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U. K.: Top 10 Public Sector Stories of 2013 So Far
Source: computing.co.uk
Source Date: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs, Knowledge Management in Government, Institution and HR Management
Country: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Created: Jun 25, 2013

In the so-called "Age of Austerity", public sector IT is under more scrutiny than ever. Government organisations from the upper echelons of Whitehall to the smallest local authority are having to adapt to providing capable IT systems while doing more with less funding.


Procurement, cloud computing and various government schemes are all being examined, with some proving to be more successful than others. Meanwhile, in light of the recent Prism revelations, the government is coming under fire about what information it actually collects about citizens and how exactly it's used. And that's all just in the first part of the year.


So, as we've reached June, what have been the top public sector stories of the first half of 2013?


10 - Case study: Why Sugar proved sweeter than Salesforce for EMIS

EMIS primary care software is used by 52 per cent of GPs in the NHS. Recently EMIS launched a new support centre portal for its GP customers, bringing together a forum, a service booking system and a learning centre, accessible with a single login.


Following some initial research, the list of suppliers for this new system - and later add-ons to follow - was whittled down to three contenders: Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce.com and SugarCRM.


9 - Forecast for council IT: more cloud

G-Cloud, the initiative designed to entrench cloud procurement across the public sector, appears to be gathering some momentum after a shaky start, allowing more and more government bodies to make procurement savings as a higher number begin to use the Cloudstore.


Staffordshire County Council completed its first G-Cloud procurement. IaaS supplier Memset was chosen to provide hosting for secure government networks up to IL2 assurance, the security standard level required as a minimum for all local and national departments, to the council via the G-Cloud's Cloudstore. Staffordshire County Council CIO Sander Kristel explained why the authority took this step.


"We had a pressing requirement for some hosting, and, obviously, we could have done that ourselves and spun up some kind of virtual server, but all staff were fully engaged in other work at that time and we really wanted to do this quickly," Kristel told Computing.


"So we turned to the G-Cloud - we hadn't used it before and are now very interested in using it again in future - and even though it was only a small requirement, it seemed like a good test case for us."


8 - £650m cyber security budget not enough, warns ex-Scotland Yard cyber detective

Ex-Metropolitan Police cyber crime detective and current MD of Cyber Security Consulting - which still handles government contracts - Adrian Culley told Computing that the government's £650m budget for cyber security is not sufficient.


"I don't think that's enough, nor would I know how much is enough," said Culley, who added that government neglect of cyber security can be traced back to Tony Blair's administration.


During his time at the Met, Culley advised the Blair government's Office of the e-Envoy, a department and post set up to promote e-commerce in the UK.


7 - Secure communication, Camden-style

In 2007, Camden Council began to take a close look at how it was communicating with the people who use and deliver its services. It soon realised it needed a new system to allow managers to communicate digitally in a quick, effective and, most importantly, extremely secure way with council personnel such as social workers, agency staff, solicitors and volunteers.


"It started off with seeing how Camden was using its email, and where it was going to, and we found that a lot of our emails were going out to schools and agencies that were supporting vulnerable groups," says Camden's CIO, John Jackson. "And when we looked at it, we had to make these communications more secure, and do it differently."


According to Hilary Simpson, head of ICT business partnering at Camden, the council's first attempt to improve security was "to ask social workers and other users to employ a wide range of [applications such as] WinZip, password-protected Word attachments... a whole selection", but this rather ad-hoc approach proved unsuccessful. "Quite often, the third party simply wouldn't have the right versions of the technology at their end to open the documents.


"In some cases, these were life and death situations, and they had to get a message through, so they would simply send it insecurely. That was the way it was happening."


6 - Nine top tech firms actively enable government snooping, claims report

Following the leaking of a court order that showed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been harvesting mobile phone call data from the carrier Verizon (and possibly others), revelations by The Washington Post claimed that the US authorities have been actively aided in the surveillance activities by nine of the biggest brands on the internet.


The so-called Prism project has been active since 2007 and allows the NSA to access email, chat, file transfers, social network data and other information that users might have presumed were private.


5 - Gove launches technology-focused 'Tech Bacc' as vocational equivalent to A-Level studies

In April, the government launched a "technical baccalaureate" designed to represent a "mark of achievement" for school-leavers to show employers.


Announced by education secretary Michael Gove and skills minister Matthew Hancock, the qualification is aimed at school leavers who are seeking jobs in IT, as well as digital media, construction, retail and hospitality.


