The UK Govt could be kick-starting a revolution. Its motives are sincere, but has it laid down clear enough ground rules?

I’m not sure why but the arrival of the Government’s Cloudstore, a new portal for public sector bodies to procure software, got me thinking about the “Comparethemeerkats” campaign. Bear with me…

Even if you are suffering ‘meerkat fatigue’ I don’t think many would argue this campaign has made a dull subject (price comparison websites) somewhat entertaining.

And without wishing to offend those who spend their lives processing public sector tenders I wonder whether there is something to be learnt from this approach. Many people would agree that the mere mention of ‘Government Procurement’ would be a powerful sedative. I’m not sure what the Cloudstore equivalent of meerkats would be, but surely greater emphasis should be placed on properly promoting the service so that both buyers and the SMEs who are meant to benefit from access to Government procurement maximise the opportunity?

While the tone is generally positive there are outstanding questions. Mark Say’s article in the Guardian worryingly saw an admission from Phil Pavitt, CIO at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC): “How big departments are going to use it (Cloudstore) has not been fully thought through…"

At the very least the Cloudstore signals an intention from Government to act upon long harboured aspirations to move away from expensive, long-term IT contracts and enable more UK small businesses to overcome the bureaucratic nightmare that is Government procurement.

As Stuart Lauchlan suggested this could be a quiet revolution. Yes many of the well-known vendors have made it onto the list, but the message is fairly clear. Be prepared to deliver short-term contracts and strip away the complex implementation costs or we have alternatives. It could be argued that the mere suggestion of alternative is enough to focus minds and deliver greater efficiencies for the public sector (and us taxpayers).

Perhaps when we look back on it we’ll see this decision as one of those moments when Government intervention sparked a truly revolutionary moment.

Question marks

However, the Government’s approach does leave a few questions unanswered. Stuart pointed to learnings from the US’ project on Cloud Computing, which shows there is a lot more to consider than simply listing an application  or service on a portal. Likewise Clive Longbottom welcomes Cloudstore, but recognises that the public sector has to embrace it if it is to be successful.

From my perspective the key questions are:

Buyer/end user education and empowerment:

Using a service from Cloudstore will never be quite as simple as Amazon or the Apple iStore, but it will be consigned to history as another Government-backed dodo without significant investment in buyer education. If we look at SaaS adoption it has often seen end users circumventing frustrating IT policies to use the software they want. While I’m sure central and local Government departments will have checks in place to prevent a ‘free-for-all’ Cloud Computing should empower users and buyers to make choices. But how do they choose between the solutions on offer? What considerations should affect their decision? 

Integration:

Of the 250 vendors already registered on the Cloudstore 50% are supposed to be small businesses often providing just a point solution or at best a suite of similar products. In the main they will be built on one platform, such as Solidsoft on the Microsoft Azure platform. They do not have the resources to integrate their offerings with those of all the major vendors. That is a problem, because central and local Government have invested heavily in IT and cannot afford to discard these legacy systems. So how does the Cloudstore administration ensure smaller vendors can integrate as effectively with existing solutions to ensure the playing field is truly level?

Marketing:

In any industry if a buyer has to choose between a known entity and an unknown one it is no surprise they usually go for the safe option. With Cloudstore there has already been some debate about how the vendors present their offerings, because it is clearly not uniform. That makes marketing these solutions hard and obviously it is going to be harder for the smaller vendors to compete against recognised brands. With culture of risk-aversion heightened by all the high profile IT failures how is Cloudstore going to help to promote the ‘Davids’ to ensure the Whitehall politicos don’t just pick the ‘Goliaths’ they know?

I do believe the Cloudstore can deliver significant value, but as Michael Krigsman has said many times successful IT implementations are a combination of the software working, the implementation sticking to a mutually agreed schedule using the right resources and the customer understanding exactly what goals they want to achieve through the adoption of IT. 

While the Cloudstore could be the start of something the spectre of the ‘IT Devil’s Triangle’ still looms large and these fundamental issues have to be addressed for it to a long-term success

@cairbreUK

journo

The last decade has been something of a whirlwind for traditional media. Old school stereotypes of trench coats, smoky newsrooms and 4pm deadlines have been replaced with 24-hour reporting, the internet and social media.

Despite the challenges that traditional media has faced and will continue to face in the near future, the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, published last week, revealed some extremely positive news for the world’s media.

They were the only industry that saw a global increase in trust.

In a time in which there is global disillusion with government, business leaders and traditional figures of authority, the role of the media to provide the public with facts, transparency and both sides of the story is more important than ever.

I do not think this comes as a surprise. In a world of economic uncertainty I believe that it is only natural that we turn to the industry built on the grounds that it provides accurate and fair information, designed to educate us on important issues.

