Realising The Full Potential Of Public Service Computing

a historic transformation reshaping government around the citizen

Today’s ubiquitous computing network is one of the most powerful machines ever created by man.

However, the way it is currently being used is only scratching the surface of its potential, particularly for public services. Today’s strategy for public service computing is based on business software. A revolutionary alternative, using community software, enables far more democratic, effective and efficient solutions to be delivered. The choice facing governments is illustrated in the video below.

To recap the video, the rationale for adopting community software for public services is as follows:

1. Computing comprises of two major components, the hardware platform, a general purpose technology, and application software, the value-adding component.

2. The Web changed the hardware platform from the computer to today’s ubiquitous computing network.

3. Before the Internet, business software added value by enabling supply-side automation within organisations, e.g. payroll.

4. The Internet has since been used to add value to business software by passing data using messaging hubs, and then the Web enabled more value to be added through Web front-ends.

5. Crucially, the Web also enabled community software, adding value by enabling geographically dispersed communities designed around the demand-side, e.g. eBay and Uber.

6. The current strategy for governments, and most businesses, is to continue to try to add value to business software.

7. The optimal strategy for governments is to create community software designed around the citizen.

8. The basic healthcare episode is a good example, with a single healthcare community application designed around the patient episode REPLACING thousands of disparate applications operating in the UK today in GP surgeries, pharmacies and hospitals managing subsets of the process.

9. In terms of benefits, community software is much more democratic, efficient and effective than business computing could ever be.

10. Realising the full potential of public service computing requires a fundamental transformation: democratising public services, by replacing business software with community software.

11. This is a historic, once-off opportunity to reshape government around the citizen, the sooner the optimal strategy is adopted the better.

The need for transformation is even greater when technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are added into the equation. Both are far more easily introduced and managed with community software.

So, the question that remains is how best to undertake the transformation. A proposed strategy is summarised in figure 1 below.

There are four overlapping stages, two technical stages focussed on design and development and two business stages on transformation planning and execution.

For the design stage HISL advocates that it starts as a skunkworks with the goal of designing solutions that realise the full potential of community software for the citizen regardless of the current structure of government.

The reason for this is best explained by example. With community software, the millions of payroll systems and the various HMRC, DWP and Local Authority taxes and benefits systems can all be replaced by a single personal taxes and benefits algorithm.

Compare that with the transformation activity going on today, constrained by business software operating within silos. The DWP is focussed on delivering a better "customer experience", and although laudable, the optimal solution from the citizen’s perspective is for the financial relationship with the Government to be as straightforward as possible when their situation is stable and for the Government to be proactive when their circumstances change adversely. Silo thinking must be discarded for the most effective community solutions to be designed.

To design the community applications, HISL advocates the use of collaborative design by public service providers, citizens and people with policy design skills using iterative prototyping. The company has already built a prototyping tool for community applications and populated it with a base prototype containing both the healthcare episode and a revolutionary public finance management solution including a personal taxes and benefits algorithm.

It is essential that the skunkworks team not only creates prototype software to demonstrate how community software is more effective, efficient and democratic than today’s solutions but also economic models that quantify the benefits in IT and business operations as well as estimating transformation costs. The tipping point for this historic transformation is the acceptance of the new design and the associated economics by the first government.

A proposal on how to kick-start the skunkworks by extending the base prototype to reach that tipping point is covered later.

The second stage of the transformation is transformation planning. This is where technical feasibility meets political acceptability. Using the personal taxes and benefits algorithm as the example, is the UK Government willing to reshape itself around citizen-centric solutions, and, if not, why not?

The third stage is the creation of the production software. HISL does not believe that today’s approach to software development can produce the level of operational resilience required for the large-scale, complex community applications needed. A more rigorous, engineering approach, akin to that used for complex Industrial Age products, is required as summarised in table 1 below. The approach is covered in more detail here.

The fourth stage of the transformation strategy is the transformation itself. This is a well understood process and the skills are plentiful, although the scale of the transformation is unprecedented.

The transformation will, of course, be difficult and take many years, but the alternative is to continue to squander one of the most powerful machines ever created by man.

To kick-start this fundamental once-off transformation, HISL is looking for people with the necessary public service expertise, policy design experience, economic modelling expertise and desire to create truly citizen-centric public services to work in a skunkworks with the HISL designers to start to collaboratively redesign public services for the public.

The initial scope is health and social care and taxes and benefits at the citizen level, and governance models, e.g. devolution and localisation, and public finance management at the macro level.

There is a growing number of candidate groups sharing the goal of a fairer society with empowered citizens. HISL will look to groups such as the civic tech community and the Open Government Partnership, and organisations such as the RSA should have the skills to help deliver the strategy advocated herein, and this is an open invitation to do so.

In summary, get in touch if you want to make the world a fairer place with empowered citizens by delivering citizen-centric public services through better exploiting one of the most powerful machines ever created by man.