Small – are we beautiful yet?

It is eight years since the OECD called for “dolphins not whales” in a plea for smaller projects when they warned of the “hidden danger to e-Government” caused by over-large ICT projects, cautioning that they “should be avoided wherever possible”. Yet, it seems that the lessons have still not been learnt. The ‘goldfish memory’ of public sector ICT procurement persists along with the high-profile disasters.

The Swan in the Machine

Wikipedia, quoting Nassim Taleb and noting his acknowledgement to Karl Popper, defines a Black Swan event as “a large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations” and makes the point that what distinguishes Taleb’s perception from previous work is not just the unpredictability but the high-impact of the event.

Black Swans have been occupying many distinguished minds for the past few weeks, in the wake of the global financial turmoil that followed the US Sub-Prime mortgage crisis, with the perception that a key component of the problem had been the mis-pricing, i.e. mis-appreciation, of the unsuspected – or hidden – risks involved.

Why Web 2.0 Matters

The advent of several new Web technologies and techniques, loosely referred to as “Web 2.0”, has revolutionised the delivery of information services to users via fixed and mobile Web browsers and has the potential to replace many traditional desktop applications and techniques.

Web 2.0 has, in little over a year, transformed the way in which users interact with information via the Web in dramatic and positive ways. Many of the services that have been developed so far could either have direct application in the service of Parliament or guide the development of future services. Reliance on traditional desktop and server applications needs to be reconsidered in the light of these new developments, which continue to evolve at a remarkable pace.

If any organisation is to have a modern, efficient information system for staff and public, which is able to keep pace with rapid change and compare favourably with the best offerings on the Web, the advent of Web 2.0 cannot be ignored. Although it is not a panacea, Web 2.0 can and should have a place in the information strategy.


This article was derived from the Written Evidence I submitted to the House of Commons Administration Select Committee enquiry into the provision of ICT services for Members.

The Dilemmas of Storage

Discussion of information inevitably leads to the question of storage and, more importantly, information management. Again, there are wider issues here than those usually considered.

Storage is certainly now cheap, very cheap. But, storage cost alone isn’t the issue – managing, finding and retrieving the information in the storage is the real cost. Throwing more storage at the problem will not, alone, solve the information management issues.

Requirements Capture - the Cinderella of Information Systems

“Garbage in, garbage out” is an often-quoted aphorism about computer systems but, all too often, it is forgotten that it is just as true about the design and implementation of systems. No matter how good the project management and suppliers, if the original specification is no good, the resulting system will be no good.

Requirements capture, as it has come to be known, i.e. the process of collecting and presenting the information necessary to define the system, is a highly skilled activity yet it is frequently delegated to junior, inexperienced staff on the grounds that it is just fact gathering.

Chips or Mash? Composite Identity in Context

Discussions about personal ID management often get sidetracked by the question of context, such as “are you talking about identity in a personal or corporate context?” Instead of speaking about identity in context it may be helpful to turn this around and look on context as being part of the identity in any given instance.

XRI & XDI – the USI (Ultra Simple Introduction)

What if...

  • you could navigate the Web using one easy-to-remember password?
  • you could enter your personal data once and use it on many Web sites?
  • you had a simple way of determining how information about you is used and disclosed by others?
  • you could ensure that your personal information and identity was controlled by one person — you?

These are the questions (posed by the Identity Commons) that, amongst others, the new open, non-proprietary XRI and XDI standards can answer. Their potential impact on identity management, identity-centric applications, information publishing, sharing and advanced searching could be very significant.

The Three Ages of Information Systems

Information Systems, like man, go through three ages but in a different order. For man, the three ages are the excitement of youth, the liberation of the prime of life and the constraints of old age. For Information Systems, the three ages are the excitement of the early, creative days of need, the constraints of misguided centralised control and the liberation of human-centred, information value appreciation. The trick is leapfrog from the creative first age to the productive third age without going though the destructive stagnation of the second age.