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Government apps: A case for the axe?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 00:00 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Last week the government announced that it wanted to close many of its websites to save money - but should it also be looking at what it spends on developing applications for smartphones?

iPhoneA BBC freedom-of-information request sought to find out just how many iPhone apps were in development by government departments. We discovered that there were at least six apps, some of them out already and others still in development.

The apps include three from the Department of Health, a quit smoking app, a drinks tracker which monitors your alcohol consumption, and, released in time for the World Cup, the Football Fan Fitness Challenge.

The Foreign Office has a travel advice app, and the DVLA is developing something called Motoring Masterclass, which will apparently show you how to change a wheel, charge spark plugs and other useful motoring advice. The documents released about this show that it will cost £40,000 to develop.

The Department for Work and Pensions has Jobcentre Plus job search for both iPhone and Android phones, developed at a cost of £32,775 plus VAT. The DWP says this had been downloaded more than 50,000 times after 10 weeks on Apple's App Store.

Intriguingly, the Home Office responded to our request by refusing to confirm or deny that it was developing any apps, citing security grounds which absolve it from supplying some in formation under the FOI rules.

We are left to speculate that boffins at the Home Office are developing a secret app to be used by MI5 or Special Branch, perhaps using facial recognition technology.

Now all of these apps are free to download, so is this really a great use of scarce government cash? You might argue that it is an excellent way for government departments to use the latest techniques to get important messages about health, work and transport issues to citizens.

But do people who can already afford a very expensive device really need free help from the government to find a job or quit smoking? One government department pointed out to me that these apps were developed under the previous administration - so don't be surprised if the coalition decides that apps are a suitable case for the axe.

Update 6 July 0800: It appears that there is indeed some scepticism about iPhone apps within the new government. The Cabinet Office sent me this statement:

"The Government recently announced a freeze on all marketing and advertising spend for this year and this includes iPhone applications. While the Government wants to ensure that information and services are available in the most efficient and convenient forms, future spend on iPhone development will be subject to strict controls: only essential activity, approved by the Efficiency and Reform Group, which is chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will be allowed."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I support the building of mobile apps for select government services wholeheartedly! Smart phone adoption is only trending up, meaning they will be the most sold format of phone in the near future, from young adults receiving their first phone to the elderly. It's only natural that public services will be deployed at the touch of your own hand.Information and services packaged as 'apps' could well save more money than the outlay to build such software. It's also relatively easy to add analytics, and if this new government is so concerned about transparency, they can make 'app' usage public of overspend is a concern. The prices indicated are not overpriced from where i'm sitting.

  • Comment number 2.

    £10,000 to develop an app is actually quite a modest cost compared to the costs of a TV commercial or displaying leaflets in every GP surgery say. A bit LESS information overall from government would be quite welcome however, rather than being constantly bombarded with information campaigns or glossy leaflets telling us what a good job such and such a service or department is providing.

  • Comment number 3.

    A better strategy would be to develop open documented data feeds so third parties can develop apps for a variety of platforms. Developing apps for one particular platform smacks of manufacturer favouritism. Public bodies shouldn't be in the position of preferentially backing any particular platform, that includes you BBC!

  • Comment number 4.

    How on earth is the govt supposed to move with the times and communicate with the public if it doesn't invest in new modes of communication? These figures are tiny and yet the tone of the article is as if departments are furtively breaking the law or doing some evil thing. There is no perspective in the article to allow the reader to judge whether the apps are sensible or cost effective,just a sort of scare-mongering 'look the govt spending money on things which probably don't cure cancer or rescue abused children' kind of tone.

    Come on Rory - think before you post: help the public make a sensible considered judgement about these kinds of things.

  • Comment number 5.

    "for both iPhone and Android phones"

    While it's good to see that Whitehall hasn't bought totally into the "App = Apple" hype... it is depressing that yet again Symbian and Blackberry - both of whom have a larger market share than iPhone and Android as far as I can tell - get ignored.

    "But do people who can already afford a very expensive device"

    I get the feeling most of these devices out there are on a contract, so the actual cost of them isn't as much of an issue as you might think.

    One thought though... why develop an app at all, when most smartphones worth the name are perfectly capable of displaying the main website well enough to allow those to be used instead?

  • Comment number 6.

    This isn't an issue is it? iPhone is currently the market leader for 'app phones' and I'm sure that they would follow up with an Android version when the market reaches a certain critical mass - working with developers is my day job and if you can't justify developing for the iphone then there is zero justification in developing for any other mobile platform. And freezing this as marketing spend is perfectly normal as long as this doesn't affect the investment made in open data feeds.

    Open data is obviously a great way to spur third party development for public service value but this is limited to data which is not going to be personally identifiable. They can't do an open data feed for HMRC or pensions. So let's encourage the development of apps for now to bring development forward.

    Glad to see the government is on the technology curve and not behind it.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm surprised at the tone of this article. Not only, as others have pointed out, are the real-world development costs here very modest IMHO, but (as someone who's been in the customer contact technology space for 20 years) I can point out that, taking a holistic view of customer (or should I say "citizen") contact, it is far less costly in the long term to develop a strategy to deflect people off the phone (call centre) and into self-service.

    In the long run the costs of handling customers in this way can be reduced by as much as 95% or more (I can back this up). Indeed, I worked on a government project that did exactly this.

    It can easily cost anything from one to several pounds to handle a single enquiry over the phone with a call centre agent. In contrast, let's say an App developed for £40,000 only gets 50,000 downloads and one use, that deflects the enquiry from a call centre or member of staff. That's 80p to handle the contact. You've already saved!

    Demographics is a bogus argument - the rise and rise of mobile (with increasing sophistication) is there to see before our eyes. There's already well over 1 phone for EVERY person in this country and whatever your demographic, this trend continues. As for the cost of an iPhone specifically, you can get them 2nd hand on ebay you know!

    IMHO the government should be embracing a multi-channel "customer service" strategy - granted, keeping the reigns on during tight times - but having their sights set on sophisticated self-service and ultimately driving HUGE cost out of customer contact in the long term.

    If they don't, in a few years' time the masses will still be complaining how awful and tedious it is to conduct basic business with government departments...

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    Completely Mad. Why build apps for one OS that is proprietary and where the developers have no control over the longevity of their app on Apple's App Store. This is also a highly restrictive and biased (to one vendor) approach.

    Far, far better to do either, or preferably both, of the following:

    1. Build web based apps using open standards so that anyone can access from any browser.
    2. Provide Open Data Interfaces so independent platform developers can scratch whatever itch they currently have.

    I don't have an iPhone, I have an Android device (the total number of which are now outselling iOS). But I do not want my Tax revenue spent building Android apps either. Just build simple web access and open the data feeds.

  • Comment number 10.

     "By the end of May there were over 53,000 downloads of the Jobcentre Plus app, although critics have asked why someone who can afford both an iPhone and the expensive running costs would need a Jobcentre Plus app."

    Poor journalism there, Rory. Maybe they gave you a short deadline?

    The Jobcentre app gets five stars from me. It is excellent. 

    Just needs more employers to post their jobs with the JB centre instead 
    of wasting money on recruitment agencies.

    As for costs. The iPhone costs £30 per month to run.

