Doublethink!

Reading Orwell’s 1984 was a formative experience for me. It helped determine my adult mistrust of the concept that we’re “all in this together”. The concept of Doublethink leaps out as the means by which this sort of fabrication might prevail.

Doublethink is the act of ordinary people simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. Somewhat related… is cognitive dissonance, where contradictory beliefs cause conflict in one’s mind. Doublethink is notable due to a lack of cognitive dissonance — thus the person is completely unaware of any conflict or contradiction.”

Just recently SDA have been engaged in negotiations with, oh – let’s just say “gov.uk”. Our old contract is being replaced by a “new model contract” through which doublethink runs as if it were a stick of Brighton rock.

Examples of the new doublethink:

“The singular includes the plural and vice versa” (ouch; I thought these were discreet concepts)

“The reference to a gender includes the other gender and the neuter” (ditto)

“The words ‘in particular’ and similar words shall not limit the generality of the preceding words and shall be construed as if they were immediately followed by the words ‘without limitation’” (erm… so “in particular” = “without limitation”?)

This would be laughable if it wasn’t so sinister. Hang on – let me practice my doublethink – yes… actually it’s laughable and sinister. And it gets worse as you plough on, into the details where white begins to merge into black. Here we go:

“The Authority shall not acquire any right, title or interest in or to the Intellectual Property rights of the supplier or its licensors…”

…except that the supplier must…

“Hereby grant to the Authority perpetual, royalty-free and non-exclusive licenses to use the supplier software (and background IPRs) for any purpose relating to the services (or substantially equivalent services) or for any purpose relating to the exercise of the Authority’s (or any other Central Government Body’s) business or function.” (My italics.)

So just to be clear: they don’t want anything except complete and perpetual carte blanche to use suppliers’ IPR throughout Government! And STILL it goes on:

The Authority… may assign, novate or otherwise transfer its rights and obligations under the licences granted… to any body (including a private sector body) which performs any of the functions that previously had been performed by the Authority. (Yes, my italics again)

For the avoidance of doubt (a phrase which makes frequent appearances in this New Model Doublethink, sorry, contract) when you sign this thing you’re letting the Government use your stuff – or just give away your stuff for others to use – for ever. So next time you go head to head with, say REDACTED to provide the service you invented, don’t be surprised when they give you the finger. What they’re saying is “We sort of said we didn’t want your stuff (and then we sort of insisted we did) and, hey, now we’ve got it for free, forever… well, these guys are our mates/cost less (given we’ve got your IPR)/have another couple of years to run on their contract (and we’ve got your IPR).”

Oh – a final poke in the eye: the document you’ll be signing is doublethought thus:

No warranty is given by the REDACTED as to the completeness of this document or its suitability for any purpose. (Their bold and underline, so it must be important.) I take this as saying “This document nails you to the floor but we don’t even acknowledge that it’s fit for purpose.”

I guess that one man’s* doublethink is another man’s cognitive dissonance

(*where reference to a gender includes the other gender and the neuter).

Digital Services: The Machinations of Government

Where are we with Government Digital Services?

  • We’ve got: the philosophy, rationale and economics.
  • We’ve got: the direction, process and standards. (OK, not standards – but it’s the thought that counts.)
  • We’ve got: the frameworks, guidance and manuals.

And lots of other stuff from strategy to operations. The Government Digital Service (GDS) has done a heroic job of walking through how Government as a Platform might work. Could work. Hats off to them. Really. No, I mean really. But there’s a fly in the ointment. Maybe two.

A quick review

This is where we are. We have the Digital Marketplace – “A simpler way to buy and sell digital services in the public sector” – which has now replaced the Cloudstore, and is the shop-front for the G-Cloud framework; and the Digital Services Store – “The place to find digital service design and development” – which does the same for agile digital services through the Digital Services Framework.

NB: Actually there’s a third fly in the ointment: clarity, as in lack of. Unless you’re at the heart of things this all begins to look rather blurred.

The Ointment and the Flies

This is not going to be a long blog because the points are really straightforward.

Here’s the ointment. It is the ambition of the GDS to transform what used to be called the IT function. This means, amongst other things, ensuring that services are built around the citizen and that they are digital by default. The “other things” include dismantling the monolithic service provision of yesteryear and, the other side of the coin, opening up the market to Small and Medium Enterprises.

And here are the flies.The first relates to the Digital Marketplace – the home of public sector commodity computing. Fantastic. Neat slices of retail computing via infrastructure as a service; platform as a service and software as a service.

Now what was the fourth? Oh yes, specialist cloud services. Home of REDACTED et al, all providing bespoke “cloud” consulting services. Now, did I say “monolithic” somewhere back there?

(Oh, and just to avoid accusations of hypocrisy – yes we’re on it. How else to compete?)

The second fly relates to the… erm (consults notes)… Digital Services Store. I could write my own critique but Dominic Campbell nailed it in his recent FuturGov Blog when he said:

“The rigid structure of the framework, combined with mandatory on-site working, make it commercially challenging for SMEs to deliver work through it. Additionally, it lays out a model for multi-million pound, long-running programmes of work but overlooks this model’s unsuitability for small and medium-sized projects.”

Dominic also quoted Harry Metcalf of dxw who got right to the heart of my beef:

“It’s a way to buy people, not projects. The framework is essentially a mechanism for body-shopping, which is just not workable for most suppliers.”

QED.