Select Committee on Information First Report


Memorandum by IBM


There are two enabling technologies that allow users of communication systems, such as e-mail, and applications, to move out of the office and be mobile, or more flexible in their work. The first technology is pervasive computing. This moves personal computing to easy to carry devices as well as non traditional devices, such as kiosks, cars etc. The second technology is high speed data mobile networks. These include the cellular wide area networks as well as the wireless local area networks. Stephen Timms announced on 10 June the availability of the spectrum for public WLAN from the end of July. This, together with the government's Broadband initiatives, will provide for the communications needs of MPs.

MPs using applications based on these technologies will be able to do the things in 1, 2 and 4. With m-learning applications deployed on the two technologies their skill referred to in Q3 can be kept up to date. IBM Learning Services are already implementing m-learning.

1. Which ICTs will be most appropriate for the work of an elected representative in five years time?

In answering this question it is worth starting by considering the process by which new and emerging technologies become mainstream. Moore has indicated that the conventionally held wisdom as to how new products and services become established and grow starts to breakdown in the fields of high technology and ICT. A more accurate model is suggested by the following diagram which identifies a 'chasm' which new technologies have to bridge to start on the process of gaining widespread adoption and use.

If we are to consider the present situation then we can identify a wide range of new technologies that are in use with innovators and early adopters and are approaching the 'chasm'. Given the 5 year timeframe that the question has posed we need to understand which are the most likely candidates to cross the 'chasm' and then understand which of these are likely to be the most popular and useful to elected representatives.

The candidate technologies which IBM is currently working with will include:

Mobile connection to data. This will include the use of mobile phone connection to data enabled services (GPRS and then 3G) and Wireless LAN. Within 5 years elected representatives could have permanent connection to the Internet both at their normal place of work (Via Wireless LAN) or when out and about via GPRS. This would enable them to instantly gather relevant information needed for their work and be informed of news and breaking events. Potential devices for elected representatives would include Web Pads (lightweight devices that are connected to the Internet and e-mail via a Wireless LAN that could be installed at their place of work) and GPRS connected Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). The culmination of these devices could be advanced versions of the wearable PC that is currently being deployed in a range of application today (flight check-in, ticket sales, maintenance workers). These devices would also enable them to be in touch with their communities, the press and other bodies needed to perform their tasks.

Pervasive computing devices and systems. This will include the concepts of Home Gateways and Telematics (ICT equipped cars). The UK currently has a lower percentage of homes that have access to Personal Computers (PC's) than other countries (e.g. USA). This capability is however being supplemented by the rapid penetration of Interactive Television (iTV) in the home environment (through satellite and cable systems) as well as games consoles (e.g. X-Box and PS2). These devices could provide elected representatives with the means to inform the electorate and gather feedback from them on a range of issues. For example, current iTV technology allows entertainment programmes (e.g. Big Brother) to gather millions of 'votes' every week. The capability of games consoles are likely to extend rapidly to provide an Internet connected device capable of rivalling the home Personal Computer and provide another variant of the Home Gateway.

Knowledge Management. This will include the tools needed to discover data; the tools to create knowledge from this data and the tools to capture this knowledge and make it available to interested bodies. To help elected representatives to make sense of the flood of information that is likely to be available to them within 5 years will require that they are adequately supported by ICT. Current innovators in this field (which include some local and central government bodies) are relying on the implementation of portals to aid their communities. The main emphasis of the portal is to provide an interface that is personalised and customised to the individual but takes account of their role, their interest, the communities they interact with and the relevant data sources available to them. A specific portal for elected representatives would enable them to increase the efficiency with which they perform their jobs and keep pace with the information explosion. The portal could provide information and analysis of government and industry published data and give access to a wide range of information relevant to parliamentary legislation. This portal could also provide information published by international organisations and bodies (and potentially provide automatic translation of it).

 Voice enabled interfaces to ICT. Voice recognition has developed rapidly over the past few years and is currently able to handle a wide range of tasks. These include answering telephone directory enquiries, providing information on services and converting voice to text. The pace of development over the next few years will mean that elected representatives could look forward to a more natural interface to their ICT devices that can be used with more freedom and in a wider range of locations. It is also possible to provide automated translation to a range of languages that could provide a means for elected representatives to converse and get information from international bodies rapidly.

2. How can representatives ensure that they are communicating with those they represent (their constituents) and not others, such as citizens from other constituencies or countries—or professional lobbyists?

To be completely sure that you are dealing with the party with whom you think you are, a form of online user authentication is required.

Today there are the following options:

Have a userID and password (and the user must tediously register with every organisation—government and commercial—separately and then manage a host of passwords and IDs), buy a digital certificate (costly), and use a proprietary solution.

   There is no single solution in the marketplace today that is able to deliver the open, easy to use, robust and trustable solution with a commercial model that is affordable for users and attractive for providers.

The Office of the e-Envoy has been looking at options, but this is an industry wide issue, so it is unlikely that the government will be able to or should develop its own solution. It should continue to act as a facilitator to the UK to resolve this problem. Two consultation papers on digital signatures and their role in trust and confidence for on-line users: citizens and businesses, are due to be issued soon to enable government thinking to move forward in this area.

The Office of the e-Envoy has had documented the requirements such a on-line authentication system needs to meet. A possible solution that meets these requirements has been developed as part of the EU Trust Infrastructure Europe (TIE) project and is called empowerment. The Office of the e-Envoy is studying this system in consultation with industry and other government departments.