    Any local newspaper, which has very few jobs, would cost £12 per month. Bus travel, local, with cheap tickets 
    cost £60 per month.

    Also the Jobseeker app covers the whole of Britain.

    The critics are also wrong in assuming that the only people who use the jobcentre apps are unemployed.

      

  • Comment number 11.

    A mistake in my post earlier. The usage statistics from the City of Boston are better:

    "79% of all self service generated service requests were mobile" So, four in five electronic requests (ie web / mobile combined) were via the iPhone app in the first five months.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm surprised with the tone of this article, the Government have got to engage with people using a variety of means and using iPhone (and iPod touch) apps is one way. I agree that opening up data allows others to develop apps however cutting the UK departments out of the equation is plain silly as they need to have awareness of what apps are being used.

    Also I'm further surprised with the assumptions that if you can afford an iPhone you are rich enough to use existing services (or go it alone?) surely access to digital information is cheaper than appointments and call centre costs?

    Anyway I'm just left with the feeling the original article was straight out of the Daily Mail!

  • Comment number 13.

    I absolutely agree with Alan Lord above...

    "Far, far better to do either, or preferably both, of the following:

    1. Build web based apps using open standards so that anyone can access from any browser.
    2. Provide Open Data Interfaces so independent platform developers can scratch whatever itch they currently have."

    There are many good examples of both in action.

    Again, as has been echoed previously, there is no point going down the path of building platform specific apps, it is an inefficient use of OUR money.

  • Comment number 14.

    I dont think this is much of a story at all really, you need to balance the cost of developing these apps against the cost of alternative ways of delivering these services.

    I use the Stop Smoking app from the NHS and it was really effective and have now been smoke free since February.

    With regards the Job Centre plus app, while I feel that most unemployed people should not have iPhones, many of them may have the iPod touch.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Smart phone adoption is only trending up". "trending up" Ha! Dude!

    It may be nice to have such things, but I don't think the government should be paying fot it. Let some 3rd party company do it and charge for it. Compared with social services, school buildings, body armour and care for the elderly, smart phone development seems unimportant.

  • Comment number 16.

    Do the apps have to be free? Many iPhone users don't think twice about buying an app that costs less than a pound, particularly as it is very difficult to predict the cost of calls to 0870 and 0845 numbers at the best of times. An app priced at 49p could easily cost less than a phone call to the equivalent government helpline. 70% of the sale price goes to the developer which could subsidise its development or even make a profit, subsidising further app development or development of the same app on new platforms as they rise in popularity, eg Android.

    A precedent exists: the National Rail Enquiries app sells for £4.99. The same information is available on the website, which is a bit fiddly to use from a small device, so people have the choice of paying for the app or not. (I would suggest to National Rail Enquiries that they would probably increase their downloads by more than 5 times if they dropped the price to 99p. I would even consider buying it myself.)

  • Comment number 17.

    @Alan Lord
    You can't do open data feeds for personal data.

  • Comment number 18.

    If it is for the private sector to deliver these things, and the private sector only, which seems to be the point of your article, then what is the BBC for?

    The whole premise of this article is deeply biased, a sign of the pressure the BBC is under. In attacking government spending you are undermining the case for funding the BBC, which I don't think is a good idea.

    Of course there is a case for independent sources whether that's the not for profit sector, the government, the BBC, and not just private enterprise to make use of all techniques if they are right for the job.

  • Comment number 19.

    THE iPHONE AGAIN!!!!!

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree with the development of relevant and useful mobile apps. If my tax is going towards the development of websites, TV campaigns and other formats then I would like the information to be accessible to me in a format that I use regularly - on my iPhone.

    As with every project, it should be cost effective, there should be a need for the service or application and going forward they should be scrutinised for the effectiveness rather than developed for the sake of it.

  • Comment number 21.

    These will require the provision of expensive handsets on expensive data plans to staff for this to be used. Other more widespread mobile technologies could have been deployed that would have worked on a wider range of handsets and be deployed significantly cheaper!

  • Comment number 22.

    I completely agree with the government making apps. I'm an app developer so I am biased on that side, but I can certainly see the benefits. I think that perhaps they should look at Android based apps as well, given that then there'd be a much wider reach.

    Take for instance the quit smoking iPhone app. It must cost the government a lot more than £10,000 on leaflets in GP surgeries alone. That, coupled with the fact that it's much greener to be distributing electronic media rather than paper, makes the £10,000 well spent in my opinion.

    Keep the apps coming I say!

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm not sure why they feel the need to develop apps.

    The majority of apps for smart phones only seem to replicate functionality from companies' websites.

    It would make more sense for the departments involved in this to have funded development of proper mobile browser versions of their websites, since these would have worked on any phone with a browser, not just smart phones.

    Oh, and as to the reason why someone with an iPhone would need a job centre app? Well if they've just lost their job they need to find some way of paying the ridiculous phone contract fees don't they? In any case, who's to say that the users of these apps aren't buying their iPhones second hand from ebay and using them on PAYG? That's probably what I'll do if I ever get an iPhone or Android phone.

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm all for the app! With the amount of people out of work, surely having an app like this would help ease the pressure in the job centres?

    "By the end of May there were over 53,000 downloads of the Jobcentre Plus app, although critics have asked why someone who can afford both an iPhone and the expensive running costs would need a Jobcentre Plus app"

    As for the statement above in the new article it can be used on the ipod touch!

  • Comment number 25.

    How can the government justify building apps that are top security for the iPhone when the iPhone has been banned for secret use on GCHQ's advice due to the iPhone being a rather unsecure platform?

    Worse, do the government even fulfil the requirements by Apple for an enterprise license? Are they publishing these top secret apps publicly via the app store?

    This is a complete farce, why on earth as the government subsidising a minority smart phone platform and one of the smallest minority general phone platforms in the UK? It's as bad as the BBC pushing the iPhone with regular stories on it, and the BBC focussing it's development on it whilst ignoring other platforms. It's absolutely typical public sector- jobs for people who just want to play about with the latest gadget and not actually do any useful or real work.

  • Comment number 26.

    A freeze on "marketing and advertising" spend sounds very tabloid-friendly, but the government doesn't actually market or advertise anything. As often happens, it's picked up terms from the private sector and used them to describe superficially similar activities misleadingly. In this case the activity is communication - something that's a vitally important part of government for both practical and constitutional reasons.

    There'll always be arguments about which platforms should or shouldn't be used, but these should be settled by looking at data on demographics and costs, not by ideological knee-jerk. Of course some people might ask why an unemployed person would have the money for an iPhone - probably the same people that point out that benefit claimants own TV sets and smoke cigarettes, as if this is proof that the poor are getting above themselves these days.

    In general, it probably makes more sense to do stuff on the web that works on lots of different devices than to target one platform - but there may be exceptions. A Jobcentre app that costs £32K to make and is useful to 50,000 people sounds like good value. What would you do for each of those people with 64 pence that would be more effective?

    On the other hand, a Motoring Masterclass app to teach people how to maintain their cars is, on the face of it, not a great use of public funds. There are lots of other ways to get this information already. It would be equally daft to do it as a book or a website.

