Posts for category

Public Sector


NHS partnership website launched on Hummingbird 3

Our latest website, for a partnership of NHS trusts, universities and local authorities, is the first of a number of projects to run on our new Hummingbird 3 CMS platform.

Bristol Health Partners is a strategic collaboration between the city’s three NHS trusts, three clinical commissioning groups, two universities and its local authority.

The website supports the partnership’s internal comms strategy, as well as providing a platform for engaging other bodies and professionals with their work.

The site is the first to run on the latest version of our Content Management System, Hummingbird and is designed to be responsive, user-friendly and highly flexible.

Hummingbird 3.0 has been in development for over a year and marks a significant upgrade on our tried-and-trusted CMS. The platform has been designed and specced in collaboration with a number of our clients to deliver a powerful CMS system designed for the way charities and other similar organisations work.

The centralised CMS system is created to allow best-practice to be disseminated across all our clients – with regular updates, improvements and upgrades seamlessly rolled out across all users. Through working with multiple charity, arts and public sector clients we are able to take successful and effective technical solutions and share them across all clients.

This ensures all HB3 users benefit from ongoing development work and future-proof their sites as well as benefiting from our experience and expertise in the sector.


Does my bum look big in this? Opinions on public sector ICT procurement

Honestly, you look great

Being asked for feedback by organisations you supply – either directly or indirectly – is a bit like being asked “does my bum look big in this?”.

You know what you should say if you are being honest, but do you really want to go there!?

So we were pleasantly surprised – and  a little nervous – to be asked by Bristol City Council to give feedback on what it was like to work with them.

We are one of seven Bristol agencies on their ICT procurement framework, and the council is committed to procuring even more services from local ICT suppliers.

It’s a move we’d love to see echoed by other authorities in the UK. And not just because we are a supplier – but because we genuinely believe it’s an approach that offers the best value for money for taxpayers and the greatest scope for effective use of IT by local authorities.

The following are some of the key points we made about general public sector ICT procurement which we think would be useful for any local authority (or business for that matter) to take on board when commissioning web projects.

Thankfully for us, BCC is largely not guilty on all counts.

Think of it as a wish list from a digital agency that would really just like to be able to do a good job for you!

1: “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”

FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) is still the biggest enemy of innovation and devourer of budgets in public procurement. The old adage about IBM still holds true – when a publicly-funded ICT project is procured there is a strong institutional sense of self-preservation that leads to using large, established businesses rather than trying more innovative, cost-efficient approaches that carry a perceived risk of the unknown.

Unfortunately – as evidenced in any number of large public ICT disasters – the only risk being avoided is the risk of being blamed for having taken an innovative approach. The risk to the project is often less taking on “unknowns” as long as they are, to quote Mr Rumsfeld, “known unknowns”.

Getting to know your local suppliers, understanding what makes a good one, building up relationships with them so you know strengths and weaknesses, matching groups of smaller suppliers into partnerships with capacity to deliver – these are what make your “known unknowns”, and – I’m glad to say – what BCC seems to be doing.

Also, collectives of individual expertise usually provide a much more fertile environment for innovation and flexibility than the more monolithic approach of larger organisations.

2: Letting technology drive marketing strategy

Its still common to see the public sector treating web development as though it is a pure IT discipline. IT departments often run web projects when 90% of what you are trying to solve with a web development are strategic, administrative and engagement problems, not technical ones.

We see a lot of public sector tenders, and in the vast majority of cases the focus of questions is on technology – or technology/design. There seems to be little consideration of digital strategy – and where there is, suppliers are being asked to set out strategy without the necessary knowledge and insight of organisational goals, audience, strategy, capacity etc to make anything but an educated guess.

BCC is largely an honourable exception here – although there was still an element, certainly at the beginning of the local supplier engagement programme, of trying to decide on platforms/technologies etc before sitting down to work out what we trying to achieve from a strategic point of view.

Quite often public sector web tenders are sent out before being market ready. They make assumptions on functionality and design that have not been validated in planning and consequently what is being asked for tends not to be the best solution – and as suppliers trying to win tenders we find ourselves having to commit to an approach to a project
that might well be the wrong one.

Personally, I think this is the single most cost-effective thing any public sector (and indeed private sector) organisation can do when commissioning a website.

3: Clarity on budget

Quite often tenders come out without a clear budget. This is significant as the entire approach to coming up with the most effective solution is hugely influenced by budget.

In all cases where we are asked to provide details of a solution, we will suggest the most effective approach with the best potential for ROI. This will, of course, often be the most costly approach in terms of initial investment. However, if there is a limited budget that doesn’t allow optimum solutions there will often be a “next-best” approach.

