March 22, 2011 by Jim Morton
As I often complain, it is a big challenge in my line of work to make things sound fun, or at least interesting, or at least not that dull. For instance, the first line of draft 0.3 of the “Proposed Web Strategy For WCC” is a note to myself highlighted in very bright yellow to come up with a much better title.
Fortunately I was able to find a decent quote to introduce my reasons for why we need to develop a new approach to the web. In 1993 William Gibson was quoted in an interview as saying “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed“.
Admittedly it is something of a reach for me to jump from Neuromancer to the concerns of a local government ICT department – but the maturity and reach of the “future” that was possible in 1993 has now been fulfilled with the widespread adoption of a standards driven world wide web and the availability of high speed communications links to a large proportion of the public.
As such a whole new world of opportunities and threats has opened up for organisations like WCC, which leads to reasons why we need to re-evaluate our stance towards the web and how we interact with it. I’ve banged on about this in the document for quite some time, but in a very condensed summary:
- There are loads of new and emerging technologies that it would be great if we could exploit.
- Public expectations of what can be done via the web are expanding all the time and we need to keep up.
- Pressures from legislation (e.g. more open data and transparency) and the rise of the enigmatic “3rd sector”.
- The fact that the organisation is going to need to make some changes to exploit the benefits and avoid the risks.
In addition to these high level considerations, we have a number of very pressing business needs to satisfy, as well as the ongoing requirements to save money, do more with less, become more efficient and finally perfect that process for turning lead into gold.
So to understand our specific needs we are complimenting the pure strategic stuff with an exercise to gather the requirements and priorities for electronic service delivery across all areas of WCC.
Once we understand our priorities the strategy then goes on to suggest (at some length again) that there are four main aims that we should work towards to help fulfill our service delivery requirements, while taking advantage of the benefits that the web can now offer us. NOTE: These ideas are still up for discussion so may be different by the time the strategy is completed, but I’ve included them here to give you an idea of the concepts we are developing:
- Embrace the practice of using ICT as a Utility: It is now possible to consume software, development platforms and infrastructure from the cloud which can potentially lead to many benefits. We need to understand where working this way will help save us time and money as well as avoid extensive development in re-inventing the wheel where a product or service can be used off the shelf. As an example our open data site is already provided using the Ruby on Rails platform as a service provider Heroku.
- Warwickshire as a service: This is a (hopefully) catchy way of saying that we need to expand our initial work on open data to include as many of our data sets and services as possible i.e. build an open API for the organisation. The vision is that both internal and external developers will make use of the same building blocks for creating services applications and web sites.
- Rational approach to information management: We need to overcome the historical and technical silos that we have built up around information to build single sources of the truth and gain a clearer understanding of the context around our data and documents. This will allow us to build more useful, accurate applications and web sites as well as providing clear understanding of which information must be kept safe and secure.
Use the web to extend the organisation: We need to move from an arms-length model of interacting with the public web via a curated web presence and individual point solutions for deeper interaction to becoming an organisation that is engaged with the web at a cultural as well as technical level. Staff at WCC need to merge the web into their everyday work-life in the same way that they do in their personal lives.