    The difference is that the government runs the Jobcentre initiative and generates resources that can usefully be made available to the public. The government doesn't have any special knowledge about car maintenance to make available; it would presumably just be hiring people from the private sector to create the content. Unless there's a specific barrier to this knowledge being shared with the public by other routes, that makes no sense.

  • Comment number 27.

    Besides the iPhone Apps issue perhaps we should also know how many iPhones are supplied to HM Governement Departments and what the average bill is per user. In fact perhaps the public should know:

    + How many governement staff have Government funded mobile phones?
    + How many of the government supplied phones are iphones
    + What is the average size of the annual bill?
    + What tariff and mobile service supplier is used by government?
    + What are the rules of government staff using phones for personal use?
    + What is the split between voice and data on mobile phones - how has this changed over the years?

    As for the development of iPhone Apps the real question is why does government not use text reminders more? The most recent example being court fines? As we all know most people have a mobile apprently even the jobless.

  • Comment number 28.

    So, the Jobcentre Plus app for iPhone *and* Android cost £32,775?

    And how many people would you need to get off benefits in order for that sum to be repaid in full?

    I'd say that there was a very clear, measurable, and achievable ROI there, wouldn't you?

  • Comment number 29.

    @adambanksdotcom #26

    > A Jobcentre app that costs £32K to make and is useful to 50,000 people
    > sounds like good value

    And what sounds even better value is a mobile version of their website that costs £32K and is useful to anyone with a phone, not the minority with an iPhone. iPhone apps have their use and place, but replacing mobile versions of websites isn't one of them.

  • Comment number 30.

    So the Government are also iPhone fanboys. It's not the only communication device out there. There are others that are quite capable of providing a good platform for distributing information.
    Each network; Vodafone; Orange; T-Mobile; O2; Tesco; Asda etc etc etc have their own services that are quite easily integrated into for information distribution.

    I'm glad I saved £100s and bought a Nokia N900. I can go straight to the websites and browse them just like using my PC.

  • Comment number 31.

    Why shouldn't they try and make government services more easily accessible to the people? After all, that's what they're there to do.

    Why should you have to go to the post office to renew your car tax, when in this day and age there are far more efficient and convenient ways of getting it done?

    I can accept the argument that perhaps instead of developing the apps directly they could make data feeds available with certain APIs - but the worry then is that any potential loopholes might be exploited by those who wish to acquire personal information for fraudulent purposes.

    So if the government developing apps for smartphones is a safer way to make sure we can all access the services we need AND in a way that doesn't enable others to access our private information, I'm perfectly happy for the government to spend some money in developing them.

    Over time, the savings should far outweigh the initial outlay - both in terms of efficiency for the end user (not having to take time out of busy schedules to do things in a post office that could just as easily be done from your phone) and the government (less labour intensive tasks should allow them to use resources elsewhere).

    But yes, they should also be available for other platforms than just the iPhone.

  • Comment number 32.

    @MJ

    I'll re-phrase that to Open Data and Open Web APIs. Sure you can't go distributing personal information to everyone. However you can provide a documented data feed to correctly authenticated people. There is no reason why the government is the only developer who can implement an App to access you tax details from HMRC. It should be an open API that any App can use.

  • Comment number 33.

    On the whole this post and the article are poor journalism. These are developments aimed at making accessing of public services easier and more convenient, and from what I can see at very little cost (less than one Quango Chief Executive's salary for a year). Really Rory, were the FoI requests to find this information good uses of licence fee payers' money?

    Ron Taylor @ 10 makes a good point; you don't have to be unemployed to use the services of a Jobcentre, so why would you assume that only the unemployed would use a smartphone app? Anyway, owners of smartphones aren't excempt from being made redundant!

    I'm (thankfully) in full time employment but that hasn't stopped me downloading the Jobcentre app to my *Android* phone to help keep an eye on other vacancies that are out there. I think it's very useful and I applaud the Government for trying new technology.

  • Comment number 34.

    Good idea for some apps - e.g. job seeeker

    What about...

    Useful phone numbers and email addresses and web sites for local authority depts (e.g. reporting issues on traffic lights, street lights, fly tipping, refuse centre locations and hours, etc.). Location automatically detected and sent if gps or wifi capability.
    Website for reporting potholes (rather than paying out £1000000's in compensation for damage to cars because they have not been reported).
    Web could be used much better by local authorities and it would save money and reduce staff.

  • Comment number 35.

    I find the harsh undertone of criticism a little hypercritical. The BBC doesn't seem that far removed from a Government department to me. You are effectively funded by a tax on the public and yet there are many low key websites and web related projects and applications available or, no doubt, under development.

    If the Government are going to be so radical and think that far out of the box, they could divert much of the "television tax" and force similar reform of the BBC.

    While I think it is important to report on such matters, I think it could be done with a little less sensationalism. I'm tired of the modern media attitude that seems to think that every story needs to induce some form of disgust or shock from the reader.

  • Comment number 36.

    @Aidy: I'm not disagreeing - but I'm not agreeing either, because I don't have the data. Were these people interested in using a website? Was an app more attractive to them, and therefore more likely to be taken up? Would it have been more expensive to build a mobile website, given the multi-platform testing involved? How many potential mobile users are not covered by iPhone+Android?

    "Websites are more democratic than apps" is ideology, not fact.

  • Comment number 37.

    I do not really have a problem with the idea of Apps that help you get to Govenment services - though the cost of producing such Apps seems very high to begin.

    My concern (and point) is that until this story broke, I had no idea that these Apps exsist. I came along the other day with a friend to the local Job Centre, and was impressed with the touch screen machines to help people search for jobs - but there was certainly no information there about an App for this..

    Indeed I would not think about searching in the App store for something to help with my cat tax renewal either. So perhaps the bigger is is not so much the fact they have spent money making such Apps, but the fact that not enough people know about them.

    Even my local council's website is a minefield to navigate through and when I did report, twice, through it a lamp that had been out for over 3 weeks nothing was done. I called and a few days later it was fixed. In short therefore I have little trust that Government I.T projects and websites really work.

    They cost a lot to produce, but the 'back end' seems where it all falls flat and I am sure an App will prove no different.

  • Comment number 38.

    The jobseeker one is a good idea, mainly because the government will make their money back (indirectly) in the long term; through income tax, and more items being bought with the former jobseekers additional income which brings in the VAT.

    But the others......

  • Comment number 39.

    Oh typo's in my original post. I must proof read these things before I submit! Though the idea of a 'cat tax' may well appeal to our money saving Government!

  • Comment number 40.

    @Aidy (#29)

    There is a mobile version of the Jobcentre Plus search on the Directgov mobile website (visit m.direct.gov.uk on your mobile), the Job Centre Plus iPhone/Android application is merely an extra way of reaching people searching for a new job.

    There seems to be a lot of stigma about JCP, but they have a database of hundreds of thousands of vacancies across Great Britain and Europe, for all people (not just those who are unemployed), so I think the mobile application offers genuine value (as is evidenced by the fact that over 50,000 people have downloaded it!).

  • Comment number 41.

    The real question is how much do these departments spend on providing free leaflets a year, leaflets which do not provide the interactive experience an app does. I would then argue that these app's are actually quite good value for money.

