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back to article GOV.UK's criminal record check IT job blow: Home Office snubs new design

More rumblings of conflict between the Cabinet Office's Government Digital Service - the team creating trendy GOV.UK - and other mandarins were heard echoing around Whitehall last night. Late on Tuesday, the Cabinet Office slipped out a statement in which it buried the news that GDS has suffered two significant blows. It said …

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Corrupt and Perverse is always a Precedent of Incompetence Majoring in Office, Public or Private?

That sort of thing makes one wonder what kind of shenanigans and dirty laundry the government is trying to hide.

Another OmniShambles brought to you Courtesy of a Crass Cretinous Coalition conspiring to present a Conservative Liberal Democracy as a SMARTR Means of Administrative Government/Remote Self-Help Enablement.

Or are you to argue that it is only natural and to be universally expected and accepted as quite perfectly normal, such serial failures/missteps?

I don't think so, bud, ... not anywhere near normal and natural from or for anything or anyone with intelligence.

I wonder who and/or what in the past era will be blamed for the present failures which be hindering the future arriving in full proper working order with new orders?

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Re: Corrupt and Perverse is always a Precedent....

Yes yes now if you can head back to Labour party headquarters and leave the rest of us still paying for the 10 Billions pound NHS IT feck up and the countless other wastes of money that Labour wracked up in 13 years of government , we would all be grateful.

Omnishambles ... OMNISHAMBLES.... 10 Billion pounds wasted and you have the cheek to critque!

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Re: Corrupt and Perverse is always a Precedent....

Why so party-political El_Fev? A cock-up is a cock-up. Saying "yeah, yeah yeah, but GORDON done it worser" doesn't really help work out what went wrong, why it went wrong and how to stop it going wrong again.

Rosie

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Re: Corrupt and Perverse is always a Precedent....

Yeah, cock ups happen under any political or commercial leadership, and don't forget that the senior Sir Humphreys have likely served under both labour and the conservatives. Despite what ministers like to think, I bet they have remarkably little influence on how successful (or otherwise) projects in their departments are.

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GDS

Seem to be one IT related agency that actually performs well. They seem to be getting on with and doing what they're supposed to, but other departments and poor communications get in the way.

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Re: GDS

Not from my experience!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: GDS

I also have generally positive experiences of working with people at GDS. They really are trying to get it right from the perspective of the end user.

Govt departments are silos by design and it is incredibly difficult to effect change from the centre, particularly given the power wielded by the massive IT suppliers.

Taking the piss out of MLF never gets old though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: GDS

Do you work there?

If not, then you can't read the papers. GDS muscled into UC, caused further delays, and were dumped this year. They don't have the back-end skills or experience to do the job. But hey - the websites really look very pretty.

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Re: GDS

"They don't have the back-end skills"

True! Also the humility to realise that incumbent civil servants might know something about how complex the requirements really are.

Sadly their default starting position in any conversation I've had with them has always been, "We know how to do this better than you. So, what is it that you do?"

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Re: GDS

Actually they most certainly do have the 'muscle' as you put it. Some of the guys working at Cabinet are major-league backend devs in Python, PHP and Ruby. GDS' CI system puts just about every commercial company (and I have worked at a lot of them) to shame - take a look at their GitHub structure for a start at https://github.com/alphagov/government-digital-strategy

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Re: GDS (@Julian)

I think you mistake web sites and CMS (of the content variety) with enterprise systems. Where GDS is decidedly underpowered. Mike Bracken is ex-Guardian, and it shows. Some howlers I've heard from GDS architects (also ex-Guardian, unsurprisingly) - "we don't need single sign-on - people remember their Facebook passwords, don't they" and when a gov. dept. insisted on Windows because of device driver constraints "just pay the vendor to write Linux drivers".

GDS are good for sure. But haven't a clue beyond building public web sites (which they do very, very well). They have no enterprise credibility, and their dogmatism is their weakness. F/OSS at any cost, agile or die, and just as importantly, user-needs bias. That last one completely ignores stakeholders you encounter in enterprise scenarios - sys admins, security, business admins.

And whilst I'm having a go -

ALL of UK.gov IT has one core problem - no business objective. Everything they do is in response to a crisis - usually one published in the media. A sentence you hear all too often is "we must replace our old systems". Great. Why? REALLY why?!? Are they too expensive? Don't they handle the current load? Do they need to be updated in response to changes in primary or secondary legislation?