We’ve seen tenders where we have lost on price by suggesting an optimum approach. With guidance on budgets, we would have been able to take a budget-conscious “next-best” approach to the tender which would have at least allowed us to compete on a level playing field with those agencies that had guessed the right budget.

It would be very helpful to have budget clarity. If we still thought that you would achieve more ROI by spending more, at least we could flag this up rather than build our tender approach around an unachievable budget.

As I say, BCC is just about the only public sector organisation we know that seems to be moving in the right direction with this stuff – which is probably why its the only one brave enough to ask for public feedback on it!

The Joy of Painting – innovation, broadband and Steve Jobs

Bob Ross - what can he teach us about broadband?

Among the many words of praise for the late Steve Jobs was this quote from one blogger: “What Steve Jobs did with Apple stopped me from looking at a computer as a tool and began making me think of it as a paintbrush to make my mark on the world with.”

The true genius of Steve Jobs was that he recognised the vast majority of the public are not interested in technology  – they are interested in the Stuff they can do with it – particularly when that Stuff is game-changing.

It’s a message that is vital to the success of one of the few areas of major public investment in these difficult times.

With millions being invested in next generation broadband through projects like BDUK, there is an imperative to ensure that businesses “get” broadband in the same way the public “got” the iphone, itunes or the ipad.

There sometimes seems to be an assumption with superfast broadband that “if we build it they will come”. However, the evidence is, they won’t – not without a reason.


BT has expressed disappointment at the low levels of take-up of its next-generation fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology in some areas, despite intensive (and expensive) investment in infrastructure and marketing.

The over-riding reason for this is pretty simple – most people aren’t interested in higher broadband speeds, they are interested in Stuff.

We recently ran a seminar in collaboration with The Open Innovation Project in which we looked at the role of innovation in broadband demand stimulation.

Innovation is absolutely central to engaging the public and businesses with broadband – and it is innovation of the kind Steve Jobs understood.

Innovation is not speed, it is not the ability to do the same stuff you always do faster – its the ability to do new stuff that you desperately want to do but can’t do without superfast broadband.

I can send email with standard broadband, I can watch movies online with standard broadband, I can share files, make Skype calls, work remotely and use social media with standard broadband.

Apart from the 10% or so of the population (lets call them geeks) that just have to have the latest technology or already use bandwidth intensive applications – as long as I can do these things, I’ve got no need to pay more to do them faster.

I will have a need when I see Stuff that I want to do but can’t do without superfast broadband.

The Joy of Painting

Jobs got this – the iphone wasn’t a better mobile phone, it was a pocket-sized entertainment, business, social and communication tool.

It’s a challenge for broadband demand stimulation that what it is that selling  is effectively just an infrastructure enabler. That’s not very sexy.  What it needs to do is identify, and encourage, innovation in what can be done with broadband – and in the understanding of what can be done.

Apple wasn’t always innovative in the technology it produced, but it was always innovative in the way it saw -and sold – the potential of that technology to let people do Stuff. Big Stuff.

Jobs’ genius was to recognise that innovation is not always about new technology, but often simply about making technology do Stuff that was new, relevant and exciting – and then making sure people knew about it.

Just as Jobs made people see the computer as a “paintbrush” rather than a technical tool, the responsibility of broadband demand stimulation is to make people see superfast broadband as the “paint” that allows them to create new ways of working, and living.

But it is the creation that interests us – the act of painting not the tools we use. Tell people how good paint is and they won’t buy, show them the joy of painting and they will.

Public sector ICT: is the age of the dinosaurs over?

The Government has just published its new ICT strategy – its plans for central government ICT over the next two years.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, including new thinking (for the government at least) on cloud computing.

But the part that caught our eye was the section on procurement and open standards.

In a nutshell, government procurement processes are so byzantine and the projects they implement so large that contracts inevitably go to a very small group of multinational IT giants.

There are two problems with this:

  • those giants can pick their own – ridiculously high – costs
  • they frequently do an appalling job

Which all means that for ICT suppliers like ourselves, we are constantly banging on a closed door. Not upset for us? Ok, well for you it means you fork out millions of pounds more than you need to in tax to pay for often inefficient, proprietary ICT systems.

So, as part of its drive to improve public sector efficiency the government is now saying that open standards (non-proprietary) software is the way to go, and that big projects (over £100m) should be split down into smaller pieces and worked on by more than one company.

Which should hopefully mean, more opportunities for small, efficient ICT companies and less waste.

We’ll watch this space with interest – and in the hope that this very laudable policy is extended into local government as well, where the issue of lumbering ICT giants with very small brains and even smaller turning circles is just as bad. Roll on the meteorite!