  • Comment number 42.

    @Aidy #29
    > And what sounds even better value is a mobile version of their website that costs £32K and is useful to anyone > with a phone, not the minority with an iPhone.

    The data from the jobcentre plus and travel news apps is available to all phones from the Directgov mobile site (http://m.direct.gov.uk)

    Regarding the opening up of data, there are loads of data-streams being made available by the government for anyone to use. Have a look at http://data.gov.uk/ and http://innovate.direct.gov.uk/, it's all there to use!

  • Comment number 43.

    It is worth pointing out that apps for the iPhone are also able to be used on the iPod Touch. So the complaint about making apps for those that can afford expensive contracts for the iPhone don't take account of those that can't afford the phone but can afford the iPod Touch.

    The apps for Android phones should be portable to other devices at minimal cost, unlike the iPhone ones. So apps for Nokia and Blackberry could be in the pipeline.

  • Comment number 44.

    "A better strategy would be to develop open documented data feeds so third parties can develop apps for a variety of platforms."

    Bingo.

    Developing apps for platforms that aren't even in the top two most used mobile platforms is both stupid and wasteful.

    All in favour of this but for goodness sake make it web enabled rather than an app.

  • Comment number 45.

    I'm an iPhone user and think the applications are useful. But I don't think the governments should spend so much time and money on mobile applications.

    If you write decent web applications then you can access these with any mobile device with a web browser. Write once, run many.

    When writing applications for specific devices you need to create multiple versions. Symbian, Android, Windows Mobile, iPhone/iPad, Maemo, Blackberry and so on.

  • Comment number 46.

    People in glass houses ...

    You are funded by my taxes to write a blog on technology issues. Mmmm, "Is this really a great use of scare public cash?"

    This is cheap political journalism and cow-towing to the government's lasted whim. Go and investigate project management, procurement and duplicate systems if you want to find waste in the public sector, or find out how much more wasteful the public sector is than the private sector. There are few large organisations that can't find examples of daft expenditure.

  • Comment number 47.

    Just proves that you get what you votes for - GOVERNMENT!!! A waste of money by definition

  • Comment number 48.

    I think this debate misses the point. We shouldn't be arguing about developing Apps or not. There are various ways to communicate information to people and app's are very effective sometimes, but not generally.

    What there should be is some kind of guidence document on when an app is more effective than say, a poster campaign or direct mail. Where people need to access information on the move then smartphone apps are clearly superior. I have a few friends who used the drinking app and think its a fairly clever idea, many of them only used it a few times but it was an eye opener for them to realise how much they drank.

    So lets use them when needed and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Comment number 49.

    As many others above have commented, building mobile applications is surely a good thing; it's cheap, convenient and you can see the information in front of you, which is a distinct advantage over making a phone call.

    But...yet again everyone waxes lyrical about the iPhone as if it's the only smartphone that can run third-party programs. Yes, for better or worse it is the dominant platform but the government should cater for all platforms and thus all citizens. The App Store is just one among many; there is also BlackBerry's App World, Google Android's Market, Nokia's Ovi and Meego Stores, Palm's App Catalog, Windows Phone 7's Marketplace, Bada's Samsung Apps ...

    Additionally, most of these platforms (BlackBerry OS, Android, Symbian, Meego, webOS) allow side-loading of apps, which means that for these systems the government could simply release apps on their own website for users to download. This keeps it outside of any app store, and ensures that they don't have to jump through hoops to gain entry to a company's closed and controlled application store (I include Microsoft along with Apple in this category as Window's Phone 7 will not allow side-loading when it gets released...it seems they both take a very similar view on how they should retain control on their customer's property).

    However, the smartphone OS market is all up in the air right now and just like desktop computers ten-twenty years ago, only a few will survive in the end - so building multiple apps, whilst fair and transparent could ultimately be very costly. Therefore in conclusion, I think that these government departments should concentrate on building optimised mobile websites. Almost all of the above mobile OS's use or will soon use Webkit browsers so they are all perfectly capable of navigating to a well-optimised mobile-site. This would keep the government platform-agnostic and ensure easy access for all, as well as keeping costs down.

    I'm not holding my breath for anything in the future other than iPhone apps though, if anything...

  • Comment number 50.

    From a moral standpoint tax money should not be spent on supporting the Jobsian empire or any other corporation for that matter. To make it worse the iPhone and derivatives are not the best selling smart devices, they are not even second and it is clear they have been chosen simply because they are seen as cool.

    From a technical standpoint 'apps' have set computing back years by moving away from the open, platform independence of webapps and moving back to the days of having to develop separately for each operating system.

  • Comment number 51.

    It is good use of funds. Compare a massive media campaign aimed at educating people about the true alcoholic content of drinks or nights out with the reported £10k costs to publish a tracker app that individuals can use to track for ourselves how much we drink. Gets the message across just as effectively and for considerably less cost, although arguably to a smaller (but perhaps better targetted) audience.

  • Comment number 52.

    From a strategic perspective this is certainly the cheaper channel one can invest in ... from call centers to large portals etc. One can argue on focusing solely on iPhone though.
    On a broader aspect regarding this blog and technology on Government I would be much more interested in commenting on the strategic aspect of Technology and it's management by the Government ... wastage and duplication here will be self evident.

  • Comment number 53.

    Curiously no one has linked this with the BBC attempting to deliver the iPlayer on smart phones. Surely the same critique an be developed about their efforts.... which is the have the an app (its now a generic term since Apple appears to have failed to register it) for every phone. How much does it cost?

  • Comment number 54.

    I develop mobile apps for a living and whilst £40K sounds like it could be a little pricey (although it totally depends on the detail) I'd say £10K for a mobile app is pretty reasonable.

    And anyway - BBC? seriously? how can you possibly feature an article like this one whilst omitting to tell us how much money you've spent on mobile apps? talk about treating your readers like idiots!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/02/bbc_mobile_apps.html

  • Comment number 55.

    so what proportion of the population has an iphone? 90%? I doubt it maybe 9% or probably allot less.

  • Comment number 56.

    Utterly ridiculous. I mean surely information provision and innovation are a good thing for an economy, and to get this you have to invest. I get the feeling the Tories & Lib Dems are revelling a little too much in this cost cutting exercise. Gleeful it seems sometimes - at some point in the future they will need to see the country as a long term investment and not a credit card to be reduced.

    What abotu the cost of this article?! £50m cut from BBC online services starting with nonsense like this.

  • Comment number 57.

    Is £40,000 for an iphone app for Jobcentre Plus really so outrageous? Every year the government spends over £2Bn on programmes to get people back into work; that sum is tiny compared to the huge amount spent on benefits for people out of work. If Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers' Alliance really believes that people who need Jobcentre Plus' advice can't afford an iPhone then I am afraid that shows how little the Taxpayers' Alliance really understand the subject. Moreover Jobcentre Plus isn't just for people who are unemployed - people use the service to switch jobs and other people use it to find their first job.

    If the Government is really going to save billions and continue to ensure that people get off benefit and into work or renew their tax disc or get a passport then the internet is going to play a big role. Any sensible person will work out that more and more people access the internet through smartphones and any sensible government will ignore the media and continue to develop low cost solutions that will save the billions that need to be saved in the coming years.

