Why Do We Need An Applications Strategy? – First Anniversary Re-Issue

May 22, 2009 by Jim Morton

I wrote the following article almost a year ago, following the publication of our New Wave Applications blueprint. To be honest no-one really cared. However now that the strategy agenda is moving forward and lots of people are asking questions about what we are doing and why we are doing it I thought it would be useful to dust it off and post it here. This is mostly because I am quite lazy, but also because the points raised below are still entirely valid – and as has become apparent over the last year, not just for WCC.

So lets travel back to June 2008 – a happy, innocent time when the stockmarket was booming, no-one had heard of Lady GaGa and I was carefree 33-year-old…[cue misty going back in time special effect]

Firstly the good news: A lot of people within WCC are perfectly happy with the applications that they use everyday. So happy in fact, that there seems to be few reasons for making any big changes

Our existing set of applications are generally very effective at supporting the business functions of the organisation. But despite this reasonably happy state of affairs, coupled to the fact that our applications fulfil the bulk of our functional requirements there is still a definite need for a change – which is almost exactly what my last girlfriend said when she dumped me. Yes, even the bit about “functional requirements”.

Anyway, leaving the barren wasteland of my personal life to one side, what are the main reasons that a change is needed?

Information isn’t properly managed: We tend to store information in a way that is fine for carrying out individual services, but completely unorganised if you are trying to work across teams, services or directorates. Key information (such as citizen details) is duplicated and stored many times over according to different standards and subject to different rules. The upshot is that information can be difficult to locate, inaccurate and out of date leading to confusion and difficulties.

It is difficult to join things up: Applications are generally focussed on a specific task, process or directorate. Due to this if we want to do something that requires several applications to be involved in one service or process things can get very complicated, expensive and time consuming. So we end up coming up with clever ways to work around the problem, often involving to-do lists, a load of post-it notes and numerous sweary phone calls.

ICT can be too complicated to use: Some of our applications (particularly the larger ones) require staff to develop a high level of understanding of how the application works. Unless you have a beard, enjoy fantasy novels and work in the ICT department you should only interact with any application to help make your life easier, plus this interaction should be as quick and easy as possible.

We can save time and money: Not rocket science really; in making applications more reliable, accurate and easy to use we will make our services run more smoothly and at a better level of quality. The time that is currently spent by everyone working around the issues can be better spent on actually delivering services or producing new and improved ways of working.

There is the potential for big improvements: By introducing changes in the way we create organise and use applications it should be possible to solve the problems that currently affect us as well as making life easier for all WCC staff. In addition there will be further benefits. We will be able to shift the development and ownership of business processes away from bearded ICT people to the non-bearded non-ICT people who actually run the services. We will be able to link up with other organisations much more effectively and we will be able to deliver much more effective information and services to our citizens.

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