I've worked as a consultant to gov on and off since 2001, and have never, ever been given a SMART objective. Every time I ask I'm given the "business case". Every business case I've seen is so garbled, vague and ambivalent that IT hasn't a clue why they're building something, or procuring it, or (often) what they're supposed to be building or procuring.

The other unfortunate thing about GDS is their arrogance.

I have very mixed feelings about all of this. On the one hand it means there's always going to be work for capable IT people. On the other, it's why we're paying almost £10 for a pack of fags.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: GDS (@Julian)

I'm working pretty closely with GDS building the backend services that will EventuallyTM drive one or more of their more prominent exemplars. We're actually one of the reasons for the delay, and resourcing is again the issue - it ain't GDS's fault that they've got no data. They were expecting all the major departments to have their own houses in order and to have their digital transformation projects well underway by now. As you can see by UC, this simply isn't the case and 2017-2018, if ever, is the more likely estimate.

I'll simply not have a cross word said against them. The guys I've interacted with are, bearing in mind the fact they're a team cobbled together on short notice and only really just hitting their stride, absolute agile ninjas. They've come into a high-security public sector environment and shown the old crusties how it should be done. Their end of the work has met expectations and has been forced to sit there waiting for useful data to be fed into it.

That said, I can understand why some might have had different experiences with them. GDS is largely staffed by Shoreditch-type SME contractors. That's how they were stood up so quickly, and also why theyre now struggling to resource their own work. You'll get differing methodologies and technologies from exemplar to exemplar, simply because although they're all in theory GDS, they're all from remarkably different parent companies.

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Re: GDS (@Julian)

Not to dispute any of what you say but GDS consistently alienate the people they're supposed to be working with. People who know how to build and maintain big systems that cannot be replaced with Rails. GDS walk in with the attitude of "we know how to do your job better than you" and "we know what your requirements are".

They don't.

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Unhappy

Re: GDS (@Julian)

"They've come into a high-security public sector environment and shown the old crusties how it should be done. "

Ho hum.....says it all about GDS' approach really.

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Re: GDS (@Julian)

... it ain't GDS's fault that they've got no data ... Their end of the work has met expectations and has been forced to sit there waiting for useful data to be fed into it ...

Your case would be stronger if you gave some examples.

Here is a counter-example.

GDS took part in a so-called "data-mining" exercise to identify eligible voters in GB elections who haven't registered. The exercise was reported on in the Electoral Commission's Data mining pilot – evaluation report July 2013.

GDS were given data by the Student Loans Company (SLC) among others to match against local electoral rolls. According to the Commission: "There seemed to be issues with the addresses on this data being incomplete. Only one pilot area reported usable results for this database and they found that nearly a third of the addresses were quite clearly incomplete. SLC informed us that the addresses they provided to GDS were complete, so it seems that these issues may have arisen in the matching process, although we are unable to say for certain" (p.7).

The Commission's report is a 134-page catalogue of problems like that with GDS being repeatedly criticised for their end of the work not meeting expectations and the exercise was declared a failure: "The findings from this pilot do not justify the national roll out of data mining".

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Re: GDS

"... Also the humility to realise that incumbent civil servants might know something about how complex the requirements really are ... Sadly their default starting position in any conversation I've had with them has always been, "We know how to do this better than you. So, what is it that you do?"

See also:

Frankee Llonnygog @ Thursday 12th December 2013 09:26 GMT: GDS consistently alienate the people they're supposed to be working with. People who know how to build and maintain big systems that cannot be replaced with Rails. GDS walk in with the attitude of "we know how to do your job better than you" and "we know what your requirements are".

and

Anonymous Coward @ Thursday 12th December 2013 17:27 GMT: They are keen to tell their client what to do and pay scant regard to business requirements or needs.

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See for example GDS's blog post Submitting to the language of users:

Plain English is mandatory for all of GOV.UK. This means we don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do.

For example, we normally talk about sending something (whether online or in the post), rather than ‘submitting’ it. This is short, clear and unambiguous. It’s also listed in the Plain English Campaign’s A to Z of alternative words.

We’ve recently been working with HMRC on moving VAT content to the ‘mainstream‘ (services and information for citizens and small businesses) part of GOV.UK. In the first draft, we used the plain English ‘sending your VAT return’ across all of this content.

