Friday 29 June 2012

Do Shared Services Save Money?

Pooling of knowledge, experience and capacity offers the best chance to meet the challenges faced by the public sector—reduction of resources available while having to meet increasing demand on services as a result of an ageing population.[“Drivers for Shared Services”, 1]

In many public sector contexts it seems that shared services[2] are assumed without question to be a way of saving money. There may be difficulties in establishing and maintaining shared services between organisations, but there is an expectation that overcoming those problems will lead to long term financial benefits. But why?

The mostly obvious reason is in the name. “Shared Services” describe things that are shared. Sharing one thing is surely more cost effective than separately having two.

Let’s imagine for a moment that I sit in a room with other workers and we all have printers on our desks. The printers spend most of their time doing nothing but sometimes they print things. Wouldn’t it be more cost effective for everyone in the room to share the one printer? Yes… it almost certainly would. That is, assuming that the process of printing to a single shared printer doesn’t become so complicated that the time spent printing outweighs the cost benefits of sharing a single piece of hardware.

But how about if we all share seats?

Well, of course that’s a silly idea. We can’t all sit on the same seat at the same time. Perhaps we might find that there are always at least two people out of the room at any one time, in which case there might just be a case for sharing a pool of seats, but that would be the limit of seat sharing.

So are shared services a good idea? The answer, of course, is, ‘it depends!’

Pros and cons of sharing services

Shared services will only bring benefits if the circumstances are right:

  • If there is spare capacity then sharing that capacity somewhere else may be a good idea.
  • If there is insufficient scale to hold capacity then sharing resources may allow for a service that can’t otherwise be there and improve productivity as a result.
  • If sharing services raises demand above a given threshold it may become cost-effective to obtain a different kind of service that brings higher productivity benefits. For example, a sit on lawnmower rather than a push-lawnmower.

But there are good reasons why sharing services may reduce productivity:

  • If the shared services don’t quite meet the requirements for one party or both.
  • If sharing the service involves more travel, time or communication costs.
  • If sharing a service requires the establishment of administrative services to manage the sharing.
  • If sharing a service requires the introduction of additional process steps which themselves introduce cost and waste.
  • If sharing a service makes a process harder to change and improve because it requires full agreement across all users.

So when you next hear proposals of public sector cost savings from shared services: ask a few questions and see where the savings are actually coming from. Don’t be surprised to discover that many of the proposed savings from shared services come from a bare unjustified assumption like:

Shared services have been found to bring savings of 10% to 20% therefore, if we normally spend £1,000,000 we can expect to save at least £100,000 by introducing shared services.

Indeed, as far as I have been able to uncover, this is basis of many of the McClelland Report’s[3] proposed savings for ICT in the public sector in Scotland.

Shared Services Guidance

The Scottish Government, provides guidance on the sharing of services[1]. But this guidance whilst extensive and detailed in sections, gives no space to a discussion of the circumstances when shared services may be less efficient than separate ones. Indeed there is only a very brief reference to any need to assess the justification for shared services and this is simply through reference to the need for a ‘business case’.

Whilst huge amounts of time and money are going into the centralisation of police and fire services across Scotland and local authorities throughout Scotland are under considerable pressure to share services in order to save money, it may be that they would do far better sharing their ideas and costs but implementing them independently[4].

  1. Scottish Government, “Shared Services Guidance 2011”

  2. For details of the Scottish Government’s work on Shared Services see this page of their web site:  ↩

  3. The McClelland Report: “Review of ICT Infrastructure in the Public Sector in Scotland”, June 2011,  ↩

  4. “Is the evidence of shared services success flawed?”, Inside Outsourcing, Computer Weekly, Karl Flinders, August 2011,  ↩

Monday 25 June 2012

The Alternative ICT Strategy for the Public Sector in Scotland

By September 2012, the Scottish Government is scheduled to deliver an ICT Strategy for the Public Sector in Scotland[1].  This is a huge opportunity for Scotland to reform the public sector’s use of ICT into a service that facilitates the move into a citizen centred, efficient public sector tailored to the varying needs of a diverse and distributed population. Unfortunately, it could also turn out to be a missed opportunity.

Here is my ‘alternative’ ICT Strategy document.  It is a work in progress so this blog entry will be changing over time.[2]  This is what I would like the government ICT strategy document to look like!