While trust in all media, that is traditional, social and online, saw an increase in trust, i believe that the biggest opportunity to affirm itself as the place we turn to first for news lies with traditional media.

Traditional media have the advantage of being long-established news outlets with a rich background in news reporting. However, in order to truly fulfil this potential, they must ensure that they embrace the modernism’s that have changed their industry, and continue working towards providing a diverse and content- rich service.

The Edelman Trust barometer also indicated a 75% increase in trust in social media, a figure very difficult to ignore. While traditional media have made great progress in incorporating this into reporting, I believe that there is still much more room for improvement.

By incorporating social and digital content with traditional news articles, publications can create news packages that will enable them to not only reach wider audience, but also develop more comprehensive content and effective audience engagement.

Until last week, 2011 seemed to be the year of the empowered female. won the Nobel Peace Prize; not one but two women were appointed to the position of CEO for two of the world’s largest technology brands; the Commonwealth leaders agreed to give girls equal rights to the British throne; and even Beyoncé became the first woman to headline at Glastonbury in the past 40 years.

However, the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report, which launched in New York last week, brought a new take to the picture and underlined that women still fall massively behind in gender equality. Maybe it’s because I was brought-up in the Destiny’s Child era, or perhaps it’s Serbian tenacity kicking in, but in this day and age, how have we not moved forward and why are we still facing such inequalities when there are much more pressing matters that both men and women could resolve by working together as equals?

The report highlighted that women hold fewer than 20 per cent of all decision-making national positions, and little advances in economic and political parity have been made since the first report was published in 2006. The UK, specifically, ranked 33rd for economic participation and opportunity, and the outcome was that more needs to be done by governments and the private sector to support and leverage female successes, and to implement policies to promote women’s economic and political roles.

This was closely followed by the Fawcett ReportA Life Raft for Women’s Equality – which was released on Friday, suggesting that women’s financial security and human rights are “under attack on a scale not seen in living memory due to the coalition’s austerity measures.” Talk about a bleak week.

It certainly set the scene for Theresa May’s announcement at the Royal Commonwealth Society on Friday, where she launched a package of measures that aspires to help women ‘fulfil their potential’ in business, through a £2m scheme that will see 5,000 volunteer mentors trained by next year to become role models for female entrepreneurs. She said, “For too long, as a country, we have failed to make the most of the skills, experience and talents of women and despite the difficult decisions that need to be taken, there is much we can do to make sure that our economy emerges stronger and fairer, and operates in the interests of the working majority.”

It certainly sounds like a step in the right direction, but I wish it was a leap, and a giant one at that. It will certainly be interesting to see what the conclusion is in another five years; whether we’ll have put this one to bed or will it continue to haunt?

You can’t have missed the furor surrounding Wikileaks’ publishing of security cables. The thing is, do we – the public – benefit from this? Yes, there may be a certain amount of justification and interest around the close relationship and extravagant gifts exchanged between Putin and Berlusconi, but how is it of benefit to publicise the fact that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran? In such a volatile environment, is transparency always preferable? For security and intelligence services, where do you draw the line between disclosure and the need for confidentiality? Do we believe that every element of government should be conducted in public view?

Wikileaks has made the cables available to the Guardian and four other news organisations: the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. All five plan to publish extracts from the most significant cables, but have decided neither to dump the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to “publish names that would endanger innocent individuals”. WikiLeaks also says it also initially intends to post only limited cable extracts, and to redact identities. Thing is, are any of these organizations qualified to assess what will or will not trigger reaction or endanger individuals/groups/economies? What is their basis for assessment and judgement? Will all media conform to the same restrictions?

  • The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them
  • This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
  • Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington – the country’s first President – could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments — even the most corrupt — around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.[Wikileaks]

So the US does work behind closed-doors that contradicts public policy. Is this unique to the US or is it activity that’s mirrored by governments world-wide? The fact that this is US only means, to a certain extent, we’re listening to one side of a phone call, hearing one opinion. Would it have been safer if Wikileaks put out similar missives gleaned from UK, Chinese, French, Italian, Russian and Indian embassies? Would we have seen vastly different practices?

Personally, I don’t agree with the leak. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I still believe there’s a need for confidentiality and breaching it here has the potential to unsettle far more than US diplomatic communications processes.

You can read the Guardian splash, here, if you haven’t already.

@WillOConnor

In the swanky central London offices of a leading law firm recently, at an event held by BABi, Stephen Leonard chief executive UK, Ireland IBM UK Ltd., reviewed the outcome of an IBM survey investigating whether technological complexity was an opportunity or a threat.

Perhaps not unexpectedly IBM and the views of its existing and prospective customers, comprising 1500 chief executives across 60 countries, supported the notion that existing complexity might be better harnessed with the introduction of additional layers of technology that ‘abstracted the complexity’ from the system.

