Thoughts on SmartGovLive

*Warning – sweeping statement coming up* Central Government projects are a bit like TV soap operas – a lot of people talk about them, there is an awful lot of drama, they are sometimes painful to watch, the same characters keep moving around but they’re not actually real.

I’m back in the office after an interesting couple of days at the Guardian hosted SmartGovLive conference. Sadly, it was an event where the exhibitors and vendors outnumbered the government people by about 10 to 1, but the content of the seminars and talks were still interesting.

Across the two days it felt a little bit like a pantomime. I heard a talk about the Public Sector Network and when it’s going to be delivered (oh no it isn’t). I then went on to another talk about the progress of the G-Cloud and when that will be delivered (oh no it won’t). So I’m still left a little bit up in the air as to what the future is around these projects, probably best not to carry on holding my breath.

The pantomime continued into day two when David Wilde did a talk around channel shift. He used a great phrase “ICT can’t drive it, the business can’t transform without it, so we need partnership”. But from what I’ve seen of partnerships, no matter how hard you try and sell it, there is always someone at the top.

He spoke passionately about his belief that government should stop concentrating on building websites and should develop apps as that’s how people are doing things now. He sees the Internet moving back to where it was in the late 90’s – just a repository of information, and the transactional stuff will be done using apps. I posed this question to the lunchtime panel (Dave BriggsChris Chant, Dominic Campbell, Paul Watson and Andy Gibson) who were discussing how Information Technology is changing the UK, and they are less sure on the subject. The general feeling seems to be that we can’t focus on one element of technology, we need to ensure government has the skills to use whatever is relevant to our citizens and how to deliver our services in the best way possible.

My day wouldn’t be complete without listening to something on open data, transparency and all of that good stuff. Paul Davidson managed to compress a 45 minute presentation on Linked Data into about 15 minutes. Simon Rogers spoke about the great work being done by the Guardian Datastore. But we’re still left in the situation that really great stuff is being done in very small pockets – government are starting to release more and more data, but there isn’t enough incentive for the developers out there to do anything with it. Linked data is clearly the way the world should be going, but currently the effort involved in getting an Excel spreadsheet out of a team makes getting data in a linkable format out almost impossible.

A thought-provoking day in which I think I’ve come away with more questions than answers.