Recent posts by simon gray

Private sector forms functionality - just as bad if not worse than the public sector

2023-10-30, 11:25:28

In #LocalGov #LocalGovDigital we're rightly concerned about how too much of our online service design and user experience falls short of the high expectations many of us would like to see of it.

But having to deal with an online letting agent's landlord/tenant portal right now, oh my days, the worst pothole form I've ever completed is a breeze compared to this.

Speaking to somebody from the letting agent's office just, she said 'I have a word for it', which I responded 'the word I have for it is abomination!' She went on to say at the previous place she worked they tried the particular product portal for a week and got rid of it it was so bad.

It's the year 12,023 of the Human Era. The Internet should be better than this by now.

Never Mind The Glen Miller, Here's The Sex Pistols

2023-10-28, 11:27:27

I posted the following on Facebook two years ago. The people who were 16 when Never Mind The Bollocks came out are this year now 62.

#marketing #advertising #stereotypes

Today is a significant day not just in music history, but in marketing history.

It's 44 years to the day since the UK release of the Sex Pistols' debut album, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols.

'What is the significance of a 44th year anniversary?', I hear you ask.

Well, let me answer that question for you.

44 years ago today, when the album was released, people who were 16 on that date would have been born in 1961. ie, people who were born in 1961, would have been old enough to get married, have children, do various other things which are the first steps that the UK's legal framework considers to be 'becoming an adult'. And those nascent adults in 1977 when Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols was released will now be 60.

So when those people who were 16 when NMTB,HTSP came out, when their grandmothers were 60 they would have retired. Indeed now, although the formal state pension retirement age is some years beyond 60, 60 is still considered the age when people start to transition into 'retirement age'.

'Where are you going with this, simon?', I hear you press me because you're getting a bit bored by now.

The age cohort who were just transitioning into adulthood on this day 44 years ago when Never Mind The Bollocks were released are now the people who are just transitioning into retirementhood.

And the relevance to marketing? Marketing people - stop representing 'retired people' in terms of folks who want to listen to Glen Miller and dance the foxtrot. Indeed, stop thinking you're hip and 'understanding your audience' by representing retired or retiring people as wanting to listen to The Beatles. The demographic of people who are coming into retirement age now, they're the people who were just starting to listen to The Sex Pistols when they just started to become adults themselves.

So you want to build a new council website, but why? What's wrong with your current one?

2023-09-28, 18:25:55

The public sector digital legend that is Dave Briggs has recently started a collaborative project, the New Council Website Playboard - a shared generic high level plan for councils to use as a starting point for their own website redevelopment projects.

One of the cards I've added to it is 'Carry out an Irritations Audit'.

What does this mean? Well, pour yourself a drink and get a biscuit and I'll tell you.

If you're wanting to rebuild, redesign, re-whatever your council website, then there's obviously something wrong with the existing one. In my experience, what people feel is wrong with it boils down to one of two things (or sometimes both) - either the technology that makes the website happen, the web Content Management System, or the content itself. This analysis of what might be called the Problem Statement often ends there - 'our CMS is old now' or 'our site is too hard to navigate'. Teams might dig a little deeper and do something of a content audit to decide what pages are no longer relevant (or outdated, or trivial...), or they might have concluded there's no way the existing CMS can be adapted to deliver pages meeting modern accessibility requirements, but often the statement (which may be explicitly written or it may simply be a shared understanding) doesn't go into any further detail.

Given the number of council websites which in some shape or form have been redesigned in the last five years, you'ld think by now there would be a critical mass of best in class council websites which are delivering services so good the citizens prefer to use them. Since it was roughly five years ago that the phrase 'fix the plumbing' became in vogue, you'ld think by now fatbergs would be a distant memory in the world of public sector digital services. I'm not going to say there aren't some pretty decent council websites out there, but those pretty decent council websites I think are the exception rather than the norm.

Is it possible in our sector we haven't paid enough attention to what's actually wrong with the sites we want to replace? Indeed, is it possible there are other factors which might have been the cause of your problematic website other than just the content and the CMS, which by not addressing them from the outset means your new site is, shall we say, a disappointment when it goes live?

Whence my suggestion to at the early stages of the process of commissioning a new website to perform a full, and frank, and detailed irritations audit.

What irritates you about your current


Be systematic about documenting all of this, and don't consider any irritation which anybody on your project team (which of course will be wider than just the core digital team itself, won't it?) to be too small or insignificant to document. Maybe even document everything in an Excel document!