However, our HMRC colleagues felt very strongly that we should change this back to ‘submit’ to match the terminology used on the HMRC website, as this is ‘used frequently and known by VAT businesses’.

GDS were trying to tell HMRC that they shouldn't talk about "submitting a VAT return". In their informed opinion the correct locution is "sending a VAT return".

This must be the very exemplar of prattish inanity.

In what sense can GDS be said to be "helping" HMRC?

The word "submit" is too long and formal, is it? Then how come it occurs several hundred times on GOV.UK? (Enter "submit" in the Search box and start counting.)

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That the problem with most Government IT contracts Politicians get in the way

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Politicians don't get in the way half as much as Civil Servants do.

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Don't peerage titles usually come with an "of..."

I don't quite understand why MLF is a Baroness, but in the time honoured tradition of attaching a location to a peerage title, may I suggest that she be know from this point forward as...

"Baroness Martha Lane Fox of Clusterfucksville".

I believe it is a small hamlet located somewhere near Shoreditch.

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Re: Don't peerage titles usually come with an "of..."

She's already Baroness MiLF of SoHo.

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Re: Don't peerage titles usually come with an "of..."

I keep reading MLF as MILF ...:D

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Re: Don't peerage titles usually come with an "of..."

Isn't that close by Feck City?

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xyz
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Popcorn.... we need lots of popcorn

First rule of manderinism: if we're paying for it, you're not getting the credit for it. Now that La MiLF de Soho has flounced off, expect fireworks. It'll be like a sack of rabid rats going at it hammer and tongs.

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As an outside observer...

It looks like it's just the usual departmental turf wars. A bit of a disappointment but no real surprise.

I am slightly worried about the DWP, especially as they've been doing a Sir Humphrey over the whole UC thing, but then even that's a default position.

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Paris Hilton

A mandarin echoes?

But not for long?

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Unhappy

Big systems are *tough* old, multiple database, partly mainframe based more so.

And guess what?

That describes a lot of the back end UK govt systems.

You don't like all horrible old nasty COBOL driving the dumb terminal emulation?

Tough s**t.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh goody!

"... technology that now looks likely to be built in-house by HM Passports Office."

Maybe they can do it with an Excel spreadsheet and an intern or two?

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Anonymous Coward

I've worked with GDS in the past and here are my thoughts.

GDS are a complete and total waste of time. Mostly newbies in the industry, right out of college or having done some work experience in numerous charities / trendy media companies. Largely considered the 'golden boys' by Francis Maude.

Largely spin Agile methods for software development but more than not forget underlying infrastructure requirements. None of them are certified Scrum Masters from what I've seen and none had heard of the Agile Alliance. They implement Agile in a very rigid fashion without taking business environments into account (surely an erroneous implementation method).

They evangelise open source is the way to go and mandate open source tool usage whilst clutching Apple products (not exactly open source) like desperate hipsters.

Little to no experience in cyber security and are happy to disregard local security requirements to fulfil deemed user stories and their own objectives. They are keen to tell their client what to do and pay scant regard to business requirements or needs. They have all project spend approval so if the business disagrees with what GDS state, they will prevent project spend leaving the client in the lurch and in the bad books of Cab Office and Treasury. Furthermore, they can't lose!! If something goes right they claim that 'they made it happen', however if it goes wrong, they blame the business for being 'luddites'.

Wonderful at websites and making things look 'pretty' but largely rubbish at enterprise IT projects. All flash, no substance!

Once this government are out they'll have lost their sugar daddy (Maude) and they'll all be on the dole queue! Good riddance to bad rubbish! I won't hire any of them!

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paging d moss esq.

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Paging DMossEsq

J Arthur's bellhop couldn't find me on 12 December 2013.

Not surprising. I've been following a punishing schedule of Christmas celebrations.

Was that the day I went for a bicycle ride with Tom Loosemore, Tony Singleton and William Heath? Was it the day Nigel Shadbolt picked me up in his Maserati and, together with Stephan Shakespeare and Craig Belsham, we went for a spin round Cowes in his boat? Or was it the day ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken invited me and a couple of satisfied customers from DWP, HMRC and the Electoral Commission round to Aviation House for a glass of paraquat?

I can't remember.

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