Core technology building blocks

To deliver public services in Scotland, the government has adopted some core technologies on which everything can be built.  These technologies are well defined, current, standard and adaptable.

The Internet

The Internet is the principal highway of communication in the world.  Rather than re-inventing the wheel by producing a separate Public Sector Network (PSN[3]), Scotland is going to use the Internet.  It will invest resources to ensure that every community in Scotland has high-speed internet and that there is sufficient redundancy in the system to provide reliability and resilience.  The Scottish Government will encourage research into technologies that reduce the energy consumption of the internet infrastructure by reducing power use and allowing redundant capacity to be switch off when it is not required. Work will be carried out to take existing dedicated public sector infrastructure and make it PSN compliant until such times as dedicated public sector networking is no-longer required. This PSN compliant sub-network will be referred to as SWAN (the Scottish Wide Area Network).[4]

Cloud Hosting

Wherever possible public services will be hosted in the cloud using technologies that are agnostic to the cloud service provider.  There will be no Scottish government specific cloud (G-Cloud[5]) but the public sector in Scotland will, given the required security clearance, have access to services offered to the UK public sector on the UK G-Cloud.

All confidential data relating to Scottish citizens will be stored on servers physically located within Scotland where there is absolutely no ambiguity over legal jurisdiction.

Services which do not relate to confidential data or only process confidential data in memory, through access controlled from Scotland can be located on servers anywhere in the world. However, in purchasing these services preference will be given to services located closest to central Scotland by Internet distance as this reduces the carbon footprint of transmissions.

For clarity this means that, given sufficient cloud hosting capacity within Scotland, at a moments notice, in the event of some international crisis, it would be possible to transfer all public sector processing within Scotland and all relevant data would already reside there.  However, under normal circumstances, the public sector would be free to innovate using any service that provide a suitable balance of service quality, cost and ease of use.

In all cases data will be electronically secured to a level which is sufficient to prevent unauthorised access but is not excessive such that it prevents or overcomplicates legitimate use.


Whilst the HTML5 standard is still being developed, it has become the point of technological convergence for web based services.  The latest desktop web browsers: IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari support it as does the WebKit engine behind chrome which sits on Android and iOS mobile devices.  There is a Chrome plug-in available that provides HTML5 support for older versions of Internet Explorer on Windows.

All public services will be delivered as web services using HTML5 on standard devices that support it.  All systems will be open-sourced and the private sector will be encouraged to develop alternative ways of interacting with these services.  The public sector will have local freedom to adopt alternative solutions where they are felt to provide cost effective benefits to the community.

99% of existing hardware infrastructure within the public sector can support Internet based web services so no extra hardware investment is required up front to support this strategy.  In many cases, when computer systems require to be upgraded they can be replaced by Raspberry Pi[6] computers that will act as fully function internet clients at a fraction of the cost of computer systems in use today.  These savings will be used to fund the one-computer-per-pupil programme described later in this document. 

Other technologies

Other technologies can and will be used in small scale pilots and in circumstances which specifically require them.  However, all the systems built to use these technologies will be open-sourced and any dependency on a propitiatory and unsubstitutable technology will be clearly documented and explained.

Procurement of hardware

In the past the government has tended to favour large scale procurement of hardware with the view that the larger the purchase the better the deal. However, in practice it turns out that large purchases are very slow to procure and the costs of administration and delay can outweigh any apparent economies of scale. It is also the case that such procurements are often far too large to be tendered for by companies based in Scotland.

From now on the government will, wherever possible, allow procurement to be carried out at a local level.  However, to ensure that this is carried out in a cost effective way, all procurement costs will be published within one month of the transaction along with all contractual terms. This work will be carried out in coordination with the Benchmarking of Scottish Public Bodies[7] which will be standardised across every public body in Scotland to address issues with the existing process[8].

No procurement can or will take place under company confidential contractual terms without a public written explanation.  By publishing this information prices can be driven down and local purchasers can compare costs from local suppliers and make informed choices based on this information.  A central government procurement team will be made available to provide skilled procurement and administrative support so that the cost of procurement is minimised.  The central team will fulfil the administrative burden of publishing procurement details.

IT Hardware and Infrastructure support

Central government, as well as maintaining its own hardware and infrastructure will offer hardware and infrastructure support to local services at no less than full cost price including an appropriate share of all the associate overheads.  However, this support will be prioritised to new, smaller and remote services and larger and more established services will be encouraged to establish or buy in their own support locally where it can be tailored to local needs and can be located close to the need at lower cost.

