Tactical vs Strategic

For the record, as well as a background managing blue-chip corporates for companies like IBM, I’ve also had 22 years in professional motorsport. The motorsport involvement perhaps changes my perspective. Whilst mid-season, one has to work around design deficiencies to find the two tenths of a second that makes the difference between 8th and pole position in qualifying, there is always an appreciation that close-season design is the cornerstone of a sustainable, competitive advantage.

In the UK, the business-driven (sic) focus of Government Connect (GC) is in danger of contracting the same malaise that affected ‘Priority Outcomes’ set centrally for Local Government organisations. Someone sets a business objective with a short-term timescale, money is thrown at a tactical solution, the realisation dawns that it’s not sustainable, and the business case collapses. In the case of GC, one has to wonder if the technology strategist is again being disregarded as a mere mechanic. For sure, there is an understanding of federated identity management within their technical team, but it doesn’t sound as though anyone’s listening. It’s a bit like trying to overcome a handling problem with expensive new suspension components, despite having been told by the Design Director that it’s the chassis that is at fault.

There is not necessarily an issue with delivering a small proof of concept in an area like ID cards that demonstrates the business benefit, so long as the tactical technology solution is replaced by a sustainable architecture. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. Brown field, dirty solutions are in danger of becoming the technology solution, severely impacting the long-term business case, because no one understood the significance of technology strategy.

The days of allowing the business to run around implementing business solutions, without any governance from those delivering the technology strategy, need to end, right now. That mentality has already resulted in dozens of ‘point solutions’ being deployed into local and national government, making it difficult and expensive to join up. Let’s not kid ourselves, many of the suppliers know full-well that there is a better way, but continue to foist point solutions as a means of tying in the customer and maximising revenue.

If the technology is ever to be aligned with the business need, we need the Design Director to be committing the team to the longer term delivery of a new chassis. In this case, our ‘new chassis’ will move away from the organisation-centric technology architecture, putting the customer at the centre of: security, authentication, identity management, and records management. Done like this, issues like civil liberties around information sharing disappear, because the customer is given control.

Whilst we continue to tolerate performance managed, career objectives of civil servants and suppliers being allowed to jointly promote the delivery of tactical solutions, we are, I fear, on a hiding to nothing. To paraphrase a couple of recent quotes:

“I don’t care about strategies, I’ve promised Gordon Brown that he’ll have a solution within 18 months, and I don’t care how brown-field or dirty it is” – Senior Civil Servant overseeing the development of Government Connect.

“Yes, a strategic framework is the obvious way forward, but that would need 4 engineers rather than 40. I have shareholders to answer to. What would you do?” – MD of a well-known FM outsourcing company.

We will continue to communicate ‘within’ central government to assist those that do understand, but I suspect that they will be sidelined, being categorised as mere mechanics, so that their strategic vision doesn’t impede the tactical solutions upon which the career progress and profits of others depend. No, I conclude that the only way to resolve this is to change the culture at the top. If that means delivering communications to a wider audience that prompts them to ask awkward questions of their government, so be it.

We have a saying in racing: ‘everyone wants to be a racer, but no one wants to go fast’. So, if I stray outside of your comfort zone, tough. If I come across as brusque and abrasive, that’s because I am. I’m only interested in winning the race that delivers sustainable transformation, otherwise I lose my citizen sponsorship deal…

David Gale
March 2007

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