Far from Home Counties

I can’t remember the last time I ever was in Gerrards Cross.  To be honest I am not sure I have ever been there but I used to live in Oxford which is not more than a stone’s throw away and so I would be surprised if I hadn’t.  Anyway, it didn’t ring a bell but the beautiful spring weather reminded me of the time I used to live in the south.  I am a committed northerner yet this is England with its soft greenery and gentile suburbs.  England is a Home Counties thing.  I had to scrape the ice of the windscreen first thing.

I had come down in the morning to present at the IT & Digital Leaders Dialogue Public Sector, at the Crowne Plaza hotel a few miles out of the town.  I must admit that the hotel seemed familiar but then once you have seen one…

I came down to present but it was more of an interview.  It was all planned in advance of course.  I was to sit next to Jos Creese who was comparing the event, while he asked me questions about the culture change work we have been engaged in up in Durham and the North East.  I have known Jos for some time through Socitm and so the introductions were easy enough.

So was the subject.  I had never spoken in such a format before and after Jos had introduced me I went on to tell the audience about my involvement in culture change, both external to the organisation, including Executive Women in ICT, FDisruptors, eCadets and the apprentice loan scheme, as well as internal to the service.  I made sure my mantra of freedom from location, freedom from hierarchy and freedom from dogma was understood.  It even got a tweet.

The audience seemed to appreciate what I was saying.  I got quite a few questions.  The time flew by which is always something I worry about though running out of things to say is not in my skill set.  It was a long way to travel but it was great to be able to tell our story again.  I am very proud of what we are trying to do in our far flung corner of the country.

I even got two rounds of applause.

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People’s differences and evolution

Can everything be explained by evolution?  It is a subject that has fascinated me ever since my formative years as a young and fresh faced zoology undergraduate.  Not that my degree has ever really been put into practice but it is something I think about a lot.  Evolution is something that is widely appreciated yet, in my view not understood.

The older I get mind you the more I realise that this is true of most things.  People use words that they really have very little comprehension of their meaning. Perhaps it is my understanding that is different.

I got this form Wikipedia – where else?  I gave them some money and so I think it is fair to plagiarise.  ‘Evolution is change in the heritable traits of biological populations over successive generations.  Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including the levels of species, individual organisms, and molecules.’

Evolution gives diversity at every level.  Skin colour, height, natural abilities?  How about diversity of thinking?

What has fascinated me most is whether people’s reactions to events have a basis in evolutionary pressure.  We are, after all, just a series of chemical reactions.  We organise atoms to do our bidding and when we die we give them back into the normal cycle of increased empathy.

Do we really have any free will at all?  Is the way we dress and vote influenced by our genetics?  Is what we find tasty, amusing or interesting all down to the chemistry?

This morning I helped an older lady by carrying her heavy suitcase down some stairs.  I was in London, outside Kings Cross, making my way to the tube and so everyone else had rushed past.  Was I being helpful or did my genetic altruism kick in?  By showing kindness am I more likely to survive when resources are tight as others will reciprocate?  Is my bag carrying a successful evolutionary survival strategy?  The unselfish gene?

Perhaps it is my DNA that makes me wonder about these things.

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Fixed term

I have now been Chair of the North East ICT Managers group, or Partnership as it is really called, for over four years.  How time flies’ when you are enjoying yourself.  A part of me feels like it is longer.

It was our annual general meeting this week and I was, once again, elected for another twelve months.  Perhaps this should be my last otherwise there is a danger of it becoming a dictatorship.  Perhaps we should have fixed term tenures.  In my defence, I do feel that the partnership is moving forward well.  Engagement is good and there is the right balance between the technical issues that we are all facing and a greater regional involvement.

I like the NEICT.  We all face the same issues, we ca share our experiences and we can mouth off without fear of retribution.  It is a safe place.

You know I have an interest in the North East.  I talk about it enough and I believe that the NEICT has a role to play in developing and supporting ICT across the region and that we have the will and determination within the group to make a difference.

We continue to extend our local networks, holding discussions with other public sector organisations in the NELEP area around 5G, Digital, IoT and data (through the NECA Digital Leads group), ICT Security (through our ISNorthEast sub group), asset management (through One Public Estate), PSN and greater collaboration between organisations and with the wider digital community through SOCITM NE.

We are playing a significant role in Dynamo North East, an organisation that is focussed on growing our industry in the region. Extending our Partnership to include Stockton and Darlington Councils through Xentrall as an Associate Partner and renewing our relations with Nexus have proved to be beneficial developments.

For this next year of my reign we are going to focus on civic resilience and cyber security.

I would like to thank Graham Jordan, our Partnership Analyst, who wrote most of this as if I had said it and for continued enthusiasm, support and friendship.

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Gold event

How difficult are simulations?  Very!  They never seem to really reflect reality but then I don’t think that is the point.  I know this now having been involved in a cyber-simulation predicated on a sustained and organised attack on the ICT systems of a number of the Local Resilience Forum partners. It was held at the regional Fire and Rescue offices in Belmont and there were at least sixty of us there.

Cyber-crime is a big deal.  It is something that raises its head every day.  It is something that is constantly in my thoughts and on my lips and it is something which is growing in strategic significance.  It is good to see the region getting behind such an event and supports a general realisation that this is something that will happen and it will affect many of us.  It is no longer if but when.