As with hardware procurement, all costs will be made public and shared across the public sector within a month of any contracts being signed to provide the Management Information (MI) to enable sharing of cost savings without tying organisations into restrictive shared services contracts.

Public sector software development

Wherever possible the public sector will choose to use existing standard ‘off the shelf’ software to deliver services. In contrast to previous policies the assumption will be made that ‘free’ open source solutions are the first choice unless there is a good case for using a commercial product. Wherever a commercial product is used instead of an equivalent open source solution, a justification for this decision will be published along with the invitation to tender.

Whenever software has to be custom built for the public sector, this software will be open sourced by default[9]. Any exceptions will have to be justified along with a published explanation of the reason for the exception. Under normal circumstances commercial confidentiality will not be an acceptable reason for closed sourcing software built specifically for the public sector. As we transition to this policy there will be a number of public sector software systems which will contain new open source elements that depend upon legacy closed-source systems. By the end of 2013 a full list of these will be published along with a proposed time-scale for phasing out the closed-source dependencies. Note that this specifically relates to software custom built for the public sector and does not prevent the use or dependency upon standard close-source software libraries, tools or packages.

The general principal is that public money invested in the development of software for the public sector should result in publicly available software which can be openly used and developed over time. By doing this we are working to removing the unfair advantage currently afforded to the current supplier to government. This will also enable smaller companies to contribute to parts of an overall system.

The Scottish Government Digital Service (SGDS)

In order to manage this central repository of publicly owned open-source software, a new Scottish Government Digital Service (SGDS) will be set-up modelled around the early successes of the Westminster Government Digital Service[10]. This service will take over the work of the Direct Scot portal and begin its work by developing a number of simple services for the public sector throughout Scotland. As well as open sourcing and taking over the development of the the Scottish Public Sector portal: “DirectScot”[11], the SGDS will also work with research groups in Scotland to develop and open source the core Revenue Scotland tax calculation models which will be used to process all tax calculations for Revenue Scotland. The SGDS will work closely with the vibrant and world class developer community in Scotland and will encourage contributions and ideas from that community.

Technology in education

Open source, open data and education

The Scottish Government sees a great opportunity to bring together open data and computer systems for public services with the needs of education to provide students with interdisciplinary learning opportunities for learning information technology skills.  A significant proportion of learners struggle to engage and find relevance in curriculum content.  However, the government will be open sourcing almost every aspect of public sector computing systems including data processing, statistical analysis, financial processing, graphical design, user interface design and animation.  This means that there are opportunities from primary education through to college and university to use real-life examples as case studies, projects and exercises.  But unlike education as we know it today, the work produced and submitted, in whole or in part, can be incorporated into the services of the nation within days of the work being completed.

Imagine for example a primary school project to enhance or redesign the Visit Scotland web page for a local tourist attraction where the end result was used for real within days of the project ending.  Imagine a university accounting project to report on weaknesses in the code used by government to compare regional expenditure on roads maintenance.  How about a computer science project to improve the algorithm for choosing the shortest public transport route between locations used by the public transport infrastructure of Scotland.  This is truly win win for everyone.  Even the private sector benefits by being able to build products and services on a rich and vibrant infrastructure of open systems and data.  Such products and systems would have a global market.

Computers become the new paper and pencil

For many years the level of use of computers in schools has poorly reflected their use in the world of work.  This situation has been confounded by the cost of providing computers in schools and means that most pupils have only limited access to shared computers at school.  Consequently computing has been seen principally as a subject to learn rather than computers being common place tools like pen and paper.  However, from August 2013 every pupil in every school in Scotland will have access to their own Raspberry Pi[6] computer which they will take with them from class to class and class to home.  In a dramatic step forward, the curriculum will be able to rely on the availability of technology to support the individual learning of every pupil in every subject in every school and every home.

Future Glow

After some consultation, the Government has decided to withdraw from plans to adopt a closed Microsoft managed and designed replacement for Glow for Education[12]. Following extensive feedback received, we recognise that committing to a service delivered and designed by one company would be a waste of taxpayers money as it would lock the government into monopoly control over modifications and advancements in the platform. Indeed we recognise that the whole concept of using large multinationals to both advise government and then supply services is inappropriate and will no longer take place.

We have invited Charlie Love, the author of Glew[13] to work on secondment to the SGDS and work with an agile software team there to put the necessary infrastructure, support and security in place to make this service available to all schools in Scotland in pilot form by December 2012.

High speed broadband and WiFi Scotland

As well as fulfilling our commitment to rolling out high speed broadband throughout Scotland, we will also be facilitating the delivery of free public access WiFi hotspots in community centres (libraries, post-offices, etc.) within every community in Scotland. Branded “WiFi Scotland” these hotspots will ensure that everyone in Scotland is close to a point where they can connect to high speed broadband with their own WiFi enabled device. We will also be working with local councils to ensure that every community (that does not already do so) has a public access area where anyone can access the internet without having to have their own computer.

WiFi Scotland - building on a Scotland as the best place to do business

In addition to ensuring that every community has access to broadband, we will also set up a scheme to enable every hotel and conference venue in Scotland to provide free WiFi under the same consistent “WiFi Scotland” branding and logon. The cost of this scheme will be fully met by the venues but will be highly competitive and provided through existing commercial providers contracted to central government. The Scottish Digital Service will support this by providing an open data service listing all available access points throughout the country and enabling a mechanism for users to report faults or service problems so that we can work to ensure that the quality of the service is high.

We believe that this service will build on Scotland’s existing high ranking as a place to do business giving business travellers and conference organisers the confidence that wherever they meet or travel in Scotland they can be confident of high speed internet sufficient to meet requirements like live video conferencing and broadcasting.

Meetings redesigned

Whilst we will always recognise the particular value of personal interaction and face to face meetings, it is impossible to ignore the huge costs associated with arranging and conducting physical meetings within the public sector. We also recognise that such meetings are not always an effective way of conducting business which may require ideas to be discussed and commented upon in a way that could be carried out more effectively online. Beginning in September 2012 the Scottish Government will embark on a one year consultation to establish a new strategy for carrying out public sector meetings. The aim of this consultation to determine when and in what circumstances we can conduct meetings that do not require everyone to be physically located in the same place or necessarily at the same time.

… to be continued

Change log

  • 4 April - added reference to cloud computing.
  • 4 April - added “Technology in educational” section and reference to savings in IT hardware through the deployment of Raspberry Pi’s in some public service contexts.
  • 9 April - posted as Gist on Github (to make it easier for others to track changes) and added sections on open sourcing software and setting up a Scottish Government Digital Service.
  • 28 April - added WiFi Scotland and study on meeting redesign.
  • 25 June - updated facts relating to delayed release of government ICT strategy and the announcement of SWAN; added links to cross reference blog articles on issues raised such as the PSN and Open Source software in the public sector; and added reference to the SGDS taking on the role of developing the Revenue Scotland calculation models. Also added references to Glow, Glew and yet another policy change :)

  1. The ICT Strategy was originally due to be delivered in Spring 2012 but is now due for release in September 2012 after a public draft is released for informal comment.  ↩

  2. The original Markdown format text of this document is stored in a GitHub:gist where it can viewed along with a history of edits since 9 April 2012.  ↩

  3. Public Sector/Services Network (the name changed during the development of the idea): Despite strong arguments made about the cost savings of introducing the PSN, the arguments seem to be internally inconsistent:  ↩

  4. The Scottish Government announced SWAN (Scottish Wide Area Network) in June 2012. A nod to this is given here to fit in with policy commitments.  ↩

  5. The G-Cloud Programme:  ↩

  6. The “Raspberry Pi” is a low cost computer designed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation charity as a $35 computer for kids. For more details see:  ↩

  7. “Benchmarking of Scottish Public Bodies’ Corporate Services 2010/11”, Scottish Government, 14 June 2012.

  8. Figures obtained from the “Benchmarking of Scottish Public Bodies” would either suggest huge waste in expenditure on ICT provisions or a failure to standardise the benchmarking process around useful and comparable measures:  ↩

  9. A fuller background discussion and FAQ on using Open Source in the public sector in Scotland can be found here:  ↩

  10. Westminster Government Digital Service:  ↩

  11. The current prototype DirectScot website can be found here:  ↩

  12. The full text of and further discussion of the Glow announcement of 8 June 2012 can be found here: A more recent news update was also published on 23 June here:  ↩

  13. Glew is beta software of a single sign-on framework which can be used to integrate Google Apps for Education and other services such as Wordpress Blogs, Media Wiki, Moodle and many more:  ↩