  • Comment number 58.

    It's a disgrace that the government are supporting one platform over another especially when that platform flies in the face of all current moves towards openness.

    Don't think it is just central gov though, at least three local councils (Brighton, Sutton and Warwickshire) have taken their 20 pieces of Jobsian silver by going down the iPhone app route. Warwickshire, who clearly must be sponsored by Apple, are even going one better by giving away iPads to encourage people to develop more apps.

  • Comment number 59.

    Most of the arguments in support are just saying that the Government should write apps rather than not writing apps. But that doesn't address the problem of them *only* writing apps for the Iphone. If you love these apps, then how do you think the rest of us feel? If they're so good, we want these apps too.

    If these apps are such good value for money as claimed, then isn't that all the more reason to produce them for the other (far more popular) phone platforms? If you think it's great that the Government are embracing technology, why aren't they embracing more of it, rather than just one or two niche platforms?

    When the Government (or the BBC, come to that - remember the Iplayer issue - or even when it's private companies) produce a Windows only solution, people rightly criticise it for locking other users out. Why should it be any different for Apple? So even if the Iphones had the largest market share, as with Windows we would expect the Government to be inclusive of other platforms.

    But it's even worse in that it doesn't have the largest share - not anywhere close. Apple are less than 5% of the phone market at best, meaning 95% of users are locked out. Android has an even smaller share. The most notable omission is the largest phone platform, Nokia's Symbian. Where are the Symbian apps? Along with others, such as RIM (Blackberry)? And where possible, what about Java apps that will run on almost all phones?

    It's particularly distasteful when you consider that, given the cost of the Iphones, these users are more likely to be higher income earners. Why are taxes being spent specifically just for this group of people?

    I get annoyed at being a paying customer to companies that only cater apps for the small minority of Apple users; to have the Government do it with our taxes is even worse. There is also the issue from the company point of view, not just the consumer point of view: why is the Government specifically supporting Apple like this? This is unfair competition (how much are Apple paying them for this deal?); there was an uproar when this happened with Microsoft a few years ago, why is Apple any different? Not to mention the issue that due to the control Apple have over apps on their platform, it means Apple can decide whether to allow or refuse these Government apps.

    MJ: "iPhone is currently the market leader for 'app phones'"

    Someone's swallowed the media hype :) No it isn't, not even close. Almost all phones can run apps - Nokia are number one at 40% market share (with their platform Symbian the most popular "smart"phone OS); Apple are a few per cent.

    To put things into perspective: in a single quarter, Nokia ship more phones than Apple's entire range of phones ever sold since they entered the market in 2007.

    Matt: "Take for instance the quit smoking iPhone app. It must cost the government a lot more than £10,000 on leaflets in GP surgeries alone. "

    Yes, but the leaflets can be read by anyone, not by the tiny percentage of the population with an Apple phone. If it's so much cheaper, why not doing it for the other (more popular) platforms?

    So, where's my Symbian app for my 5800?

  • Comment number 60.

    _mdwh_, you said it so much better than I did and you are right that this must be unfair competition, is it even legal for them to do it I wonder?

  • Comment number 61.

    #14, "With regards the Job Centre plus app, while I feel that most unemployed people should not have iPhones, many of them may have the iPod touch."

    Did it occur to you that some unemployed people were once gainfully employed?

  • Comment number 62.

    @ ThoughtCrime #61

    > Did it occur to you that some unemployed people were once gainfully
    > employed?

    So not only is the g'ment spending money on iPhone apps that have a small market share, they are spending money for iPhones that are owned by unemployed people that were once gainfully employed and not one of the many on long-term benefits/sickness! What's the target audience there? 10 people at best?

  • Comment number 63.

    Looks like you have offended a bunch of Geeks on here Rory. What next? are you going to take their sensible shoes and cardigans off them too.

  • Comment number 64.

    The government should definitely not be spending money on iPhone Apps. Not everyone has an iPhone! Websites can be accessed by many more people.

  • Comment number 65.

    @ _mdwh_

    Yes Apple have a small share of the whole mobile phone market at something like 5%, but most of that market is feature phones that can't use any app.

    You are right that Nokia sell more phones than Apple by a huge amount, but the vast majority of those phones do not, can not, and will not use downloadable apps.

    Apple have a much larger share of the market of phones that use apps, plus the apps on their phones work on their iPod Touch device too, and they are by far the biggest seller in their field.

    As to the apps market, the Apple app store is by a large amount the biggest market in the field, with the Android market coming a far off second, but growing faster. The Symbian, Palm, Blackberry and Microsoft app markets are tiny compared to Apple's and Android's.

    It is natural to develop apps for the biggest markets first, so Apple is the obvious choice, once that is developed then they can develop for the Android market. Once the Android app is developed it can be fairly cheaply and easily ported onto any other device, apart from Apples.

    I do not like Apples closed shop mentality and the only Apple device I own is an iPod Touch (even that I plan to replace with a Zune HD since the latest software update has killed my battery life), but I can understand the reasons why apps are developed for their devices first.

    I would agree that it would be better to produce web apps that can be used on any device that can connect to the internet, but stand alone apps have huge advantages as they do not need to be bloated with differing code to accommodate the various browsers, device types, and screen sizes people use.

    As to people being able to afford the devices, has it occurred to anyone that a fair number are given to people as gifts, especially the iPod Touch.

  • Comment number 66.

    @ Williams Palmer

    Sorry but you are quite simply wrong on several counts:

    Even feature phones can use some kind of app e.g. Java (though iPhones can't use this), and the vast majority of modern phones will run apps for their own OS as well.

    Apple's share is huge in the US but, assuming UK gov apps will really only be used by people in the UK, you have to take the US sales out giving Apple an even smaller share here.

    The Apple apps store is the largest as Apple have made sure no one else can sell apps for their devices so there is only one place to buy. Android and Symbian apps can be bought from countless places which of course means each store has to take only a share of the market rather than all of it.

    The code cannot be easily ported from Apple apps as Jobs & co are determined to stop this from happening by banning tools for doing just this.

    With modern Webkit browsers there is no need to write websites to cope with the problems of multiple browser types and as for different screen sizes the iRange has several within it.

    If you take the population as a whole the number of iPhone users is a tiny percentage and so the government should not be wasting money supporting this closed shop business with tax payers money.

  • Comment number 67.

    Alan Lord totally nails it. I have a Nokia phone. Neither Apple nor Android apps are any use to me, although my tax dollars have been spent on them.

    But I don't want Nokia (Symbian) apps either. I just want a website we can all use. After all, where am I likely to look for the info in the first place if not on the web?

    As an example, the National Rail Enquiries app costs £4.99. The same information is available on a mobile-phone-friendly website here for free:
    http://m.traintimes.org.uk/

    Want an iPhone formatted version?
    http://i.traintimes.org.uk

    All created for free and for fun by Matthew Somerville in his own time. All available on any web capable device (not just iPhones). And it works fine, despite the fact it has to get the data second hand from the NRE website.

    Please please please can the BBC, National Rail, the Government and everybody else spending my money on web content apps (which I can't use) wake up and smell the coffee.

