Skip to main content
Marx Was Right About One Thing

The Republic of Yemen apparently wishes to investigate the opportunities for e-government in that country, and why not?

I was on a trip to the Middle East this month, and the United Nations have invited me to pop over to Sana'a in December for a chat with the Yemeni prime minister.

What about Hawaii, I asked. “Sorry, they already have e-government, but how about Baghdad?”

No thanks, I replied. "The Yemen sounds fine. Do you have any of those nice blue Kevlar vests I could borrow?"

On the last trip to the region, Kuwait in fact, I was representing myself and not the UK government, which meant my PowerPoint deck, could have a picture of Karl Marx with the caption “Bureaucracy is the ultimate purpose of the state", and a second photo of my friend Alan Mather with the quote “e-government is brutally hard”.

Anyway, this time, when people asked me for my opinion on the success of our own e-government programme, I was able to say what I thought, rather than offer the official message from Whitehall’s department of e-communcations or as it’s better known.

“E-government is supposed to involve a more streamlined and cost effective method of delivering government services and this is, after all, why you need it so much in the Arab world which still suffers from the legacy of 500 years of Ottoman bureaucracy."

“However, in the UK, while we are doing some great things with XML, we seem to have got it back to front, and the bureaucracy is steadily increasing, despite the introduction of expensive new technologies and ambitious e-government projects.”

I told them that we now have 524,770 people working for central government ministries and quangos, an increase on last year of 26,550 employees. And even though most people still don’t file their tax returns online, the army of the Inland Revenue, which has one of most expensive e-government projects of all, has grown by 13,000 more people.

By 2006 the UK’s public sector workforce is predicted to rise to 684,000 at a cost of £19.5bn. Since 1997, the cost of running central government departments has risen by 50% to £6.7bn, although the Office of Government Commerce has now negotiated a more favourable deal for Office licences with Microsoft and is trialling open source.

“In the UK, we proudly describe this as the advance of the information economy and the triumph of e-government, and you can have this too,” I declared.

"But,” said the Arab minister, “we are trying to streamline our top-heavy civil service, make it smaller and more efficient and certainly more cost effective than it’s been in the past.”

His friends from Egypt, Dubai and other states nodded. After all, this was the march of progress and didn’t the UK know about such things?

I explained that joined-up government tends to make the administration larger rather than smaller.

It creates more opportunity to create new public sector jobs around technologies that didn’t exist in the past, for example, speed cameras, congestion charges, taxation, equal opportunities statistics, the list is endless.

In the end, government becomes so efficient that it employs everyone, which brings us back to Karl Marx and bureaucracy as the ultimate purpose of the state.

“Believe me, in the UK, we have all the answers, and a Government Gateway too,” I said.

“I know,” said the man from Egypt, “You tried to sell it to us.”

“See,” I said. "This just proves that we in the UK with our e-government exchange programme can help the Egyptians master the science of bureaucracy and for the price of an airline ticket, we can lend you our Minister, Douglas Alexander too".


Popular posts from this blog

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…
The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.

In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …