There are fine lines between realism and cynicism, wariness and paranoia and never more so when trying to piece together what a particularly slippery government is doing.
One could just read what they say they are doing on the public record and believe what they say but that surely would, in the light of experience, just be plain silly.
'New Labour' has been obsessed with big database ICT projects ever since it came to power in 1997. As we all know most have gone horribly expensively wrong, but their enthusiasm for using technology for centralised command and control remains undiminished.
I have been following the progress of the 'Public Sector Network Programme' the details of which have been published for a while now. It is written in Public Sector Speak so has the desired effect of causing drowsiness in the reader whilst at the same time announcing a breathtakingly ambitious project accompanied by a plethora of responsibility disclaimers.
Basically the intention is to create an uber-network, a network to end all networks, unifying data and comms throughout the country. One can only guess at the benefits that will bring.
Open Source rears it's ugly head
My interest in the above project was fueled by John Suffolk's (the Gov's CIO) recent commentary on it where he restated the Labour Party's new-found Open Source policy...
'.......drive through the open source, open standards and reuse strategy; surround each of those individual elements with the Green IT strategy and our Information.'
OK. So I don't actually know what he is on about here but I copped onto it's general buzzword compliance as well as the Open Source bit so made the effort to read on.
The uber-network proceeds apace and it's going to be a cloud. Specifically it will be 'The G-Cloud' or Government Cloud in which will there will be a unification of all our data centres, all IP telecomms and a common desktop interface with possibly Gov-apps!
You can't fault these policy wonks for ambition that's for sure, and of course it will cost billions then crash and burn, but before that happens let's take a closer look.
Cloud Cuckoo Land
The G-Cloud project is run from the Cabinet Office where it has a natural home and who has very recently acquired Martin Bellamy to head it up. Martin, fresh from his stunning success as the head honcho in Microsoft's NHS ICT project has overseen the development of the NHS's not very functional but entirely proprietary, custom web-app interface - Common User Interface (CUI).
The CUI web site announces: 'This Programme has been developed as a partnership between NHS Connecting for Health (NHS CFH) and Microsoft®'.
At times like this I turn to Occam's Razor principle for guidance - find the simplest explanation for seemingly related events and it'll probably be right.
Well, I don't know about you but Cloud Computing is certainly compatible with New Labour's desire to centralise all data and the appointment of a former Microsoft Executive to the G-Cloud gives me flashbacks of Erik Huggers being appointed by the BBC to develop a Windows-only iPlayer.
Hold on. Could G-Cloud be the first government customer for Microsoft's cloud computing platform Azure?
Storm Clouds Gathering
If I am right, and the voices in my head are insistent, then this is seriously worrying.
Here are three bad things:
- Cloud computing represents the biggest potential lock-in mechanism, ever,
- There is no legal framework addressing data-protection in distributed networks,
- Microsoft UK's Public Sector interests is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act,
Bye bye privacy.
Any further tidbits? Well, increasingly, Local Authorities are banding together into huge regions to create massive portals based on giant databases and Microsoft's Sharepoint.
Did you did know Azure is optimised for Sharepoint...?
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