Friday 3 September 2010

Directgov Review

Martha Lane FOxQuestion 1: Central Government’s objectives in digital delivery

In my view the government's objectives in digital delivery should be improved efficiencies, enhanced customer service levels and increased economic benefit. A leaked NHS Review (TechEYE.Net, 6 Aug 2010) claims one third of 4,121 NHS websites failed to meet accessibility standards. However it is the volume, not quality, of these sites which concerns me most. Users are sensitive to opportunity cost when consuming media. Their preference is for quality content delivered from a recognised brand made available through multiple channels (Communications Market Report 2010, Ofcom).

I would argue: There should be a government brand which identifies trusted content or services which meet agreed standards of accessibility, usability and security.

This would allow third-parties to provide digital services and websites on behalf, or funded independently, of government. However the proliferation of websites, identified by the NHS review, has an opportunity cost for customers. A website which fails to win an audience, or funding, in the private sector is removed. There needs to be comparable mechanisms in the public sector which closes failing channels.

To identify how the government should engage with customers online I would apply the tests of efficiency, service level and delivery: If information can be distributed, or transactions completed, online at lower cost than offline a case should be made for digital delivery.

Many customers choose not to engage with Digital Britain. Fixed broadband remained static in 2010 at 65% of households (Ofcom). The report also records clear differences between the media choices of older(+55) and younger consumers (16-24). There must be clear evidence the intended consumers of digital services or content are active users. If a new channel is proposed ongoing costs of marketing the service must be included.

Question 2: Who should do what?
The salient question for government should be, who can deliver this content or service most effectively to the user? Engagement with young people might be effectively undertaken via social networks, travel information distributed via context aware mobile devices, consultation through hyper-local sites maintained within local communities. The role of government, in an environment where customers use multiple channels to meet discrete needs, is to ensure content and services meet agreed standards of accessibility, usability and security.

Question 3: Sharing the platform
Any platform, provided by Central Government, must compete on cost and functionality with third-party solutions. Government should not raise artificial barriers which prevent the public sector from benefiting from innovation and cost efficiencies.

Question 4: Trends in digital delivery
The key trends I would identify are mobility, knowledge management and brand extension.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Public achieves 'more for less'

Ofcom's Communications Market 2010 Report provides an annual snapshot of how we consume media in the UK.

I was struck by multiple findings which demonstrate the public is sensitive to the opportunity costs of media consumption. Spending half their waking hours engaged in media and communication activities consumers have adopted multi-tasking and convergent devices to compress over nine hours activity into a single day.

Consumers reduce costs by selecting triple play services (voice, broadband and TV) however price is not the only driver. Half of all users sited 'the convenience of dealing with one supplier' as an additional factor in this choice. Further evidence for consumers' sensitivity to opportunity cost is provided by the stagnation of internet telephony. Skype offers cost savings over fixed line telephony but the complexity and limitations of the service reduces its attractiveness to consumers.

The opportunity for broadcasters, advertisers and service providers is to fill the 4.5 hours per day not spent communicating with other people. Ofcom found limited appetite, beyond social networking, for user generated content. Consumer preference is for quality content from a recognised brand available through multiple devices.
The Communications Market Report (Ofcom, 2010) provides compelling evidence that fewer public service channels with stronger brands could achieve 'more for less'.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Brand wars

The latest Fiat 500 is a Windows car.
The pearlescent dashboard conceals a brain designed by the accountants of Microsoft. Not that I'm complaining the eccentric voice controls add to the retro charm.
Microsoft's mission is to 'help people throughout the world realise their full potential'. Quite reasonably the car believes I could improve my driving technique. Alarmingly it does this by turning off the engine when I pull put into traffic. A very Microsoft solution which I've ignored by switching off the computer but what if intelligent devices could learn?
Dr Arkin, of the Georgia Institute, has developed an Ethical Architecture which enables pilotless drones to share data on the destructive effects of their weapons with other machines. The intention is to limit civilian deaths, creating a machine consciousness which will participate in the attack decision of human operators. The drone analyses the consequences of its actions and learns from its mistakes.
The Fiat experience suggests Microsoft's values would pervade their 'software conscience'. We could speculate an Apple or Google AI would be guided by alternative views. 'Why join the navy if you can be a pirate' Steve Jobs. 'Some say Google is God. Others say Google is Satan. But if they think Google is too powerful, remember that with search engines unlike other companies, all it takes is a single click to go to another search engine'. Sergey Brin.

Monday 14 September 2009

Future Opportunities

The public sector market for bespoke software is in decline.

Intelligent procurement across Government is leading to the development of shared services which can be reused across departments. Opportunities do exist but these comprise either prototyping new forms of digital engagement using open source software; or digitizing offline processes of which Connected for Health is the multi-billion pound flagship.

