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The Government App Store April 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, Outsourcing, Software.
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Detractors have argued that the concept of a government cloud (g-cloud) is so complex and fraught with privacy issues that it will never get off the ground, but supporters argue that in a time of austerity, reuse of software and systems is essential.

The general cloud concept has been outlined on this blog before. One of the great attractions for cloud-based applications is central management, eliminating the need to manage local versions, upgrades, and maintenance. Virtual infrastructure, such as data centres also work well within the cloud-based model, allowing several departments or organisations to share storage and computing power.

For all these reasons, the British government has been interested in two key concepts in recent years:

  • A cloud of government applications and tools that can be shared by many departments
  • A government app-store, allowing standard tools to be used anywhere within government.

These are common concept for consumers. The cloud itself is merely centrally managed software, such as Microsoft’s Gmail, and the app-store is what every Android or iPhone user is now used to – plug and play systems. It is not so long ago that your telephone could only do what it did when you bought it. It was not possible to upgrade or load new software, and when it was possible, it was with great difficulty. Now consumers are used to modifying, customising, and using their equipment in new ways.

The advantages for government are obvious. Think of how many software systems are used within the police, the NHS, the devolved local governments and councils… the list is mind-boggling and yet in all these places there will be a set of common tools that can theoretically be shared with other government organisations. The advantages of getting the G-cloud working are obvious. Will the detractors derail it as too ambitious?

As with most things in politics, only time will tell.

What will happen to NHS supplier contracts if power is devolved? August 30, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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The NHS is under fire once again. This time it’s a familiar story, the need to eliminate the swathes of red tape and middle management that prevent nurses and doctors doing their jobs.

This is a familiar refrain. If may be more shrill now the government is led by the Conservative party, but even the previous administration used to talk of devolving power to the frontline care-givers. Yet, how will that latest proposals affect the NHS and particularly the huge array of technology contracts that had been agreed over the past couple of years?

First, it’s never as easy as just wiping out red tape. Devolving budgets to each individual GP or hospital sounds great in practice, but if a doctor is to spend most of his or her time on the frontline with patients then they actually need some of those administrators – without the admin team, the doctor is going to be poring over spreadsheets all day.

It’s important to identify waste and red tape – nobody can dispute that – but the elimination of administrators can go too far. And the devolvement of budget responsibility could have further implications for centrally controlled programmes.

Connecting for Health may be maligned, but it’s supporters would argue that this is because it is an immense programme of work, creating a communications network between GPs, hospitals, and pharmacies, allowing a truly joined-up health service to operate. That level of complexity does take time to get right, but in a devolved world it would be impossible to plan for such a grand vision of how the NHS could operate.

The NHS currently works with a joint venture firm, NHS Shared Business Services, to offer finance and accounting services back into the primary care trusts. What will happen to ventures like this if the PCTs are abolished?

There is much to applaud in the new government plans to rid the NHS of waste, but there are many areas that could change in a negative way if these plans are not thought through in detail.