Three elements will be required to put together a Tech Bacc package - namely qualifications in maths, literacy and a "high quality" result in a specific vocational area.


"We want an education system in which everyone can reach their potential," said Hancock.

"Our reforms to post-16 qualifications, including the introduction of the new Tech Bacc, will do that. They will incentivise the development of high-quality courses and incentivise schools and colleges to offer the courses that get young people on in life.


"We expect all bright students who want to go into technically-skilled jobs or apprenticeships to aim for the Tech Bacc."


4 - NHS "must tackle" data sharing before patient information goes paperless

The issues with sharing confidential patient information need to be tackled before the NHS attempts to go paperless, said to Dr Jonathan Richardson, clinical director of informatics at the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.


The secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, wants the NHS to be paperless by 2018 in order to save money and streamline services.


At the Westminster Health Forum, when asked how a doctor should deal with the dilemma of sharing confidential patient information, even if it was for the benefit of the patient in question, Dr Richardson said that it was still an area that needed to be tackled.


"If you can't get it right on paper, you won't get it right on an electronic system, so you need to work it out before it goes on to an electronic system," he said.


3 - Law-abiding UK citizens have "nothing to fear" from GCHQ snooping, says Hague

William Hague branded allegations that the UK government's electronic surveillance centre, GCHQ, has been asking the US National Security Agency for data on UK citizens "nonsense".


Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander vowed to challenge Hague on the accusations, which former foreign secretary Sir Malcom Rifkind said would be against the law unless ministers had approved such an information request.


2 - Cabinet Office claims procurement savings of £3.8bn - £10bn in total

The Cabinet Office claimed to have made savings in procurement of £3.8bn compared to three years ago when the coalition government was elected. It is also claiming savings of £500m as a result of tighter IT spending controls and the shifting of government services onto digital platforms.


The claims were detailed in the 2012/13: Efficiency and Reform summary report, published at the beginning of June.


In total, the Cabinet Office claimed to have achieved savings worth some £10bn, including reduction of waste in construction (£400m), "optimising" the government's property portfolio (£600m), reducing the size of the Civil Service (£2.2bn), and increased employee contributions to public sector pensions (£1.1bn).


The biggest saving, though, was in procurement, indicating that the government had been overpaying for services for years - especially IT services - including a 65 per cent or £1.56bn reduction in spending on consultants and contractors compared to three years ago.


One of the means by which savings were achieved was by using the government's collective buying power, said government chief operating officer Stephen Kelly.


"Working as a single customer across government puts us in a very powerful position to identify efficiencies and maximise our collective buying power."


1 - HMRC trawling social media to find evidence of tax fraud

HMRC is trawling the internet, including social media and other websites in which people share information, in a bid to find potential evidence of tax fraud that it can feed into its new Connect data warehouse.


Although HMRC was reluctant to go into detail, Mike Hainey, head of analytics at HMRC, told Computing that since the implementation of Connect, the organisation's "big data" analytics system, the organisation has started feeding in information from the internet to help it better target tax investigations.


"[It's] information that we can obtain that is visible and available legally for HMRC to review," Hainey told Computing. While such information would include the easily identifiable accounts people run on Twitter and Facebook, it would also almost certainly include websites where traders ply their trade, such as RatedPeople.com, and where their customers leave comments.


Indeed, HMRC has always taken data feeds from a variety of sources to support its Enforcement and Compliance organisation. "It's departmental data at one end of the spectrum, commercial data, buying in information around businesses et cetera. We also get information from other government departments and other foreign FISCs [fiscal regimes] through various treaties and arrangements," said Hainey.


He added: "Also, on occasions, we will bring in information that we may obtain from the internet and bring that into the picture."


The commercial data, he said, is typically information from Companies House about companies and directorships, or from credit reference agencies.


Of course, many organisations trawl social media for all kinds of purposes, often using automated tools. At their most innocent, they represent little more than an extension to the press-cuttings services that have been offered to companies and wealthy celebrities for decades.


More seriously, reputation management companies also trawl social networks for evidence of potential libellous comments, or misuse of corporate imagery and other copyrighted material.


HMRC's Connect analytics system won the prize for Best Big Data Project at the UK IT Industry Awards in November 2012, which Computing recently covered in a case study feature.


The new system helps to unify the siloed data collected under different tax systems, such as National Insurance and VAT. The aim is to build up more rounded pictures of the taxpaying public based on recognisable entities, such as individuals, their families and the circles within which they do business.


To put together such holistic pictures of taxpayers previously required several weeks of work just to pull the data from the disparate systems.

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