    Tim Berners Lee gave the world the Web for free. It's brilliant. Let's use it.

  • Comment number 68.

    douchbag.

    Yes feature phones can use some (very few) apps, but show me a market for them that comes close to anything available in the smartphone market. Try filling in complex internet forms on most of the feature phones on the market, you'll soon end up throwing the thing against a wall in frustration.

    Webkit browsers make up about as small a share of the browser market as Apple do of the smartphone market. Just like it is not the place of government to force everybody to use the Apple iPhone, government has no place forcing people to use browsers based on one version of open software, or even open software at all.

    As to apps on other devices, yes you can get them from other markets apart from Apple's closed shop method, but I would be willing to bet that not one Nokia or Blackberry app would appear in a list of the top 50 downloaded apps, even ones that are versions of apps on Apples app store.

    I never said apps can be ported from Apple apps, I said they can ported from Android apps.

    Apple's share of the US smartphone market is not huge, they come a poor second to Blackberry, but like here their app market is far and away the largest.

    If you take the population as a whole much of government expenditure is directed to tiny percentages, but government is not there to help the majority who can get along fine without them it is there to help the minority who can't.

    You are still point blank ignoring the iPod Touch, which outsells anything else in it's field by a very long way.

    Tim, if you pay your tax in dollars you're doing it wrong, and why the hell should my tax pounds subsidise you to look up train times? Get a free timetable from the station if you really need to know it that much.

  • Comment number 69.

    @William Palmer

    Sigh!

    2010 Q1 World Market Share of SMART (not feature) phones:
    Symbian - 44%
    RIM - 19%
    Apple - 15%
    Android - 10%

    and this includes the US market where Apple has a 39% market share.

    UK market I can only find by manufacturer but again is SMARTphones:
    Nokia (Symbian) - 51%
    RIM - 14%
    Apple - 14%
    HTC (Android) - 12%

    Webkit browsers - Are you serious? I think you need to read up on that.

    Porting apps - It is exactly that you describe which Jobs it trying to stop.

    'government expenditure is directed to tiny percentages' - Like the NHS, Education, Roads etc. Even if it were true deliberately choosing ways to limit a service is just stupid.

    The iPod touch has a huge market share because every one else just makes a full smartphone rather than half of one. It is also pretty useless unless you find some WiFi.

  • Comment number 70.

    I know fine well what the market share of smart phones is, it is the market share of smart phone apps that I am talking about and Apple wipes the board with that. The 51% market share of Nokia smart phones in the UK is a bit suspect, I don't think I have ever seen one in the wild, I have seen plenty of Blackberries, Palms, iPhones and Android phones though.

    There are two major WebKit browsers, Safari and Chrome, between them they have a market share of 12.9%. There a a few mobile WebKit browsers too, but the one with the largest presence (again Apple) has a massive 1% share. If you really wanted the government to produce web apps that are designed for the largest open software browser types you would be routing for Gecko not WebKit.

    Have you actually read what I wrote about porting, I said Apple apps couldn't be ported, but Android ones that the government have made could be.

    Ever heard of the Zune HD, it's made by a little known company called Microsoft. What does it matter if the iPod Touch only works on WiFi, there are plenty of free WiFi hotspots available and checking out jobs via an app isn't really something you are going to be doing whilst walking along in the street or in the middle of the countryside.

  • Comment number 71.

    Market share of apps is irrelevant if you are trying to reach people.

    All other arguments aside the fact remains if you are trying to reach 100 people an iPhone app will reach 14 a website will reach 100.

  • Comment number 72.

    Some odd, spurious and changing arguments on all sides but I have to agree that a website will always reach more devices than an 'app' of any kind.

    Platform specific software is like going back to the 80s with BBC's, Amstrads, Spectrums... you know how it goes.

  • Comment number 73.

    "But do people who can already afford a very expensive device really need free help from the government to find a job?"

    Yes, people who have recently lost their jobs shouldn't have to wait until all their savings have been used up before the government will help them get back into working (and paying income tax).

    As the cost for developing compared to the number downloading compares very favourably to - say - a lot of the BBC's output, I'd say the government did very well on this.

  • Comment number 74.

    @douchebag

    Most modern mobile browsers are using or will use Webkit, as evidenced below:

    Mobile Safari iOS: http://iphone.sys-con.com/node/975490

    Palm webOS: http://developer.palm.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1574

    BlackBerry OS 6.0: http://blog.laptopmag.com/blackberry-os-6-0-revealed-now-with-webkit-browser

    Symbian^3/S60: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_Browser_for_S60

    Android: http://webkit.org/blog/142/android-uses-webkit/

    Not sure about Meego using Webkit, but it's not too far fetched.

    And if you'd like to have a look at a full up-to-date list of mobile OS' that use Webkit, you can see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webkit#Ports

    Really, it's probably you that needs to read up on Webkit. You're right about the Nokia smartphone market share of 51% though, despite what William Palmer says in his post below yours...he probably has seen Nokia S60/Symbian smartphone in the wild as they are pretty commonplace - the 5800 is but one example.

    Anyway, going back on topic, the government should make apps/webapps for all operating systems and stop favouring the supposedly cool one.

  • Comment number 75.

    I'm confused about what the point is of this article. It seems to be that the government are wasting money by developing applications that are actively helping people find work, stop smoking and get fit all of which for a mobile application has a very small price tag.
    Where is the evidence that this is indeed a waste of money? How many people will find work through this application over the next couple of years? What percentage of people will give up smoking or be inspired to get fit by using the applications provided?
    50,000 downloads in 10 weeks is incredible value, that’s less than £1 per person, if it saves these people being on benefit for even a few days then it’s already paid for itself.

    As for the line:

    “But do people who can already afford a very expensive device really need free help from the government to find a job or quit smoking?”
    What actually is your answer to this? It would appear that yes, they do. There is a clear market for these applications and people get made redundant every day, in which case their already tied into to a lengthy mobile phone contract.

    Please don’t post such scare mongering nonsense, £40,000 for developing an application is miniscule compared to so many projects / reviews etc the government carries out. You yourself must see the point of mobile applications seeing as you run a technology blog, instead you sound like my dad.

  • Comment number 76.

    @ mark-dj

    I possibly have seen a Nokia smart phone, but for the life of me I don't remember ever seeing one.

    As to mobile browsers, yes a fair number use WebKit, but quite a few don't Opera, Dolphin, Skyfire, Internet Explorer Mobile and Firefox for Mobile being the examples that come to mind.

    However, as I pointed out before, the mobile browser with the highest market presence is Apples Safari mobile browser and over the three devices it is on (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) it makes up around 1% of the overall browser presence on the net.

  • Comment number 77.

    I agree with Alex and his comments on 6th of July. Why only an app working on iPhone or Android? Why not on every (almost every) mobile?
    It is possible to produce nicely working mobile application working on the cheap low class mobiles too. These can be done so, that the application will work automatically on the same language as what the user is using on his/her mobile. And so that it won't use much network and doesn't produce heavy network load as iPhone or any browser based app is doing. What if the the single retrieval of e.g NHS service provider info would be less than 1 kb of data transfer compared to browser based app using data transfer 10-100 kb or even more data transfer? Which one would be more convenient to use?

