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Enjoyed the piece.

One of the things that has always frustrated me is the paradox of the large BPO/SI brigade that deliver so much to the public sector.

On the one hand they have the power and tools to innovate, either internally or by partnering with 3rd party vendors (typically much smaller). On the other they survive by making things long and complicated!

Sadly the reality is that they are typically anti-innovation or at least apathetic making the task of the real innovators (internal or otherwise) almost impossible.

For me innovation should allow customers to achieve more for less. In the short term this will damage revenue streams for the big IT suppliers (IBM GS, BT GS, HP/EDS etc), but surely in the long term this will give benefit across the value chain, from small vendor through to huge clients.

Eventually, the customer will have to demand this by requiring contractors to do more for less. Until this happens things will stay as they are.

John Suffolk

William, you were great. It is because of people like you, we move forward, even if it does add rather a lot of spice to daily proceedings:-)

william perrin

a prat writes


yes that was an interesting time (NB civil service coded language here) and i was grateful for the managerial cover up the chain and indeed subsequently making money available for more innovation.

Innovation in central government is fundamentally tricky, not least because of the split responsibility. When i innovate (see also http://www.silicon.com/technology/networks/2006/08/21/youtube-the-latest-tool-of-uk-e-government-39161665/ ) the risks of it going wrong or going publicly messy aren't born by me, but by the minister at the despatch box.

The nature of the system since time immemorium under all Parties is such that you are supposed to keep ministers abreast of unusual things that might cause a fuss in the press. But of course if one has to go up and down the chain, the risky stuff will often get derisked/neutered. That said, I have been fortunate at times to work for ministers of both parties who have been prepared to take innovation risk.

This can be parodied (NB parody - not real) in a Frost report kind of way as:

I innovate,
You sanction a permissable risk,
The minister gets battered at the despatch box,
We all get thrashed in the Mail on Sunday,
You get told to keep your staff in line,
The citizenry benefit and wonders what all the fuss was about



Paul Johnston

Great post, John. Its funny how most people want risk-free innovation especially from the public sector!

John Suffolk

Hi Carol, you got it. I have seen and worked with many innovators, and each and every one is different in their approach and style. This one crystallised the style issue because it went national and I had to take a view about should I just let it run... didn't really have any choice in reality as the "cat was out of the bag". I also had to take a decision about was the pain worth the gain, would we want to repeat the headlines or should we lock down on anyone doing anything that might be presented negatively. If we want different outcomes we need to do different things, there is no going back!

William, I hope you are well. I think many would agree that to create great solutions/products/outcomes you need a range of knowledge, skills, experience and styles. I agree with your point of accepting and being respectful of the differing roles. The reality has always been that to work horizontally means that you have to involve all those affected in the design and development etc, but starting and finishing with what the customer wants.

Carol Hardy

John are you really saying this was the first time you really understood innovators, or are you saying this one really brought it home to you? I guess not many people get the "privilege" of seeing what their team do splattered all over the papers:-)


I think what you neatly describe John is that the inventors, implementors and people who fix stuff are not the same people.

The process of innovation you describe above did of course work. To paraphrase someone from earlier this week: digital government exists; it just didnt come from government.

What might have helped (and might yet help) is if i) we were all more aware and respectful of these different roles and
ii) all our work was mindful of, driven by and formally designed with the participation of the needy or those the work affects or is intended to help.

That's ThePublicOffice message, and the central theme more recently of Total Place.

We invested in transforming government and the tried to create a vast new edifice of online services without ever getting good at transdisciplinary working. (I say "we" because we're all in this together). But it's a multidisciplinary problem. We all need to get better at the #CMRD.

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