Without wishing to reiterate the whole presentation – which was compelling – simply put, Stephen postulated that there are now more transistors on the planet than grains of rice. That the disparate systems that use these transistors – everything from CCTV, through traffic, transport, motor vehicle, GPS or smart mobile devices – are complex but disjointed and that by abstracting and integrating the useful information from these systems and combining them together mankind will enjoy a period of sustainable social, environmental and economic well being.

In the UK we’ve suffered a litany of high profile government IT projects either being delayed or going belly up or both placing the onus for overspent and waste on the tax payer.

Surely the answer is fewer systems that are better written, better connected and infinitely simpler rather than more? Whilst this might not be in the most immediate interest of generating short term revenue for Big Blue failure to grasp this will, I fear, find us playing second fiddle to third world countries that are already leap-frogging our old legacy systems – for example going straight to mobile versus fix line phones – challenging our technology thought and industry leadership and positioning the UK, Europe and the US as net importers of technology savvy.

Given the choice of a bowl of transistors or a bowl of rice which would you choose?

@mattwarder

As a comms professional I’m loving the sparring that’s taking place between the Labour and Conservative parties over the issue of cutting the budget deficit.

You have to take your hat off to the Labour comms team for turning a Tory strength  – less Government spending – into a weakness in the minds of the voter, a strategy that has seen the opposition’s double digit lead cut to less than three points in some polls.

Today we’ve seen the Labour team do a political 180 on the messaging front in response to the Tory promise to partially overturn the rise in National Insurance set to come into force in 2011. They’ve gone from warning over Tory cuts damaging the economic recovery to trying to convince the public that the Tory’s are promising tax cuts that will divert funds away from cutting the deficit.

Personally, I feel this goes back somewhat on what’s been very successful anti-Tory message and allows the Tories to get their ‘tax less, spend less’ creed back onto the media agenda. However, it goes to show how agile the parties have become in reacting quickly to policy changes from either side of the house.

At Edelman’s recent Budget 2010 Breakfast Briefing, the Executive Editor of The Times Daniel Finkelstein, gave a great overview of how Labour managed to get cut through with the general public by making them worried about what they could lose due to the Tory’s proposed cost cutting strategy. I dare say Tory HQ is working on a way to get voters to appreciate what they could save under the same set of policies. It’s all fascinating stuff.

I wonder what lessons, if any, PR professionals can take from this issue and apply to their day to day work? A big takeaway for me is that nothing is sacred.I think It was a bold move for Labour to focus on de-constructing such a core pillar of Conservative messaging – and one that has served the party well even over the last 13 years in opposition, yet it’s clearly paid off. Perhaps Election 2010 will provide a case study in how to win the messaging battle around a modern election? Whatever the result, you can safely say that the comms teams will have had a major role in deciding who’s in No.10 Downing Street this Summer.

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To those of you who are reading this in the UK, it should come as very little surprise that our trust in the UK government is on the decline. Notwithstanding the stupidity of the expenses scandal from our parliament, the results of the recent Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the UK are bucking the trend …for the wrong reasons.

Specific UK findings include:

  • 71% don’t trust Gordon Brown and 65% trust him less than six months ago
  • 69% trust Government less than six months ago
  • There is a strong link between trust/distrust in Government, Gordon Brown and MPs in general
  • Three quarters don’t trust financial institutions who have taken bail-out money to use tax-payers’ money responsibly
  • 49% think the country is heading in the wrong direction
  • Only 11% believe that global business has a good reputation
  • 44% don’t expect economic recovery to happen before 2011 at the earliest; 50% think it will take until 2011 or later for business to be trusted again
  • Britons believe that a CEO’s business decisions should consider the interests of employees, customers and communities before those of shareholders or government

For more UK highlights – click here and here (for supplementary Omnibus findings)

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However, what surprised me was that these findings are not universal across the world. Whereas you might expect some more positive outlooks regarding business in the eastern countries (and you’d be right), in the west the US, France and Germany are rebounding – which is in stark contrast to the that in the UK.

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There is already some debate about this in twitterville.

Mike Freer (@leaderlistens), Leader of Barnet Council – and probably one of the best politicians who understand how micro-conversations help (unlike David Cameron) explains, the issue of trust is about being open:

@JonnyBentwood when the Govt won’t come clean about having to balance the books on tax and spending why should people trust politicians.

Sharon Richardson (@joiningdots) agrees – her view is the problems go back to the beginning of the financial crisis:

@JonnyBentwood I think many believe if Gov had let Northern Rock fail other banks might have acted instead of assuming tax-funded bailouts

This debate will no doubt continue for some time yet – get involved in the conversation on twitter by following the hashtag #edeltrust

The full report – and the key data – can be found on our global site, on the FT site here and on Edelman’s UK site here

Jonny Bentwood (@jonnybentwood)

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