The right tools for the job

Whenever I'm hosting a visitor at GDS towers I can almost always guarantee they will make one particular comment... "are Macbooks standard government issue now?".

It is usually expressed in equal parts shock that government has something quite so modern (especially if they have experience of appalling government IT from another department) and half-joking resent that we are wasting taxpayer money on fancy gadgets.

I then launch into my standard stump speech about how the laptops and smartphones we get actually cost a fraction of the cost of typical civil servant IT. Not to mention them being a whole lot better at helping us do our jobs.

But to focus on the devices is to miss the bigger point. The real game changer is that we have choice in what tools we use.

This isn't about some big systems transformation or an innovative digital service. It isn't particularly sexy and it's the kind of thing often overlooked.

For anyone working on a corporate device or network, though, it is really important.

This choice is enabled by lots of things, but here's an critical few:
1. We use common platforms like Google Apps with well developed ecosystems. We then let people choose what extensions or apps to use.
2. We don't IP-block open internet tools like Trello.
3. We have an IT team whose default position is "yes" rather than "no".

The traditional approach of IT has been to play whack-a-mole with any tools that haven't been corporately sanctioned (so-called 'shadow IT').

But the best way to stop staff from bending the rules is to give them the right tools and flexible enough services to do their jobs in the first place. This can be done, it can be secure, it can be manageable. Relax.

Perhaps the best way of showing this in action is to describe my colophon for getting stuff done:

  • OS X Yosemite beta if only for the instant hotspot feature when I'm on the move.
  • Google Apps for email, messaging, documents and collaboration.
  • Mailbox (desktop and iPhone versions) is my mail client of choice, giving me the satisfying ability to swipe away unnecessary emails.
  • Evernote for note taking (the new web version is minimalism done well).
  • Trello for task tracking.
  • Sunrise plugs into Google Apps nicely as a replacement calendar client for iPhone, web and OS X.
  • Safari has become my browser of choice after years in Chrome thanks to its speed and lack of distractions in its new Yosemite incarnation.
  • Feedly to subscribe to my RSS feeds.
  • Reeder to read them on the move.
  • Pocket to save articles for later.
  • Buffer to schedule tweets.

.... and I'm playing around with IFTTT, Slack and JIRA to see if I can pull something together to help my team work better together.

This stack won't be right for everyone*, but the point is that I have choice.

That's why it's great that the Cabinet Office and DCMS technology transformation has choice and flexibility as core principles.

And why wouldn't they? If you're in IT and you're not meeting the needs of your users, what are you doing? That user needs thing isn't just for the whizzy external facing digital stuff. Your staff are users, too.

More of this please.

* This is not a coder's stack. In common with many people, my job involves a lots of:

  • talking
  • meeting
  • emails
  • moving around
  • writing

... so these tools work well for me. Although suggestions of new tools for me to try are welcome.