Friday 22 June 2012

ICT Costs in Scottish Public Bodies

The Scottish Government recently published their final report, “Benchmarking of Scottish Public Bodies’ Corporate Services 2010/11”[1]. I will be quite frank and say that this report in its published form is almost entirely useless as it anonymises all the information and presents conclusions like:

The total cost of the ICT function ranged from £14,000 to £15.5 million in 2010/11. Costs of ICT were below £1 million in 21 organisations and were above £10 million in two public bodies. The organisations with higher costs often have specific ICT requirements because of the nature of their business, have a large number of users (employees and/or the public) and/or provide ICT services to other bodies. Since 2009/10, 21 organisations have had an increase in ICT costs and 17 have had a decrease. The differences level out when looking at the bodies as a whole, with average costs remaining largely the same in both years.[p. 3, 1]

Whilst this provides information, it provides practically nothing to highlight issues which may require investigation or provide opportunities for optimisation looking forward. However, the document goes on to state:

Going forward, the benchmarking information will be used by the central government sector in their contributions to the response to the McClelland Review of ICT Infrastructure in the Public Sector in Scotland.[p. 4, 1]

The McClelland report[2] is all about making ICT more efficient in the public sector and particularly focuses on the need to share and combine services in order to obtain efficiencies of scale.

However, all is not lost. I contacted the Scottish Government and asked for the unpublished figures that were used to derive this report, particularly focusing on the ICT aspects of the report. They very efficiently sent me the spreadsheets along with cautions over the accuracy of the data. I have graphed some of the data[3] to raise issues which are not highlighted by the benchmarking report but may be well worth investigating.

ICT Costs in Scottish Public Bodies' Corporate Services 2010/110100000000200000000300000000Overall revenue0100020003000400050006000700080009000100001100012000130001400015000Total ICT expenditure per employee per year0100000000200000000300000000Overall revenue0100020003000400050006000700080009000100001100012000130001400015000Total ICT expenditure per employee per yearAIBASBGACNPACMALCCCOPFSDSGROSHIEHSHMIELTSNASNGSNLSNMSOSCRROSRBGERCAHMSSACSCRASCRCSCSSESEPASFCSGSLABSNHSPSSPPASQASPSCSAASLLTNPAVS

This graph shows the 38 out of 44 public bodies included in the report which provided information on the total cost of ICT per employee and the total cost of ICT. Each organisation is listed by its abbreviation a full index to these can be found in the Benchmark report[Appendix 1, 1]. Note that in March 2012 there were a total of 144 public bodies and “Participation amongst the remaining public bodies is encouraged, but is not mandatory”[p. 5, 1]. It seems highly surprising that this level of Management Information (MI) is not available and mandated from every public body, particularly as we are now over one year on from the McClelland report that specifically highlighted the poor availability of information regarding ICT costs.[p. 13, 2].

The x-axis of the graph shows the overall revenue of each listed organisation, so, for example the Scottish Government (SG) is listed as approximately £250m.

The y-axis of the graph shows the benchmarking calculation of the total ICT cost per employee within the organisation. In other words, as I understand it, this is how much it costs to provide a computer (usually 1 per employee) to an employee and provide the networking, software and support services to keep it operational for a year. This ranges from just over £500 per employee for the Scottish Prisons Service (SPS) to an amazing £13,000 per employee for the Registers of Scotland (ROS). Yes indeed, the figures do suggest that it costs just short of 25 times more to support a computer for a member of staff of the ROS than to the SPS! Indeed, it would appear that you could supply a member of staff of ROS with two brand new computers every month and still have change left over.

Looking at the graph it is hard to see why any of the organisations should be paying £2,000 to £13,000 per employee per year when there are a number of small public bodies that are able to provide the service for approximately £1,000 per employee per year. After all, at the top end you can buy a nice Apple computer for £1,000 which should last for at least 3 years, equalling £333 per year which leaves you with another £667 per year to pay for software, electricity, networking and support for one person. If every public body listed here were to run with these costs the figures suggest that we would save £55m per year, and note that this list does not include the NHS in Scotland or any of the local councils.

I suspect that some of these figures are misleading and probably include things that shouldn’t be included in employee costs like the costs of running public facing web sites. But that isn’t an explanation or excuse. At a time when experienced staff are loosing their jobs in order to save money, there can be no excuse for not being able to produce the figures that explain what is going on.

