Recommended reading… Google is a normal company, the most menancing malware in history and putting strategies to the test

'The Best Way to Read a Book' by pixelevangelist
'The Best Way to Read a Book' by pixelevangelist

A few good long reads that I think are well worth the time…

‘Don’t Be Evil’ by Evgeny Morozov in The New Republic

Evgeny Morozov uses a book review of two new studies of Google as a company to do an iconoclast job on the Silicon Valley behamoth. It’s cutting stuff. He calls Google ‘a for-profit American company that combines the simplistic worldview of George W. Bush with the cold rationality of Barack Obama’. Perhaps, the most painful accusation that Morozov makes is that Google is an not exceptional corporation and its inability to accept this is dangerous not just the company but for us all.

Morozov says ‘writing about Google presents an almost insurmountable challenge. To understand the company and its impact, one needs to have a handle on computer science, many branches of philosophy (from epistemology to ethics), information science, cyberlaw, media studies, sociology of knowledge, public policy, economics, and even complexity theory’; but in this article he gives it a good stab. May I suggest, as an apertif, Steven Levy’s Inside Google+ — How the Search Giant Plans to Go Social.

‘How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History’ by Kim Zetter in Wired

A proper whodunit? for the cyber age. Expertly written by Agatha Christie of the cybersecurity genre (just made that up). I shall say no more.

Have you tested your strategy lately? by Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit in McKinsey Quarterly

The Office invited Charles Roxburgh in – over our lunch break – to tell us how McKinsey & Company approach strategy. There were lots of good insights from a man who really knows his business strategy (and the American Civil War) and amongst these one of the most useful, I thought, was the 10-point test McKinsey applies to the strategies of its clients to determine whether they are good or bad examples. Lots of useful further reading pegged off the article itself.

Crossover appeal… why we need to link GDS, GCC and ICT

'autocomplete3' by Paul Annett
'autocomplete3' by Paul Annett

March 2011 saw a bonanza for those of us with an interest in government information and communication technology marked as it was by the unveiling of the Government Digital Service, the publication of the ‘Review of COI and Government Communications‘ and the release of the new Government ICT strategy.

First came the Government Digital Service (GDS) which gave ‘Codename Martha‘ formal status, an official title, a boss, a timeline, and put money where before there were only words. Government will have its single domain and from this point onwards will be looking to deliver of all its services and communications through a digital lens. To prove as much, a crack (or SWAT for MLF Review afficiandos) team was introduced headed up by Tom Loosemore and a man close to my appraisal, Jimmy Leach, who are soon to unveil a proof-of-concept for the single domain, going by the nom de guerre, AlphaGov.

Next up was the ‘Review of Government Direct Communication and COI‘. This set of recommendations, pulled together in which the Matt Tee, the outgoing Permanent Secretary Government Communication, called for the exiting of the COI and the creation of the Government Communication Centre (GCC) in its place. The GCC’s task will be to spend significantly less people and money delivering fewer but better marketing communications by amplifying cross-government themes over departmental campaigns. Propositions are to be sharper, ROI will be taken much more seriously and digital will underpin it all.

And last but not least we got sight of the Government ICT Strategy. And a very enlightened and on-trend ICT strategy it is too. In it are contained committments to open source, interoperability, green credentials, cloud, web, use of Agile and even democratic power shift (which is a boon for the likes of an old worthy like me). Another departure from the norm is that this document is mercifully brief, very clear on the actions required and very exact on when they should be done by.

Each release demanded attention in its own right. But the commonalities also ring out.

  • Money… set against the backdrop of the deficit, each sets out to save billions of pounds. £1.3 billion for GDS. £54 million for GCC. And an unspecified figure for Government ICT but a stated ‘presumption against projects having a lifetime value of more than £100 million‘.
  • People… There will be fewer people and the staff remaining will work to new skill sets and efficiency and effectiveness goals.
  • Digital… is an standout common theme but not one that is inevitable. Yes, you would expect the GDS to have lots of digital, but for the future of government marketing communications to be so acutely spearheaded by digital and then for the ICT strategy to talk in such ‘webby’ terms is a real watershed.
  • Centralisation… At a time when even the US Military is restructuring itself as a network, each of these HMG developments seek to put more strategic and delivery capacity in the centre. That’s intriguing, and like the point on digital above, is a real step-change.

Each release appeared independently and has been picked up by different practitioner communities. Colleagues in digital may have read one release and not the others, and the same goes for communications and IT colleagues. But they must be conversant in all three.

The trick is to understand them not as three separate entities but as a trinity. None can achieve its ambitions in isolation of others.

Regardless of the new budgets, new team sizes or new technology, it is this blurring of lines between three previously separate disciplines that is the point and the most exciting challenge of the next 4 – 5 years.