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VRM takes a great step towards becoming UK Opposition policy

Posted on: Sunday 28th of June 2009

VRM took a great leap towards becoming HM Loyal Opposition official policy today with the publication of a CPS paper by Liam Maxwell: “It’s ours – Why we, not government, must own our data”

Essentially it’s the first-ever VRM manifesto for government IT (if you don’t count my GC talk last month or blog post here in April). As Maxwell sets it out:

A clear choice is emerging for the future of government IT:

− Either to continue with the Transformational Government
agenda. This relies on the State holding, in the words of the
Treasury’s adviser, a “deep truth about the citizen, based
on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs and rights”,
with huge centralised databases directing public services
to the point of need (as judged by the State).

− Or to abandon expensive and failing centralised IT
projects and yield control of personal information to
individual citizens. This is the approach that has been
increasingly effective in the private sector.

Transformational Government uses Traditional Customer Information (TCI). It will be far better when it also uses Volunteered Personal Information (VPI). This can be done with a VRM utility such as Mydex. The organisation-centric TCI communications paradigm is embraced, and hugely enhanced, by the personal communications paradigm of VRM.

Of course there are nits to pick in the CPS paper. VRM is far from yet proven in the private sector, which has a great deal to answer for in its shortcomings of how it handles personal data just as government does. I don’t think you can do away with the central databases entirely or promise to halve government IT spend, as Maxwell suggests.

Take the example of UK education, which according to Kable spends around £3bn a year on IT. Almost all of that is spent through schools, further and higher-education. The whiteboards, the learning materials and coursework, the admin systems – all that spend is largely unaffected by VRM. It’s at the centre where VRM works its magic: on the national databases of children, learners, obesity and attendance records. The data sharing plans. Depending on TCI here pours concrete into the heart of our relationship with the state. But the concrete itself is cheap compared to the harm it does. These systems cost at most a couple of hundred million a year. We won’t save much money on IT by inviting learners to start to use a personal portable education record, especially if we still need most of the central systems.

What we will do by using VPI as well is start to release immense value. Learner-driven education can be far more flexible and adaptive, and support people through lifelong learning far better than education administered by central databases of TCI. It could cut a staggering amount of waste, creating a user-driven “just in time” education service.

So VRM can’t halve IT spend. But it can release far more value than that medium term. So it’s wonderful to have VRM squarely on the UK government agenda. Cheers Liam! (Cross-posted with minor adaptation from my long-time home the IdealGovernment blog)