  • Comment number 78.

    @ William Palmer,
    while you are right to say that there are few webkit based browsers at the moment, the majority of new smartphones will incorporate them within the year. I think this webkit discussion is a red herring anyway.

    What I'm struggling with is where are you hanging out? More than one in three smartphones in the UK is a Nokia. The mobile browser with the highest market presence in the UK is Nokia S60. By a long way.
    Do you live in the Apple store or something? I don't think iPod touch is relevant in the discussion either. It isn't really a mobile browser as it is hardly ever connected to the internet when mobile. If you're at home then surely you would just use you MacBook to browse the web and look for jobs/pay your taxes etc?

    I have to agree with the majority on this thread. All Smartphones have an 'app for that'. It's called a browser and it's almost ubiquitous. Why does there have to be special stuff for the minority at taxpayers expense.

    As regards the stores, Apple indeed have the best app store, but then most of the others don't need a store to distribute free stuff. Nokias and Blackberries have been getting apps deployed for almost a decade without any need for a store

  • Comment number 79.

    Chris

    The majority of smart phones already have WebKit browsers, but mobile web browsers market share is minute compared to the overall market.

    Of course the iPod Touch is relevent to the discussion, if you add those devices to the iPhone you more than double the amount of devices that can use the iOS app.

    Did you read what I wrote earlier, the only Apple device I own is an iPod Touch, and I am thinking about getting rid of that. I use a Dell desktop with Windows 7, an HP laptop with Windows Vista, another HP laptop with Ubunto, an HTC Desire smart phone and a Sony Ericsson basic mobile phonme for those times when I am going to be away from a charging point for days at a time. Where I spend most of my time is out and about amongst the 30 - 50 year old target market that smart phones are aimed at, and nobody I know owns a Nokia smart phone, they all own Apple, Blackberry, Palm or Android. I dislike Apple's closed shop mentality, I just understand why app developers (note not just government ones) target the Apple market first as that is where they will get the most uploads by a large amount.

  • Comment number 80.

    @ William,
    once again I apologise. You are right, the majority of smartphones do use Webkit in their browsers. This is by virtue of Nokia having used Webkit in the S60 browser for some time now I just discovered.
    The point is that Apple are only a small proportion of smartphones so why the special treatment? More than that, people with smartphones most likely to need access to Jobcentre plus are less likely to have Apple phones and more likely to have Nokia phones.
    It may surprise you to learn though that in the UK in Q1 2009, the biggest selling MP3 player was the Nokia 5800 smartphone, outselling all versions of the iPod put together, never mind just the Touch. It wouldn't surprise me to find that the Nokia 5800 and it's derivatives have outsold all iPhones in the UK although there is rather a lot of obfuscation about sales figures. This would make it a more sensible platform to reach people with Jobcentre plus apps than the iSet surely?

  • Comment number 81.

    I can give you Google analytics statistics on different smart-phone OS usage this year to access a British ski-club site I am webmaster for (total 17000 visits in this period): iPhoneOS 2.94%, Android 0.29%, Symbian 0.25% and BlackBerry 0.07%. (The missing 95% was access by desktop Windows and Mac OS X). So, what matters is not so much the percentage of smart phones that have this or that OS, but the likelihood a smartphone user will use that OS to access the internet. At the moment the iPhoneOS usage is an order of magnitude greater than that of other smartphone OSes and not far from Mac usage some years back (currently 10% on the site in question).

  • Comment number 82.

    @Social,
    mmm do you not think it is just more likely that people that go skiing are more likely to have an iPhone too? I agree that it is usage that actually matters though and I think it is fair to say that the biggest mobile web users may be iPhone owners because chances are their contract includes mobile web. For many others it is just a bolt on option.

  • Comment number 83.

    Out of interest how much has the BBC spent on experimenting with new technologies and platforms? Given how harsh you are on government spending, presumably if the BBC has spent even more itself you would be in favour of scrapping it for being so wasteful I assume?

  • Comment number 84.

    Chris. Certainly smartphone usage varies between different social groups and depends on age and sex. Obviously I can't give overall stats - I'm sure they are available elsewhere. I do another site, a textile craft site with a very different audience: predominantly women in the upper age group. This site had about 20,000 hits in the first six months of the year and only a tenth as much smartphone usage as the ski club site. However, the ratio of iPhone OS to other smartphone OSes was very much the same, albeit the numbers here are getting too low (total iPhone/iPad/iPod only about 80) for statistical reliability if the results were taken in isolation.

  • Comment number 85.

    "The DWP says this had been downloaded more than 50,000 times after 10 weeks on Apple's App Store. "

    So?

    When I was unemployed I searched jobs online free at the library and I was grateful. There was no need for an app. Android phones haven't taken off yet so not many people have them and most people do not own an iphone and certainly can not afford on the dole. The majority of the people who downloaded must have been either already employed or not working but living comfortably. Both are people who are not entitled to job seekers allowance and precious tax money should not be allocated for them. Anyone spending their jobseekers allowance on an iphone connection should have their benefit withdrawn.

  • Comment number 86.

    I have written a comment of 699 words which has been moderated.
    As a result, unfortunately, the strength of the points I have been trying to make may have been lost. Or, worse, you now get in excess of 1,900 words in this post!
    I am going to quote from the BBC legal guide lines on this topic:-
    "
    It is against the House Rules to post defamatory material to any BBC community site or message board. If you post content that we believe might be defamatory, we will remove it. Potentially defamatory material, may, at the Editor's discretion, be posted if there is credible evidence supporting your claims, or if the content is deemed to be fair comment.

    What is Defamation?

    Defamation is the legal term that covers both slander and libel; slander is defamation by word of mouth, and libel is defamation in written form. It is, therefore, the type of defamation we are concerned with in content posted onto the BBC. A statement about an individual or organisation is deemed to be defamatory if it harms their reputation by:

    * Exposing the individual or organisation to hatred, ridicule or contempt;
    * Causing the individual or organisation to be shunned or avoided;
    * Lowering the individual or organisation in the estimation of right-thinking members of society; or
    * Disparaging the individual in their office, profession or trade or the organisation's office, profession or trade.

    "
    Two points. I don't know the law in any detail but I assume the following.
    1. There is a difference between fair comment and unsubstantiated allegation (a substantive allegation), here the difficulty is that someone who may have a contribution to make to dialogue based in experience and the facts of that experience cannot comment either way on, for instance, whether there is fraud, while others obviously unconnected with the parties can say "fraud" as that is fair comment, not substantive.
    2. While I cannot comment either way substantively on whether there is fraud, looking at this story on on its own and the frequent references above (17 mentions) I would say no it isn't, and that misses entirely the point.

    My moderated post could have used different language and the meaning would have been undiluted.

    If people are interested in substantive comments about BT and Serco study carefully comment #181. It is interesting in the fact that it too hedges about and also does not find an overall view of the issues. It remains, in my opinion, rather confused as a result.

    I have looked up both of the words fraud and collusion on word-net. Any good dictionary would do. The problem I have is that while these are both legal terms were I to use them I do not mean them in a legal sense. I have nothing to say either way on any legal connotation in the situation I describe.
    What is more difficult for me is that I mean something along the lines of one or the other term, but in a Group Psychoanalytic sense.

