Chapter 1: The Long Night of Reckoning
What if we could take a massive sledgehammer (probably best we name it “The Reckoner”) to all the digital services being run throughout government today?
There could be no hiding from The Reckoner, be they services running in the NHS, the emergency services, schools, Local Authorities, Whitehall… large or small: The Reckoner makes no distinction. From vanity ERPs through to aging in-house stalwarts, the Reckoner will rain down on them all… showering us in tiny software components as it goes.
Then, when The Long Night of Reckoning is over, the remnants of our shattered digital services are pushed together and piled high into a mountain – what would that look like?
- Thousands of database tables heaped onto millions of columns?
- Reams of input forms and reports?
- Great valleys of APIs, importers/exporters, batch scripts?
- Deep rivers of authentication and authorisation code?
- Maybe even some Java unit-tests?
One thing would be certain: The Reckoner would have laid-bare the extent of Government IT duplication and its hubris. How many tables to store the exact-same employee data have we bought or made between us? How many “booking sick” workflows have we introduced like it was the first time anyone had ever thought of it?
The Reckoner has shown us the Mountain of Components and given us a chance at redemption…
Chapter 2: The Purge
When the dust settles: what if we could jettison the millions of duplicated components from The Reckoner’s mountain? Leave just one example of each component and bulldoze away the rest? Once the purge is over, and the mountain crumbles… how many genuinely distinct software components would be left standing?
Hardly any. That’s how many.
The Reckoner has shown us that bundling Government computing into “systems” that are then sold or built over-and-over has led us to an incredibly wasteful place. Framing and discussing things in terms of a “system” fuels our silo ways. Could it be that the reason the “Government computer system” endures is to support
the lucrative practice of selling us duplicate software components? Surely not!
Is there another way? We think so… and open standards are screaming the direction we need to take.
Chapter 3: The New Dawn
After The Reckoning, it was written that no government organisation, however big or small, would ever buy a wretched “computer system” again – lest they be reckoned with.
In addition, the newly-formed Ministry for Ethical Government Computing decreed that whenever a government organisation needed to deliver a new digital service, it must first consult The Great Blueprint Library. For inside the great library resides detailed instructions (mostly specified in JSON) to conjure any existing digital service.
Any existing digital service.
No matter which organisation, sector or department: there would be blueprints to describe each and every functional area. Fire and Rescue Services, for example, would seek blueprints for Fire Safety, Incident Reporting, Site Risk Surveys, Safe & Well Checks, Fleet Management, HR, Time and Attendance, Incident Command, hydrant management, training, expenses, room booking, tea-fund management… etc.
Where, in the time before The Reckoning, elders spoke in “systems”… now there are only blueprints.
The hundreds of blueprints available in the great library are communal, social and ever-evolving endeavours – how alien the concept of an “annual user group” seems here. Blueprints originate from all walks of public sector life: perhaps some have been built to express Central Government requirements, or to implement regional strategies, or to trial a local team initiative.
Blueprints are also the perfect accompaniment to open data. Not only have we made our data more freely available, but now we can provide the instructions to start gaining immediate benefit from it. Blueprints would also be instrumental in ratcheting-up the transparency agenda and they’re not too shabby when it comes to interoperability either.
But what if a blueprint in the library doesn’t exactly meet what an organisation is looking for?
Well firstly… this is a good moment to pause for reflection. What were the options available for having a system slightly altered before The Reckoning? There were a few unappealing strategies: Wait? Hope? Forget? Pay? Get coding? Lobby? Shout?
Blueprints avoid such vendor-lock-in-woe by again championing a more open and collaborative way: “mods“.
Alongside each blueprint, organisations can also share any small tweaks they make to a blueprint as a “Community Modification”. Mods allow for common reuse… while still allowing local customisation and innovation.
Chapter 4: Fantastic Machines
Once an organisation has selected its set of blueprints from the library, perhaps along with a handful of mods, they’ll need to transform those definitions into modern, user-facing digital services. The Elders warned us to be vigilant at this point. How many gold coins could a canny merchant charge for a fantastic machine capable of turning our every desire into cutting-edge digital services? Billions? Trillions?
The Reckoner is very clear on this matter: zero gold coins. No gold coins are necessary for an organisation to clone itself such a fantastical machine.
Perhaps, in the long shadow of the Mountain of Components, the saddest realisation is that the codebase required to pull-off this vision needn’t be that big or fantastical at all – just under
5mb at the last count.
The secret sauce required to unlock all of this potential lies in establishing an open standard to define all our digital services that is inclusive, considered and intuitive.