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Daveslist Volume 3 Issue 12 🚑
As if producing informative and entertaining newsletters wasn’t hard enough already, I am typing this with my right hand wrapped in a ludicrous amount of bandaging, thanks to a futile attempt to stop a door from slamming by inserting my pinkie finger between it and the doorframe.
Said pinkie finger is now fractured, and operating a mouse and keyboard is absurdly inconvenient. Learn whatever moral you like from this episode.
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So last week Nick and I ran the ‘innovation igloo’ - an absurd name for what is, in effect, a Teams meeting. We had a great group of 20-odd folk from in and around local government, and in amongst the japes, we had a good conversation about ‘legacy technology’ - what it is in local government, why it causes problems, and what can be done about it.
‘Legacy’ is an interesting word in the local government context, because we don’t have much of the COBOL or FORTRAN code running on virtualised ancient mainframes. Generally speaking our systems are a lot younger than that, and to be fair to the people that supply them, they are regularly updated and patched, and the sticky-tape holding them together gets reinforced every now and then.
What we do have though is a lot of technology that is old fashioned, built to obsolete paradigms and architectures, which doesn’t do a great job of meeting user needs in the internet age.
I’m always delighted if the things I write about are of use to people. Sometimes folk need a bit more help - in which case my advisory services might be just the thing they are looking for.
Which is why I love a definition of legacy that Coté shared not long ago: that legacy is “[s]oftware you need to change, but are afraid to change”.
The local digital declaration emerged 5 years ago, as I have mentioned previously, with the laudable aim of ‘fixing the plumbing’, by which it meant giving the sector the means to overcome this fear. To a certain extent it has worked - there is stuff happening in housing, in planning, and of course in web publishing. What has also been made clear is that it’s really, really hard to fix this stuff, because of reasons like:
resistance to change
But there’s always something you can do! I do feel like a grumpy old man sometimes, shaking my fist at the clouds and bemoaning the fact that nothing ever changes. But that isn’t quite true - yes, I am cynical about the ability of technology alone to fix problems, and I am dubious about anything purporting to be a quick fix for systemic issues - such as the local government software market.
But what I am optimistic about is the ability for people to do something small, to move the dial just a little, to make things a bit better than before. And we heard some great examples of that inside our igloo. Sarah from Swindon Council, for instance, told us about how they are innovating around the edges of traditional line of business systems, using a bit of RPA here, a bit of Amazon-powered translation there, some extracting, sharing, transforming and visualising of data where it’s possible and useful. The systems remain the same, but the outcomes are different. This is a way of successfully living with ‘legacy’.
We also got to hear from Tass - the one-woman transformation team - about what she has managed to achieve through dogged persistence, creativity and not a little personal brilliance. Despite all the challenges, and the seemingly intractable problems, progress can be made, no matter the size of your team, or the tools you have to work with.
As I have mentioned before though, we need these stories to be collected, codified, made reusable, and shared. As much as I love it, I suspect the answer to that is unlikely to be igloo-shaped. You just can’t fit enough people in, for a start.
We will definitely be doing it again though!
* did I mention risk aversion?
This issue’s links
“It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy” – somewhat concerning.
Improving the SEND local offer – always impressive to see Stockport blogging away about the work they are doing. I don’t think I know anyone there, need to fix that.
Lovely reflections from Tim Davies, someone I don’t speak to much these days but remember very fondly from the wild west early days of social media and whatnot.
Lloyd on networks, connections and location – and why we need Dopplr back, or at least something a bit like it.
Lambeth are in the seat for this Local Digital Fund project on building control. Worth keeping an eye on. (Again, though, why oh why Medium?)
James Herbert reflects on recent engagements around data, and what lessons can be drawn. Definitely worthy of a mull.
Postmarks looks interesting. Like a single-user but federated del.icio.us style bookmarking site.
A pair of wonderful videos from Russell Davies about presenting:
That’s it for this issue. Don’t forget to hit reply if you have any feedback, or forward this on to anyone you think may enjoy it.
Until next time,