    I am trying to move from the particular, this contract and its execution, to the general, how government deals with these types of contracts with an emphasis on the aspect of it that I understand best, software development.
    In making generalised inferences I conclude that the relationship between the government in power at the time, the Civil Service as contract holders and the contractors is not a happy one.
    This was the essence of my moderated post. That there exists in this unhappy relationship huge pressures on individuals and organisations and that, from the evidence such as cost overruns, requirements drift, change and nonfulfillment and unfathomably expensive contracts, there is an unforgiving system in place that is tending to militate these difficulties rather than mitigate them.
    In the moderated post I characterised the unforgiving system in stark terms, but, once again, I meant it from the Group Analytic perspective where I was drawing on common (group and political) references to the nature of these issues.

    One may wonder about the nature of the moderation where a person with the handle 'metaphorical metaphorical male appendage in the right places' (comment #215 & co.) which seems to break the House Rules and, more to the point, shows in its choice aggression and contempt of others, can put forward, I must assume, his company's views quite forthrightly ("I'm afraid Rory has not told the full story and pretty much all of you have been duped.") while I have to be excessively guarded because the BBC are afraid that Serco may pursue them in the courts. This has the regrettable result that I have to circumvent references to the literature that actually study these issues.

    In terms of informed debate, this does concern me very much.

    One would like to say that instead of letting these accusations fly around let's look at the facts, but, I'm afraid, that is not possible.

    Before I pursue that point let me explain briefly what is meant by collusion in the Psychoanalytic context.
    The Law has no notion of the Unconscious, and there is no need to believe it here either, all that I need to explain is that the secrets of a collusion in this framework are the unsaid things to oneself and to others that are, nevertheless, implicitly understood, and that I permit someone else to do something (this the act of collusion) because their reasons for doing so are mistakenly identified by me as similar or the same as my own secret from myself reasons. In this way, I believe, behaviour that would result from my secret reasons is enacted, although not by myself.
    The consequence is that were I to explore the secret from my self reasons I might not let the other do as they do.

    In the context of work this is inflammatory material. The *simple* depiction above is vastly complicated by multiple strands and chains of command and power.
    At least this notion of collusion may be a starting point.

    In fact, one can see this here in my moderated comment.
    Is there a conspiracy to suppress?
    That is, something to feel paranoid about if you like. No, from the above, obviously not.
    Has the moderator colluded with Serco (in this case). Without casting aspersions, it is a possibility, although, in fact, I doubt it very much (I think from the moderators point of view reading my comment was probably clear cut).
    So now you can see how it might work over a multitude of strands and over issues where the details are aggregated into very high level points.

    I have said that the facts are not available.

    Let us ask the more direct question of these projects: "What mistakes have been made in their execution?" And have the contractors and Civil Servants volunteered them into the public realm.

    I believe that there should be an Open Contract movement parallel to the Open Source movement (which, predictably, has become its own heated subthread. Just to mention, OS is open contract in its own context).
    Companies pursue open book policies and may proudly trumpet their profits to their teams and their clients in such arrangements. But the public cannot find these details.
    The details and the measures of success are in the contracts held between contractor and government with more detail to be found in the accounts of each piece of work.
    There is also an audit trail of documents. (Part of my former post was to count those documents - they numbered over 300,000 and counting over four years of the contract under discusion. One may wonder about this plethora of documentation too, but I will try not to get distracted.)
    No one person would be equal to the task of inspecting this information, and I doubt if the Civil Service teams themselves are always.
    I seriously doubt they would have the capacity for a retrospective inspection. But members of the public and various interested companies could divide the work, for the benefit of ourselves and, in the case of companies, themselves as potential future bidders.

    Cameron has mentioned the desire for government to use more open source and to open source its own software where there is no security implication.
    These are brave words and one couldn't expect him to understand the implications entailed in achieving this or the level and nature of the use of open source at the moment.

    Open source is no panacea, certainly not as it is now used, which is more with greedy contempt than respectful gratitude. Open source, when used by big companies, should be subject to at least the following three criteria.
    a. There should be a version migration strategy otherwise the software will be locked into deprecated code.
    b. There should be a reasonable audit of dependencies and an understanding of different OS contract implications.
    c. Open source projects should be contributed back to, or there should, at least, be the facility to do so, including the coverage of the costs of so doing, however minor the contribution.

    From the above it is quite clear that a huge culture change is required in government for this to take place.

    These are the crucial steps I have outlined:-
    Greater openness, for instance about mistakes made.
    Exposing to public scrutiny:-
    - contracts in their detail.
    - accounts and other audit material.

    This would be part of a framework whereby the Civil Service would then have the confidence to:-
    - Break contracts like this down into modular constituent parts (£5 mill cap?).
    - Put out to fair and open competitive tender each module.
    - Limit the number of modules anyone company or consortia can handle.
    -Put in place strict measures that ensure interoperability of modules.
    This last is the most important constraint. Many good things flow out of it.

    Looking at the contract in question there are two important broad issues that should be considered.
    1. If such a radically different approach had been adopted what guarantee is there that the delays caused by it - if any - would not have cost HMRC more than any possible savings?
    My view is that government expects too much of software, the requirements are too finished from an early point. So in this case the management task would be to identify those requirements essential to bring about the savings, while taking longer to build further requirements. I think the public would accept this process.
    2. How would so many cats be managed in the cat house?
    I leave this to you imagination. I think the image suggests part of the solution.

    Technology has moved on. If there are not to be huge, ongoing, maintenance just to achieve stasis, then such solutions have to be designed for the reality of continual change over time. More modern approaches make this more possible than those embraced a few years ago.

    There is a new requirement that data be exposed for consumption by third parties. It is unclear how this might apply to the site in question, but it is certain that it does. I count this a major deficit not accommodated by any of the three government portals to my knowledge and it will have to be revisited soon.

    What, in this overall process, may need to be kept commercially secret is not clear to me. It seems that in dealings with government the reasons for such commercial privilege are minimal.

    In conclusion, we desperately need different approaches to procurement in the broad involvement of politicians, the Civil Service and contractors. We need a process that opens up public involvement and the involvement of small competing firms who bid against each other in open competition where proposals are submitted in an open way.

  • Comment number 87.

    One minute we're berating the government for not communicating with us effectively and keeping up with the times with modern communication, and now we're telling them its a waste of money! The cost of these apps is absolutely miniscule - you don't need an iPhone calculator to work out that saving £80,000 won't go very far into budget a deficit in the tens of billions!

    These are a great idea, and even if the apps aren't perfect, discussing bits of goverment expenditure like this is completely trivial.

  • Comment number 88.

    Im appalled to hear that the councils are wasting such amount of money on iPhone apps.

    Not that they are investigating making these apps, that is great, but the fact that they get rediculous quotes like £30 000 for a single app?

    You can easily outsource your apps to developers or even companies that specialise in simple app development like motherapp and the like for only a few hundred dollars.

    They could also have paid me a whole years salary and it would have come to less than their wastage or outsourced it to Philipenes or checked out iPhone Apps Tutorials at least before wasting such money

    I find the government and councils are just so use to wasting money that they never get decent quotes.


 

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