices is a loss leader, delivering a complex mission critical service should never be a loss leader!

Loss leaders also tend to have a sting in the tail, that remarkably cheap car which requires solid gold head gaskets or that MP3 player which can only be programmed in Linear B.

Sometimes it is down to perverse incentives – the sales team are incentivised to close the deal at any cost. I can think of at least one major outsourcing and ICT services firm which ended up being bought out by a rival for that very reason. Their sales team let a contract which netted them big bonuses but almost killed the company itself.

And sometimes it is down to the fact that the supplier simply does not understand the business model or they have forgotten something very obvious. Like the travel firm who spent a fortune on a new IT sales system which significantly increased business, unfortunately it was selling all holidays at cost so the more business it did the more money it lost!

4. Barry

Well it’s a new area for us but digital engagement is in many ways a lot like plumbing, and Barry does have his own van

I always welcome new players – entrepreneurs and SME’s in particular – getting involved in service delivery and new offerings.

But this strong support and engagement is not the same as “magical thinking”. If I am looking for someone to work with on a critical service then I expect professionalism.

That’s not about lots of barriers or red tape or people in suits. It’s about being able to trust partners to deliver. That is the key metric I judge service providers and partners on – be they multinationals or one man bands. I want to work with people who are delivery focused, committed to quality and success and who are as committed as I am to excellence, customer service and proper engagement.

5. Unclear Objectives

And whilst window cleaning will continue to be at the core of this Shared Services offering, we are pleased to announce that we are bringing in nuclear waste recycling services as well.

Good services grow and develop over time, this is how it should be. But too many Shared Services start from the premise that their window cleaning service will automatically become all encompassing.

I am not in the business of subsidising other people’s plans for world domination, #evilCIO has his own plans!

Focus on making the core service a success and growth will follow organically.

What would monkey C do?

Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks? His reply was “Because that’s where the money is”.

When I look at some web initiatives I find myself asking is this a Willie Sutton initiative? That is, are we targetting a mass market? A space where visitors will naturally congregate. Or are we blazing a new trail?

It seems obvious that expectations about visitor numbers, levels of engagement, impact of an initiative need to reflect where in the webcology we are positioning ourselves so why then do I still have discussions with people who expect Facebook levels of traffic for an initiative which is either of specific importance but limited wider attraction or so far off the beaten track as to be invisible?

In the former case, you may well get very intense and active participants as it can be something which the target audience feel passionate about but if the business case said you would get 1000000 hits a day then you are stuffed if you only get 100 people a day visiting the site, even if they are committed users who find it really important and are very vocal supporters of the engagement.

So the key conversation to have is right at the very start. Because while it may be tricky at times to transition a niche site into the mainstream, it is much easier than promising to rule the mainstream and only achieving niche.

Breaking rocks

There was an interesting post on Slashdot this week about someone who went to load their official Cisco VPN client CD only to find that it was in fact a bootleg music disc. These things happen,  suppliers outsource to third parties who subcontract to others who find slack in someone else’s JIT delivery system.

Then I read this piece and cogs slowly, rustily start turning in my mind.

Complexity adds risk. If I have just a single rock then my risks are limited, the rock basically sits there. I could lose it or drop it or trip over it or break it but that’s about it. If I have two rocks then not only have I now doubled the number of those risks but I gain new ones as well – one of the rocks could fall off the other for example or I could lose one rock behind the other.

So complexity breeds risk, so far so obvious. Companies outsource and there is now an added creator of risk to mispress CDs, government buys from the cheapest supplier and there is now an added creator of risk to mis-sell hooky gear, you can name your own examples.

We work to try and mitigate these supply or delivery chain risks but there are two additional sources of complexity which we do not always consider.

The first is that risk mitigation can itself be a source of risk. Recent events in the financial world are a classic example of this. Some people thought that they had cracked the secret of achieving high returns without high risks. IT supports the creation of complex and often opaque financial risk management tools which make Black-Scholes seem like basic addition. Combine this with automated trading engines and we create a vast cybernetic plate-spinning engine which works until the first plate starts wobbling.

Paul Samuelson said “Business is the management of risk”, for me this means that unless you are willing to manage your risks then you should not be in business. And management does not mean magical thinking.

The second source of emergent risk arises out of the complexity of individual systems. Think for an instance about how you are reading this piece. You are using a computer whose hardware you trust, whose operating system you trust, a browser you trust, a network connection you trust, a network protocol you trust, a website you trust, a web server you trust, web server hardware you trust, and network hardware you trust.

That’s a lot of trust isn’t it?

You’re quite sure you want to come in?… Very well

Jeremy Gould’s very interesting exploration of social media adoption has just reached part 5 – Experiment.

I am very keen on experimentation, my whole vague concept of entrepreneurial government relies on experimentation.

The problem is that my world is deeply averse to anything which might lead to blame or which has any connection to the concept of “risk”. Problematic when you are experimenting!

So some hints on how to get your experiment through the dread CIO challenge, which is like Dragon’s Den only with real dragons, and they have guns, and ADH*bang!*

Security

What, if any, data do you propose to collect or share? Who owns it? Is it personal data either in DPA terms or Hannigan? How valuable is it? If we lost it which page would it appear on in the paper? If your proposed host is offshore then are there any implications? Do you even know where the site will be hosted?

Procurement

How do you propose buying the service? Is it below single tender level? Is it on a framework? Whose? Why this company? SME? How is the service priced? What does it look like if we have 100 users, 1,000, 1,000,000?  How much is the fish!? How much is the chips!? Does the fish have chips!