So, finally, in the graph the size of each dot represents the overall ICT expenditure of the organisation. So you can see that whilst the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has roughly the same cost of ICT per employee as the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the former’s absolute ICT expenditure is far smaller than the presumably larger SQA. Notable here is the fact that some of the organisations with the larger ICT expenditures have the highest costs per employee and some of those with the smallest expenditure have the lowest costs per user. This is potentially significant because there is a suggestion with the McClelland Report that costs can be saved by sharing services to obtain efficiencies of scale, but this graph would seem to suggest that scale does not guarantee efficiency.

I hope this article raises some important discussions and welcome critical feedback.

  1. The Scottish Government, “Benchmarking of Scottish Public Bodies’ Corporate Services 2010/11”, June 2012,

  2. John McClelland, “Review of ICT Infrastructure in the Public Sector in Scotland”, June 2011,

  3. Note that, in the interests of expediency and visual clarity the graph was produced using SVG graphics which will not work on versions of Internet Explorer prior to version 9 unless the Chrome Frame plugin has been installed. The graph should render fine on Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Webkit based mobile browsers such as those on iOS and Android devices.  ↩

Saturday 9 June 2012

Glow's Next Phase—a response

Here is my response to today’s announcement[1] from Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning. All the indented quotes below come from that statement:

Glow was first conceived in 2001 as The Scottish Schools Digital Network. Its concept was simple, to use online tools to support teachers and pupils to enhance Scottish education. That core mission remains, but the online world has changed radically in the last 11 years and to remain relevant to its users Glow must change with it.

Since 2001 myriad new services have begun or grown. It’s worth reflecting that conceptually Glow predates SmartPhones, Twitter, Skype, Facebook, Flickr and Youtube.

The uncomfortable message here is that Glow hasn’t really changed in 11 years. The problem is only partly to do with what Glow was technically. The problem is that Glow: it’s procurement, development and ongoing support did not fit a model of continuous change. Whatever Glow2 is, it should be designed around the one certainty: change. But creating a service for education in Scotland that is constantly changing and adapting is something that the Scottish Government doesn’t appear to know how to do.

I articulated in September last year my vision for the future of Glow, and in October the ICT in Education conference took place and the user community generated invaluable insights on how Glow could develop in future. Debate and suggestions examined how we could deliver on my 5 key principles for Glow:

  • Change the culture of use of ICT
  • Improve confidence in the use of ICT for learners, teachers, school leaders and parents
  • Promote new behaviours for teaching
  • Deepen parental engagement
  • Strengthen position on hardware and associated infrastructure

The first four of these five ‘principles’ are about managing change. They are outcomes that would help to illicit the effective use of Glow2: they are not the outcomes of thrusting Glow2 on people and leaving them to sink or swim. If you want to: change the culture of the use of ICT, improve confidence, promote new ways of teaching, and deepen parental engagement, then you need to have a plan. Glow2 isn’t the plan: it should just be a tool to facilitate education.

And Glow2 should be the easy bit because managing change is hard!

The informed engagement through the ICT conference, and other mediums such as Twitter, has crystallised for me the need for the long-term future of Glow to be user-led, and potentially user delivered. In the meantime it is vital that we secure continuity of service for Glow’s users and for its current application suite to be overhauled.

“continuity of service” and “current application suite to be overhauled” is a blatant contradiction.

To ensure continuity we have taken the step of extending the current RM provision through to December 2013. Microsoft have agreed to provide the tools and services of their integrated application suite ‘Microsoft Office 365 for Education’ for free through to December 2014; this was the first offer of its kind in the world for a national schools project.

And here is the contradiction. Extending the current RM provision through to December 2013 is continuity and provides some breathing space to make the right decisions. Moving to ‘Microsoft Office 365’ isn’t continuity at all—it’s a move to something different. I understand[2] that Google also offered their services for free and didn’t threaten to start charging some unknown sum from December 2014 onwards!

Microsoft have also agreed to go further and deliver a package over and above the integrated application suite to deliver on the 5 key principles for Glow. For example, the improvements to the functionality and ease of use of the Glow application suite will be aided by a full-time dedicated staff member funded by Microsoft to help support and promote the service.