Inevitably you'll end up wanting to group similar things into themes. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and when it come to creating an action plan to resolve them it may be the only way you can do it, but resist the temptation, or rather the pressure, to lose the detail when you create those themes - too often I've been in workshops where what's happened is one important piece of insight has been combined into another important piece of insight, and the actual insight from both has been lost in a title that by the time everybody comes to look at the work again, nobody can remember what the thing being documented actually was!

So indeed, once you've created your initial Irritations Audit, build the action plan for resolving those irritations into your overall project plan for the new site. Track progress as part of the overall plan, ensure nothing important gets brushed aside as being too difficult to solve, and carry the process of keeping on top of those irritations through into your new site once it's live.

And with a bit of luck, if you go live with a new site that you've solve all the problems of the previous one, rather than just the obvious ones, you might end up with a best in class website which has not only fixed the plumbing, is also delivering online services so good people prefer to use them, and indeed makes my friend who went 'wow' at a certain council website which she didn't realise wan't actually the council website which started me off on this whole Manifesto project, go 'wow'.

#LocalGovDigital #LocalGov #Manifesto

In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Make a plan for the system going down

2023-08-30, 11:41:52

So it's looking almost certain that what caused the UK National Air Traffic Services' computer system to go down for several hours was some dodgy data in an inbound flight plan.

[Mrs. Roberts receives a call from her son's school on her wireless phone. She is standing with a cup of hot coffee or tea (shown with a small line above the cup) facing a small round three-legged table to the right. The voice of the caller is indicated to come from the phone with a zigzag line.] Voice over the phone: Hi, This is your son's school. We're having some computer trouble. [In this frame-less panel Mrs. Roberts has put the cup down on the table turned facing out.] Mrs. Roberts: Oh, dear – did he break something? Voice over the phone: In a way – [Mrs. Roberts is now drinking from the cup again looking right. The table is not shown.] Voice over the phone: Did you really name your son Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;-- ? Mrs. Roberts: Oh, yes. Little Bobby Tables, we call him. [Mrs. Roberts holds the cup down.] Voice over the phone: Well, we've lost this year's student records. I hope you're happy. Mrs. Roberts: And I hope you've learned to sanitize your database inputs.

When the GDS Service Standard was first launched, Point 11 in the acceptance criteria was to Make a plan for being offline; for reasons I don't know or understand, when the Service Standard was revised in 2019 this component was removed.

Whilst there has been quite a lot of very expensive disruption caused by the NATS outage, the airspace around the UK did not completely and catastrophically collapse entirely, because NATS by default has a plan for being offline anyway - they go to manual.

Many organisations may well have 'go to manual' specified in their Business Continuity Plan for when The System goes down. Many organisations will state 'go to manual' and nothing else. This is not a plan for being offline! A plan for being offline should not just specify what you're going to do, but also how you're going to do it. Will you have a manual system - whether that's literally pieces of paper, or Excel documents with appropriate column headings - there ready and waiting to instantly switch to? Does everybody know how to use the backup system? Do you run regular exercises to check everybody knows how to use it? Is your main system data-import-friendly so that when it's back online again it won't be too traumatic to import the data gathered offline? All these considerations should be specified in the plan for being offline beyond just the three words of 'go to manual' or whatever.

I'd say this kind of business continuity planning should not be an afterthought if it's included at all, but rather should be inherent in the requirements and service design of any online service from the outset. And if you've got services which don't have an adequate plan for them being offline, there's always scope to start doing that thinking now.

#ServiceDesign #BusinessContinuity #LocalGovDigital #Manifesto

In group Public / Third Sector Digital

The Royal Family figureheads

2023-08-19, 17:15:33

Notwithstanding I’m actually interested in neither the Mountbatten-Windsor family nor the football, but I am interested in passing comment on the internets, but…

When Prince William, the El Presidente of the Football Association sends a good luck video message to the English ladies ahead of their forthcoming performance in a noteable challenge cup final saying he’s sorry he can’t be there in person, isn’t that a bit rude of him? I mean, yeah, he’s a busy man, he has important work to do, but is what he’s got scheduled for the weekend so important it can’t be put off, so he can be there to support the people he’s the figurehead for in person?

One of the tenuous arguments in favour of the retention of a monarchy is that the royal family are supposed to be a figurehead unifying force in a disjointed and divided world. If they manage to find excuses to absent themselves from that responsibility when there’s some actual unifying figureheading on the table to be done, what is the actual point?