In this environment the companies that flourish may be small and innovative or large and strategic. The average digital agency will struggle to match the energy of a creative hotshop with its low operating costs or the breadth of experience of a public sector giant.

New digital specialists are thriving:
  • Marcoms agencies – planning and delivering online campaigns
  • Product developers – creating games and apps that can be distributed online
  • SaaS vendors – reducing the cost and improving the reliability of software
  • IT businesses – who support and manage business operations
What is their impact on old ‘new’ media?

The Home Office’s drugs strategy is delivered through Frank a health information campaign delivered across all media. A ‘full service’ digital agency cannot compete with a Marcoms specialist who can obtain better rates for media buying and offset their creative costs against advertising revenue.

Product developers create rich media applications or develop program software for business, education or leisure use. Broadband has revolutionized the distribution model for these products which can be purchased and downloaded directly from the developer. It is difficult for a mid-sized agency to compete against product developers who can spread the cost of development and marketing against sales from their back catalogue.

Platforms, such as Webjam, enable customers to build social platforms, publish content and run their own online business. As open source and licensed software moves digital engagement into the mainstream the demand for custom development falls.

Even the largest IT businesses are vulnerable to the Transformational Government agenda. But they do have business strategy, solution design and operational expertise which will remain in demand as long as public services are contracted to the private sector.

The upside of the continuing financial crisis and pending election is that government is looking at ways to deliver public services more efficiently. Properly valued online tools can reduce costs in untold ways (1 online tax disc renewal = 1 Saturday morning).

Companies who innovate will flourish. Scale is no longer important. The proliferation of public sector tweets is a salutary reminder to those companies who believe they have a grip on Government IT and communications. My advice, invest in the next wave of disruptive technologies.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Healthy Mobiles

There is a role for mobiles in predicting the health of individuals and communities. Three recent projects utilize their desirability and sensitivity to model disease outbreaks and encourage individuals to self-administer complex treatments.

In South Africa, Sense Networks, is planning to use pattern recognition software to analyse the movement of TB patients between neighbourhoods in Johannesburg. It is hoped the characteristics revealed might be used to identify infected individuals in the population.

While epidemiologists study anonymised data to predict future outbreaks healthcare professionals can use mobile technology to motivate individuals to follow treatment using network credits. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) developed stamp sized litmus paper that displays a code when exposed to urine. Patients who text this code to the XoutTB project are credited with free airtime minutes.

The prevalence of internet enabled mobile devices greatly enhances this channel as a means of distributing information in crises. On Directgov Swine Flu: everything you need to know provides news and practical information on the spread of the H1N1 virus. Should circumstances demand it will be a vital tool in notifying the population where and how to obtain anti-viral medication.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Emotion not reason

The background to the global economic crisis is a salutary reminder that people are driven by emotion not reason. The most sophisticated analysts in the world managed to destroy 40% of the world’s wealth by ignoring this simple truth. Belatedly the Behavioural Economists are being consulted on how to predict future market events. They may not be been able to save the world from recession but they will ameliorate the effects.

Government seeks to influence the public through the provision of information, advice and guidance (IAG). For instance, rising levels of teenage pregnancies (up 2.7% in 2008) demonstrate current strategies are failing to change behaviours amongst target audiences. It is no surprise to Digital Analysts that the IAG model is flawed. The involvement of User Centred Design (UCD) practitioners in the development of web based and mobile media exposes the gap between users expressed desires and their behavior in the real world.

The danger for Government of adopting best practice in the business world is that it applies last year’s maxims. At a time when business is breaking up complex organisations under Transformational Government services are being aggregated. An admirable policy to provide personalized services built around citizens needs has been embraced as a means to reduce costs. The result is portals, such as Directgov and Business Link, are designed to meet the needs of organisations that fund them.

Ironically the technical infrastructure underpinning these portals has been created to support multiple channels. This makes it possible to realize the ambition of Transformational Government to develop e-channels which deliver personalized services. The lesson from the private sector is that conglomerates are not the most efficient businesses. Chaebols which manage restaurants, build washing machines and construct oil platforms cannot hope to focus on individual customers.

Tuesday 13 January 2009


Off to bookcamp on Saturday to discuss the future of the book.

Looking forward to hearing how physical delivery mechanisms affects perceived value, patterns of consumption and structure of content.

My weakness is collecting hardback fiction. I'm seduced by physical objects whose properties influence how and when I read.

If books are luxury objects then e-publication will make books more accessible but less valuable than before. Interested to hear if other attendees think this will threaten the production and marketing of traditional formats such as the novel.