And wouldn’t any company offer their services for free for the opportunity of tying users into their free products only to then charge for them later when the cost and disruption of changing makes any other options out of the question. This is what ‘lock in’ is all about. This is precisely what the Scottish Government should be avoiding because it ultimately costs a fortune.

As a Government we will also work to integrate the ICT choices made by local authorities for their own education communities within our co-ordinated national effort.

This could be a positive acknowledgement and acceptance that some authorities do things differently or a veiled message that the plan is to subsume everyone into the same system.

As I set out in September 2011 Glow must continue to evolve and become more dynamic. At the heart of this is seeking a secure way through Glow for pupils, parents and teachers to utilise the free tools and the open source services that already exist on the web or that will emerge in the future.


One criticism of how Glow has developed over the years is that users were not sufficiently involved in directing its future. I agree.

But spoken agreement is not enough. Where is the transparency? Users have been involved in directing the future but their opinions have been ignored and the progress sidestepped[2].

We must build on the successful user engagements of the ICT conference and the debates on the future of Glow that take place online. As the First Minister has said, we do not have a monopoly on wisdom.

No, but there needs to be leadership and that leadership needs to have the skills necessary to understand what has to be done, what can be done and how to go about it. This is the largely the same message that came out in September last year[3], reiterated as if nothing should have happened in that time.

With the roll-out of the new and improved integrated application suite and the agreement to extend the services of RM, the work of the current iteration of the ICT in Education programme board will draw to a close. To oversee the next phase in development I have asked the Scottish Government’s new Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof Muffy Calder, to convene an ICT Education Excellence group. The excellence group will call on the expertise of education technology specialists and end users.

“Draw to a close”! The decisions that took place between September of last year and now seem to have gone completely against or despite of any publicly known discussions or interactions. This is about starting over yet again!

Another new group destined to revive the same discussions and arguments costing huge amounts of valuable time for people many of whom already know what we should be doing and have known for years. A group destined to spend its time trying to educate Government sufficiently that it can be hand-held through the process it should understand itself.

We talk about the need to improve ICT education for children but in reality the biggest bottleneck is the lack of understanding of grown up government in how to manage ICT and change itself.

The excellence group will have the immediate task of scoping the long-term user-centred future of Glow. Their challenge will be to imagine a future for the service that provides a seamless user experience and connectivity on the one hand and an open pluralist range of tools and applications on the other.

The group will draw on the contributions made to date and further explore community generated contributions like Glew.

In other words, let’s put all the vocal people in a room, feed them tea and biscuits and hope they don’t notice that the Scottish Government has signed it’s life away to yet another Microsoft contract that will be so costly to cancel that it can’t be done.

Meanwhile let’s just leave the teachers to fend for themselves.

11 years ago when Glow was first conceived it would have been hard to imagine the range of free online tools and services that could be used to enhance education today.

Today it is hard to imagine that we are no further forward!

The exciting opportunity is to develop Glow to be a service that evolves with the demands of teachers and pupils, and utilising new tools as they emerge. Only by creating a user-centred Glow will we ensure that in 2023 the service remains relevant and vital to Scottish Education.

11 years ago it was an exciting opportunity: now it is horrendously out of date and a necessity! Only inside a closeted world that accepts that the Scottish Government is slow and somehow understandably years behind the times can anyone accept the current situation we find ourselves in. And this is not an excuse.

The future of this country is going nowhere if we can’t get beyond throwing parties every time we manage to tie our own shoelaces. On the one hand we have some of the world’s most advanced research and skills[4] on the other hand we have the Scottish Government which seems to outsource anything which requires a brain.

Do I sound critical… yes! Because the more I understand what goes on in Government in Scotland, the more I am shocked and embarrassed by it’s complete self-obsessed incompetence and disconnection from what really matters. I know people who still believe in what they do, but most seem to have given up caring. They have lost all hope. Apparently, I am told, the Scottish civil service is a lost cause.

“There was once a dream that was [Scottish Education]. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish… it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.”[5]

  1. “Glow’s Next Phase”, Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, 8 June 2012.’s-next-phase/.  ↩

  2. “Glow plight - pride of Scotland or ‘zombie’ network?”, Jaye Richards-Hill, 5 June 2012.  ↩

  3. “The Future of Glow”, Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, 8 September 2011.  ↩

  4. University of Edinburgh, Informatics, “Research excellence”. And this is only one example of Scotland’s Universities.  ↩

  5. Misquote from the film “Gladiator”, 2000:  ↩

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