Audience

Who is the audience for this site? Does the site need to be accessible? (the default answer is always yes) Multilingual? Global? Moderated? Will they expect a reply?

Technology

Is it new tech? Have we or someone we know used it before? Is it tech trial or a product trial? Are we locked in if we use it? How much training is needed to use it? To support it?

Purpose

The most important question of all – “What does success look like?” If you cannot answer that then give up now. I am always depressed at the number of events/projects I attend where people find that question hard to answer.

This list is not exhaustive and nor am I trying to put people off experimenting. We need to try and yes, we need sometimes to fail, if we are to learn. But I am well aware of my own failings around bright shiny baubles to recognise the need for an appropriate degree of rigour.

And now to get back to my own experimenting. Now, where did I leave that account manager?…

Burn Prate

I was talking to someone last night about reputational capital. Reputational capital represents the level of trust or credence a person possesses. It’s a common feature in life – the football manager who is trusted because they have won a cup previously, a politician who has solved a crisis, a detective who has cracked a case all possess reputational capital which they spend buying our trust, our agreement, our complicity.

Reputational capital is hard to earn and easy to dissipate. Those of us who are service providers will know all too well the way in which years of exemplary service count for little if email goes down for 10 minutes.

Reputational capital is part of being a leader, we will buy charisma, vision and energy for a while but at the end we look for delivery, real or spun. There are plenty whose reputational capital has been built on the labours of others and the sheer good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. Such people try desperately to eke out their reputational capital just long enough to get away with it.

Change programmes can burn through reputational capital at a ferocious rate. We all hate change, even if we claim to love it we usually just mean that we don’t mind change when it happens to others or when it is pleasant and we are in control.

Incremental change works both because of the frog boiling effect but also because it keeps the reputational capital pot topped up.

I find myself wondering can I make sure that I do at least one thing each day which adds to my reputational capital? And ensure that I promote it. After all, reputational capital only works if people know your reputation. Which I suppose works both ways …

Honey, I’m Chrome!

The internet has been full of stories since Google launched their own browser, Chrome, last week.

Some of the stories have been that Chrome marks the start of the desktop wars as applications and the OS move in to the cloud. Some have been about security weaknesses in Chrome. Some about Chrome as the burning eye of the panopticon. Some about Chrome as UI paradigm.

Well someone has got to keep the Internets burning. But so far no one has touched on the most important thing about Chrome.

It’s yet another browser to test against. 3 versions of IE, 2 of Firefox, Safari and now Chrome. And before you say “Webkit” I suggest you look at Chrome rendering vs Safari.

Citizens, we must stop this browser proliferation now before my team have to spend their entire lives testing browser/platform combinations. So, no to Chrome, no to IE8. Sigh, there’s many a true word spoken in jest. I blame the BLINK element myself, that’s where it all started going wrong.

Cello, Cello, now that was a browser…

Reflecting Surface

There is an interesting article on ReadWriteWeb about “11 Things Startups Should Know about Enterprise 2.0“.

I will not paraphrase it here but number 11 taps into some of the conversations we have been having about the tensions between the silo nature of the enterprise and the open nature of social media.

As a CIO I would say that the most difficult thing for startups to do is to be able to show that they can solve my problem. I like examples, real world examples, and so you get the chicken and egg situation where sales depend on having a proven solution but getting that proof requires someone to have bought the product/service in the first place.

This is why we need to be smarter around innovation and risk. Too often my world takes an engineering approach where we expect every solution to be a Forth Bridge and we assign process and overheads accordingly. There are times when this is absolutely right but not every problem is the Forth Bridge, agility and innovation require us to be smarter.

We also need to become much better at sharing experience and knowledge amongst ourselves. Things like Digital People are a start as is GovBarCamp but we need to be more radical. Perhaps we need a Government 2.0 Unconference? Hmm…

Battleship Row

I have just finished reading “Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the US Navy” by Robert L. O’Connell. Naval history is not a particular interest of mine but I found the book fascinating.

Battleships, like dinosaurs, have an ability to capture the minds of small children. They are huge and dangerous and, without getting tiresomely Freudian, they do symbolise power.

The problem is the potential gulf between symbol and reality, the battleship as signifier rather than combatant.

And that brings me to IT and social networking.

The battleship was the logical consequence of decisions that were rational and coherent in their own world. The bigger the ship, the greater the firepower and the armour it could carry, so the only counter was an even bigger ship or even more ships of an equivalent size. This then led to a constant spiral of growth as battleships became larger and more numerous.

Battleships also had the benefits of being a visible symbol of national power, of keeping an industrial base and skilled workers in work, and preserving a rigid hierarchy of authority – naval officers would start out in a small ship and then work their way through an orderly career path of destroyer, cruiser, battleship.

The problem was that the world where the battleship made sense was a world where planes and submarines and torpedoes and fast surface craft did not exist. Experience showed time and again that the battleship was a target, much more than a successful weapon.

It would be easy to mock those who clung to the romantic vision of the battleship long after experience showed that it was just a very big target but we all do similar things. Letting go of beliefs when the evidence changes is a difficult thing to do.

I wonder if our current battleship is the office? Or rather the bureaucracy which we embody in the office?

The office bureaucracy has many benefits. It is a visible symbol of an organization’s power and status. It provides work for large numbers of people. And it provides a visible hierarchy for people, from the post room to the board room, there is a place for everyone.

Hmm, it all sounds kind of familiar.

So are social networks and IT things that fit inside that model or are we among the disruptive change agents that mean that the office bureaucracy will go the way of the battleship?

I din’t have the answer but I find the question intriguing.