This was a first for me.  I’ve been involved in many business continuity events, some planned and others, unfortunately, less so, yet this is the first time that I have been involved in such work outside the confines of my own organisation.  It was interesting to come up against the different cultures of the people I was working with.  The police and fire people were quite regimented, dressed in uniform and talked the language of command and control.  The health people were much more focussed on the care side and the different layers of care.  I hadn’t realised how relatively relaxed working for the council is.

There were things that didn’t work too well, that was inevitable, yet the event was very worthwhile.  I got to think about some of the issues we had been talking about within the North East ICT Managers group about linking networks to provide alternative paths out to the internet and how having different WiFi log in approaches is a right faff.  That’s another thing we’ve covered in NEICT.

The important thing is not to simulate reality but to learn from the experience.  The event certainly did that for me.

A gold star!

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It is funny where life takes you if you let it.  It is filled with little nooks and crannies down which you can wander.  Inquisitiveness can be a blessing and a curse however.  There is always something interesting to discover but there is never enough time to chase it all.

My latest rich seam to mine is the relationship between the creative arts and technology.  I’ve been thinking about this ever since my meeting with Jason and our talk about Creative Fuse.  Durham has a growing reputation for supporting the arts.  Lumiere is coming.  It is an important event in terms of the cultural calendar.  It will be followed in the same month by the LUCI conference (Lighting Urban Community International), a major coup for the county and the council.  Durham is the place of light.

Steve had the idea of merging our open data work with the Lumiere event.  Perhaps we could help in two ways, in providing some underlying data about the event or the traffic, but also working with artists using our data to create an installation. Something interactive perhaps.  We met with another Steve, the Head of Culture to pitch the idea.  He liked the thinking behind it and agreed to get us involved in some meetings with the people who run the event.  They should be coming up shortly.

We then went on to talk about the other opportunities that the arts and tech sectors in Durham could get involved in.  It is a whole new world, certainly for those on the more technical side of the fence and one we would like to know more about.  A whole string of possibilities then followed.

I am not aware of how active the scene is in Durham though I understand that the county is highly regarded for the support it gives to the arts.  I do know what the position is with tech however.  Bringing them together could be a real platform for creativity and growth.

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Guest lecturing

Guest lecturing is a first for me.  It is something that I have been thinking about for some time yet the opportunities don’t always arise.  I thought it was a way of giving back to society by helping more students to think about digital as a career.  It is funny how these things work out.  When Nicolai, who I have been working with on the Smart Stanley project, asked if I was interested then I didn’t need a second look.

My gig took place in one of the seminar rooms in Newcastle University’s Political building at 9 o’clock in the morning.  I must admit that when I was a student this is a time I would never have seen, let alone go to a lecture.  The course was about politics, e-government and the role that digital technologies will have to play.  This allowed me the opportunity to talk about who we are as an organisation, what we do, some of our major programmes and some of the cultural changes we are going through.

I started by asking what is government. What is the difference between policy and service delivery, central or local government and indeed what is digital?  These are words that people bandy about yet we’re rarely think about what they mean.  Even the students struggled with them.

Essentially, this component of the module they were studying considers e-government service delivery, how and why the delivery of services (whatever those may be) are moving to online/digital platforms. Why is this happening? What is the thought process behind this? What is the benefit – cost, access, efficiency? What are the challenges?

I talked about how we had to work with a lot of variety, in a rapidly changing market and how there is a lot of tension in the system dues to cost and political pressure as well as a general lack of understanding of what we do.  All of this is underpinned by digital technologies.

I got to my fifty slides done.  Perhaps I had a few too many but the lecture did seem to go quite well. The students certainly took lots of note and asked a few questions.  I enjoyed the experience I would certainly do it again.

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Forget about me

The right to be forgotten, as part of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), is exercising my mind.  It’s not really called that, it is actually called ‘The right to erasure’.  The broad principle underpinning this right is to enable an individual to request the deletion or removal of personal data whether there is no compelling reason for its continued processing.

I’m finding it very amusing, not that there are lots of laughs in the legislation.  I find it entertaining is perhaps a better word.  In certain circumstances you can ask for your data to be removed from records and withdraw consent for it to be used.  The onus is very much on the company rather than the data subject.

The definition of personal data is deliberately a very broad one. In principle, it covers any information that relates to an identifiable, living individual.  Data is personal if they can be linked back to a person.  So you can’t replace names with NI numbers or NHS numbers for example, nor can you use SIM card address from mobile phones. It is still personal data.

I have been concerned about video or photography for some time.  If you are in the background of a video but have not been tagged how will we ever know how to remove you?  What is taxing me most now, however, is the relationship between IoT and GDPR.   So much of the data that is being created by IoT can be linked back to a specific person, so it is personal.  The data subject therefore, has the right for it to be removed.  If I live by myself, the data my fridge collects is personal.  If I own a car, my mobility data is personal.

Soon everything will be known, the food I eat, the music I listen to, the places I go to and everything in between. All my proclivities will be captured and may well be used in evidence against me in some dystopian future.  If it is personal, then I have the right to ask for it to be removed.

Alexa, delete everything I have ever asked you.

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