Getting the right perspective

For many years now our focus in public sector ICT has been hugely on securing the information which we’re responsible for. There are good reasons for this, and plenty of examples which demonstrate the importance of taking care of the information people trust us with (not that they always do this by choice of course!).

But are we seeing the full picture? In my view there’s a real risk that some other equally important considerations get lost if we only look at technical security measures:

  • Behaviour matters as much as technology: a quick review of fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office shows that a disproportionate number of breaches are due to people’s behaviours with email, faxes and online information.
  • Paper can be as much (or even more) of a risk as electronic information: again, significant fines have been levied in response to lost paper records (which can’t be password protected, encrypted or wiped remotely in the event that they’re lost).
  • We risk focusing on security at the expense of productivity: with a result that business performance is held back and customers lose out in terms of the timeliness and quality of services they receive.
  • We need to be sensible about where we draw the line: there’s a significant difference in my view between critical business information and ‘user-generated information’ such as meeting notes etc. The latter have historically been kept in notebooks and loose paper, and if these haven’t been subject to strict controls before we need to think carefully before we lock them down simply because they’re being taken electronically.

The right approach will depend on what the information is and the context (it’s easy to forget that many private enterprises are every bit as concerned to protect intellectual property and trade secrets as government organisations are to protect public information).

Technology can play a part in changing the balance though, and I’m very drawn to the concept (put forward by Brian Katz and others) that we look afresh at security and move to an approach where we can reliably and securely work with untrusted devices, and instead focus on securing apps and information. My light summer reading has included the useful book APIs: a Strategy Guide, and this has really got me thinking about the potential for successfully using APIs to enforce business controls, and securely unlock information to balance the needs of a productive workforce with our responsibility to keep information safe.

Getting agile in #localgov : with a bit of help from G-Cloud

[This first appeared as a guest blogpost on the G-Cloud blog]

Technology is changing fast and we’re excited about the potential that this offers for us to improve the way we deliver services. This couldn’t have happened at a better time given the urgent need to sustain local services while we deal with substantial budget reductions. Lambeth’s new ICT strategy sets out our vision to enable our users to be productive from any device, anywhere, any time, and will see us focusing on using the cloud, mobility and apps to make this happen.

We’re not naive, and we realise that some business processes and legacy architecture will take more time and work before we can move them to the cloud, and we also know that given the speed at which technology is changing it will be easy to make expensive mistakes if we’re not careful. An agile approach to delivering our strategy is essential and we are prioritising focus. We have already started to migrate some of our key services such as email to the cloud, and we’ll be redesigning the way we do things to give us as much flexibility as possible as we move forward, avoiding long contract lock-ins where we can.

An example of how we can use innovation to make a real difference for our customers is our work to make tablet devices available to our users. Our pilot work has shown that this will help our frontline teams deliver much more personal and responsive services — increasing their productivity and cutting out paperwork and bureaucracy. Successes we want to build on include the services we provide to homebound library users who our home visitors can now help browse the catalogue online and check books in and out while they visit them, and vulnerable children whose social workers have reduced the time it takes to complete key work by up to 14 days through removing double entry of information.

The technology for securing information on mobile devices is changing fast and looking forward we want to switch the focus from trusting devices towards managing applications and information to provide the security we need on any device so that we can give our users genuine choices (this article helps to explain how this might work). This is going to be a work in progress for a while though, and to implement a viable model which we can use to rapidly make tablet devices available to a wider user base we need to get started by deploying a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution which will let us protect the information on these devices. With that in mind we want an MDM service based on subscription charging which will allow us to secure devices, scale up and down easily, and keep the flexibility to change our approach as the available technology and our architecture changes. This is a perfect opportunity for us to take advantage of the cloud to deliver rapid benefits.

We like the price transparency that the Cloudstore offers us and want G-Cloud to be our first port of call for cloud services. Buying this way challenges some of our traditional thinking and approaches to procurement, and we are currently getting ourselves ready by working with our legal and procurement colleagues to make sure that our procurement processes are updated. The G-Cloud guidance to buy without further mini-competitions leads to more than a few quizzical looks, but I’ve been really encouraged at the readiness of non-IT people to take the time to understand this new approach and am confident that by getting this preparation done now we’ll be ready to move quickly once G-Cloud 2 goes live.

We’re looking forward to using G-Cloud as part of delivering our strategy: MDM providers please get started with your application process now so that we can buy your services!