Government need to get relaxed about IT procurement

At yesterday’s inaugural Lichfield Social Media Café the conversation turned to local government e-petitions. Will Perrin pointed out that local gov have issues using an open-source system like the Number 10 petitions system because of restrictive IT contracts.

The U.S. is again making progress in this area, by launching (hat-tip to Dave Briggs) which is making cloud-computing and social media services available to all federal agencies.

Potentially, this could have a knock on impact on a couple of fronts. Hopefully, this will help prove the case for cloud-computing and social media to the commercial sector and increase up take of this next generation of IT.

I’d also like to see this replicated over here in the UK, encouraging local authorities to shake off the shackles of oppression forced on them by their IT consultants and outsourcers.

When we spoke about the e-petitions system Nicky Getgood mentioned The Rainbow in Digbeth which, faced with a noise abatement order, managed to get over 2,500 people to join a Facebook group in support. The local authority wouldn’t accept this as a form of petition, which I can understand as it’s hard to verify. However, I suggested that it needs to be as easy if not easier for people to sign a recognised petition as it is to join a Facebook group.

So with the US government pushing tools like Facebook to federal agencies is there now a case for government at all levels to build things like Facebook and Twitter apps that allow people to engage on their platform of choice?

Thanks to Pez I get a DM reminding me to put my bin out. How about a Facebook app that does the same thing for those not on Twitter? Or a Facebook app that shows me planning applications in my area as part of my news feed?

There are more possibilities that will come to me after another cuppa but that’s a start.

David Stuart suggested at LSMC that we shouldn’t make it easier for people to do things like sign petitions. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from Daily Mail polls?

So is giving local authorities that freedom really a good thing? And while we’re all going on about digital engagement, is this level of digital engagement a good idea, or giving a voice to those ‘busy-bodies’, or another why for government to provide a good service to citizens?


6 responses to “Government need to get relaxed about IT procurement”

  1. Pezholio Avatar

    What’s the exact issue with using the ePetitions system then? I’m guessing it’s because it’s built on open source architecture (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and a lot of authorities are Microsoft houses?

    We’re in quite a fortunate position here, as our CMS is built on LAMP architecture, but only because a guy in our IT team does a bit of Linux stuff as a hobbyist.

    This is a real shame, in my opinion, the web wouldn’t be what it was without open source – imagine if every web server had to have a Windows and IIS license? The costs would be astronomical!*

    There are libraries out there that compile PHP into .net, so maybe that’s an option for those councils who can’t benefit from open source?

    * As a footnote to this – it’s amusing that the new £2.8 million Birmingham City Council website uses Oracle HTTP server, rather than Apache (which is free and used by a good 98% of web servers). Sigh.

  2. paul canning Avatar

    ‘restrictive IT contracts’ will certainly be a huge barrier to progress in UK local government.

    I’ve blogged about how this could play out as it relates to Google’s ‘cloud’

  3. stymaster Avatar

    Having worked in and on the fringes of the public sector for many years, and being a supporter of open source, a lot of the resistance of it’s adoption is fear of the unknown. Everyone knows MS, so MS is a safe choice:

    No one got fired for buying IBM

    for example.

    The open source model is completely alien to managers as a whole. If something isn’t closed, proprietary, and expensive then it is worthless. There’s no-one to point a finger at. (though, have you ever tried to get anything out of MS or Oracle support?)

    Never mind that with the right people implementing an open-source solution can be better and cheaper. The whole industry operates on fear of being blamed 🙂

    Regarding Facebook/Twitter- please no. I’ve yet to see the point: surely it’s just a rehashed mix of web, RSS and mail, mostly full of, well, meaningless twitter? The number10 petition thing is a great idea in principle, it’s just the results that fail :-/

  4. Philip John Avatar

    @pezholio I think the problem is best summed up by @stymaster with “There’s no one to point a finger at.”

    As for the use of social media… I’m talking about using it to enable citizens to use existing services. Instead of spending thousands on a proprietary e-petitions system like many councils, including BCC are doing, why not use an open source solution and integrate with social media like Facebook. The actually social media integration is nothing more than improving usability.

  5. Pezholio Avatar

    I like your idea about integrating with Facebook / Twitter, I may well have to nick that for a future LDC project 😉

  6. Philip John Avatar

    Dammit, I should be getting paid for this stuff!

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