Agile and open standards discussed at Digital Leaders Salon

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Digital Leaders held a salon on Tuesday in London where the theme was ‘Agile and Open Standards: Partnership or Fight to the Death?’*.

The event started off with two short opening speeches. In the first, the speaker said he believed if one lacks in-depth knowledge it is easy conflate digital with agile, though this is not the case.

He also said that digital has a yin – open standards and lean techniques, as well as a yang, which is agile – the funky, trendy stuff with the user at the centre of everything being the mantra.

Some of the thinking behind the government’s open ICT strategy was about progressive separation of bespoke services, creating a level playing field, he said. An attendee later commented that bespoke can be done in an agile fashion.

The speaker said there are two notions of the government as a platform: one is that there should be open standards and architecture, and a finding of commonalities across government. The second is more traditional: that there is a piece of technology that the government will own and which will be open source.

In the second opening piece, an expert said that agile is different for each government department, it is a method that is delivering and doing well in government. It delivers a sustainable IT function and may even break the stranglehold of established insitutions in the industry.

Following this the floor was open for free discussion.

One of the attendees wondered why the PAYE system took just two years to build whereas it took 4 years to get the Universal Credit pilot going. One answer given was that PAYE was built at a time when systems were simpler and also that programmes and codes are built by people and it depends on the skills and abilities of the person in charge.

This started the conversation of recruitment, with one expert saying that the government has a low pay scale for a permanent developer compared to the private sector and thus they may be missing out on the real top talent of the country.

The majority of the table accepted the government’s 25 examplars, but noted that it was the tip of the iceberg, considering the government has thousands of functions.

Another question discussed was whether the government should be a systems integrator. One participant said that the government should not do everything in-house as that is not its purpose. However, only the government truly understands what it does and there is always a risk when giving work to third parties.

Moreover, governments change within five years which means that while administrations are always willing to agree to measures that will help improve services in the long run, they often get sidetracked by short term improvements and implementation of those measures does not always happen. Moreover, each government introduces a different set of policies which can potentially be problematic when trying to create services responsive to change.

There was also general consensus that phrases like open data, open source and open standards are often used interchangeably and need to be more strictly defined.

The next Digital Leaders event is networking drinks on March 25.

*The event took place under Chatham House rules, therefore no names and quotations have been included.

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