3. What sort of skills do elected representatives need to succeed in the information age?

The Information Age we enjoy is to a large extent based on major implementation programmes, so smoothly effected that we all take for granted the technology employed and the ensuing benefits. We recommend that elected Members should have a better understanding of at least the theory of large programme management and the delivery skills required to support such programmes. We refer you to the work of the Office of Government Commerce 'Skills Framework', as it includes a sensible list of skills which could become core requirements for all public servants in the future.

We differentiate between 'skills' and 'behaviours'. Elected Members will need skills, for sure. However they will also need new behaviours, and they are going to be just as important as skills.

Elected Members will need to be familiar and comfortable with a variety of technologies, and different ways of working, so as to be able to balance their benefits against associated concerns. New technologies are only enablers to take advantage of the underlying changes in the way we work, live and play. The increase of e-business means that more people are collaborating, sharing information, finding new ways of penetrating vast amounts of data to get to the important bits, working in virtual teams, flexible hours, remote from their team mates. Elected Members need to understand these behavioural and cultural shifts—and they need to embrace and adopt new ways of working themselves so that they don't suffer from the "cobblers' children" effect. As leaders of the country, they need to be leading thinking about work and lifestyles, not be on the back foot reacting to change, or—worse—unthinkingly working to impose superseded models of behaviour.

Most of all, elected Members will need enquiring minds—a thirst to understand new technologies as they emerge and what those technologies can do for the elected Members and their constituents. Tenacity is important—the ability to stick with learning something new even if it doesn't work perfectly the first time. They will need to make the time to attend sessions to learn about new ideas, and ask people what they are doing with bits of kit or software. Wanting and liking and being comfortable with change, displaying logical thought processes and problem solving ability in increasingly complex situations, seeing the contribution that business makes to the UK and new possibilities in business challenges, verbal and numeric reasoning, making lateral and creative connections; are all competencies that IT companies are looking for in their graduate employees today. Elected Members will need the same competencies!

Joined up Government, policy making in complex environments, breakdown of old barriers between functions, processes and industry sectors will all challenge elected Members as we see that 19th century organisations, hierarchies, and processes are no longer the most economic, efficient or appropriate ways of working. Elected Members will also need to be brave and courageous, and have the strength of their own convictions to visualise, verbalise and execute real change.

4. How can ICTs help MPs to be better at a) representing their constituents; b) considering legislation; c) scrutinising the Government; and d) relating to the media?

a) Represent constituents—Understand how constituents need to shape their lives today. Get up to date constituent views and represent them in parliament e.g. check point sms text message votes on specific issues, questionnaires on web sites, phone in on local radio shows. Engage constituents, build databases of those with specific and vocal interest in certain subjects and ask them to submit opinions. Use the same technology that retailers use to collect, analyse and use data about their customers, to determine preferences, behaviours, and detect early warning signals about issues.

b) Considering legislation—collaborative computing is key here. Considering legislation is very time consuming, partly because it is important for everyone to have their say. Why not open chat rooms for people to debate specific clauses real-time, with moderators to collect group decisions and votes and then move on? Enable elected Members to ALWAYS KNOW that the version of the document they are looking at is current, who else has seen it, what those people said about it, what they wanted changed etc. The Whitehall Knowledge Network could be expanded to include applications for considering legislation in a secure, easy to use and immediately available way. The technology already exists to support the process of creating legislation—but it would appear that the processes currently in use by elected members are not being considered for changes—perhaps because existing processes are easy to use, understood and comfortable.

c) Scrutinising the Government—Much of what we have said under b) above, applies here. If the Government is to be scrutinised, it means that the processes, information, changes, updates, and final documents have to be available for people to see them. Collaborative computing, easy to navigate databases, consistent interfaces, Government wide Intranet—again all these technologies exist today but are not being adopted—perhaps because of the threat to individual or Party self-interest, fear of open information, lack of understanding of the power of collaboration, or reluctance to include 3rd parties in government processes. The private sector is more aware than ever of the value of audit trails, precise records, archived files, and organisational history—the Government needs to change to adopt these modern governance processes as well.

d) Relating to the media—A truism of e-business is that when you make processes more widely available, and faster and easier to use, they are used more often. Elected members are already drowning under the weight of information they have to process every day—web sites, reports, mail, newspapers, etc. This is also true of their constituents and the media. Everyone is trying to sort their way through the endless information to find the bits that matter, and make ever faster decision on imperfect data.

Elected Members will be required to answer questions immediately, by text message, e-mail or phone. We think they are going to need a totally different support structure to be able to do this. Having one or two people supporting each MP isn't going to work for much longer. There is too much to read, assimilate, brief their MPs on, and find answers to. The Government is going to need to move towards having teams of specialists who concentrate on specific areas, with bridge walkers operating between the teams making lateral connections. Elected Members will need to know immediately the response to a question from the media, or the up to date brief to provide, and they will need to find it quickly and easily through the appropriate technology. But having easy to use and appropriate technology will only be of any benefit if the data that is held is right, up to date, and trustworthy. As with all specialised professions (teachers, doctors, police etc), elected members need to be able to concentrate on their core competencies and what they are trained to do—not waste time on support functions better managed by other people. Having new technology doesn't change this imperative, but will accelerate addressing the solution as both elected Members and their support staff become increasingly exhausted by the amounts of data they must process, and work they must complete.

About IBM

IBM, the world's largest technology company, is the world's number one server company and information technology provider, with 80 years of leadership in helping businesses innovate. IBM helps customers, Business Partners and developers in a wide range of industries that leverage the power of the Internet for e-business.

1 July 2002

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Prepared 15 July 2002