Over the weekend Emma Mulqueeny of Rewired State put up a blog post which has sparked something of a discussion (or possibly a shitstorm, depending on your viewpoint). This is what I wrote in response (it’s currently in a moderation queue), but it seemed worth an extended rant on my site.
I think we’re all agreed that there’s something fundamentally broken with the current state of big Government IT. We’re stuck in a loop of paying premium prices for sub-standard products - and up until now entrenched vested interests having been calling the shots. Decision makers have abrogated their responsibilities to hold suppliers to account, and suppliers have been only too happy to exploit the decision makers. It’s a toxic mess.
The problem is that I as a jobbing developer can do no more than whinge from the sidelines, because the vested interests prevent my voice from being heard. And I’m just one voice - I don’t have a sales force and lobbying efforts to call on in order to influence the decision makers.
What Rewired State (and others) offer is a potential alternative route to those decision makers, and a forum in which it’s possible to demonstrate that you can create meaningful, working solutions at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time of the traditional vendor processes.
Which makes RS and others like it a potentially massive threat to the vested interests. If enough decision makers start questioning the likes of EDS and Capita and all the usual suspects and asking “how come a bunch of hackers could do this when you’re telling us it’ll cost eleventy billion pounds and take 5 years”, then life as a major systems integrator is going to become a lot less cushy than it is now.
(Which, by the way, is not to say that government scale doesn’t bring it’s own challenges - just that the excuse of “what would you know about how hard it is to run government IT, you don’t have to look after 10,000 desktops” has a limited lifespan.)
For the moment, I’m happy to pitch in for beer and pizza. I can get enough satisfaction out of working with other, like-minded individuals to solve some interesting problems - and do that with data sources that I wouldn’t otherwise get access to. Some people help out with scout groups, others are pillars of their local communities. Sometimes I can kid myself that slinging together the odd iPhone app at hackdays is for the social good, too.
However, there’s going to come a point where that will change - either because I start to feel that I’m now getting taken advantage of; or the current toxic status quo remains in place. At this point, the equation changes - I’ll eventually figure that actually, my efforts aren’t counting for anything and go off and play somewhere else.
So far, that hasn’t happened. It’s partly because of people who are disrupting on the outside (like RS and Emma) and partly because of people who are doing the same from the inside (like data.gov.uk and Thayer). What would be a complete disaster at this stage would be for the community at large to schism and start pointing fingers and shouting at each other.
We seem to all be in broad agreement about WHY we’re all doing what we’re doing - we might differ occasionally on the HOW, but it would be a huge mistake (IMHO) if we let that get in the way of actually continuing the good work so far.