Tuesday, 6 April 2010

(Almost) one week on.....

...from the publishing of the government's response to the OS Consultation.

They caught us on the hop with the changes to OS Free but we still managed to have OS maps for free ready for All Fools sunrise.

Much has been made (including by me) of the hostage to fortune set by GB back in November regarding the timeframe for the outcome of the consultation, made worse by the delay of its release til 23rd December. Well, they've got away with it so to speak and the indecent haste is well papered over in the document itself, though at first glance the meat is rather lean with plenty of promised downstream engagement to flesh out the true meaning.

It is evident from the foreword by John Denham (well, signed off by him) that what some of us long suspected, i.e. the need to offer, in the form of a long overdue OS Free portfolio, an answer (or a sop?) to the nagging Free our Data campaign as well as assorted nay sayers, trolls and self-proclaimed freetards (oh, and TBL, new hero to No.10) as well as to everyone else of course, was effectively the sole focus of the consultation and that all the important related matters were a side- or even a no-show. The Executive Summary reiterates this. Aye, and there's the rub......from there on the response appears to dwell on this theme but then uses it to bring in elements that hardly featured in the consultation (or even in the responses judging by the summary provided in the response) and which one assumes have come in from a rearguard action by OS themselves.

While OS Free (not sure I want to use the term OS Op**Da**) delivers on the one hand much of what most commentators including myself had been supportive of (and lobbying for) for a number of years, the OS has arguably grabbed much of this back with positioning that is certain to cause ructions across the GI arena as the implications emerge.

So, while we (and HMT) wait for the tax coffers to fill from all those new economic opportunities and the (far more likely) invisible savings from socially beneficial mashups (note to self - future piece on PSI data and how it "allows everyone to see how decisions are made" = transparency? doh! Am I giving too much away?), the consultation does seem likely to impact the existing tax generating GI landscape in a more tangible way (and timeframe)....

Q7 (and Q3) in the consultation always seemed to this commentator to open the door to the kind of competitive activity that OS has always had one eye on ("moving up the value chain" as I was once told by a senior OS fellow) and it looks like I've been proven right (again - see bottom re Pollock). Much of what emerges from the text is far removed from the public task as currently 'defined' and where many will have thought the consultation was headed.

So, we have OS consultancy, OS G-cloud, OS value added products, OS INSPIRE, OS D2G (OK, I made that up but it serves as a shorthand for direct to government, superseding PGA, MSA and other collective purchase agreements on 1st April 2011), OS Services, OS INSPIRE, OS Open Sauce. And to cap it all we have (para 3.28) the positioning of OS not as the data capture and quality control organisation de nos GI jours but as a "data management and delivery focused organisation". Sure you can interpret this as OS as an out-sourcing (to private sector for data collection), customer focused (for specifications), collaborative GI engine for UK plc but that would be generous in the extreme. Have they really managed to handbag just about the whole GI (and some of the SI) value adding community?

Whether OS and CLG will be able to squeeze all these ambitions past the various regulators remains to be seen but to those who thought the consultation signalled the beginning of the end for the 'old OS', OS Free nevertheless remains a hollow 'victory' - schadenfreude indeed. Even resolution of the derived data issue is still on the long finger and some of the progress of the old revised business strategy appears to have been buried.

Picking just one example, the success of the private sector in building geo web services and platforms is seen as a competitive hill to climb rather than a resource to exploit and relationships to develop. One can hope that reason will out but with additional government funds quietly sanctioned last week (£14m - worse than Planning Portal's £2.4m pa on its hosting - see p16) maybe the hare is off and running. Although perhaps not in the original consultation purview, this is the really big missed opportunity, to drive down the cost of running OS and more importantly give it a really sharp sense of purpose around data specification, capture and quality control - that's what our customers care about, the products.

If anything the carefully constructed mandate embedded within the consultation response opens up the likelihood of a more bloated organisation with more sales and marketing activity, an organisation in competition with its channel and failing in its primary responsibility, to ever improve the quality, currency and content of its core OS MasterMap product.

What is not clear is how much of this will survive a change in administration on May 6th, if indeed there is one, and whether after the exhaustion of the consultation and the election there will be the appetite for more tinkering.

At the very least the lean bones of the consultation response will still need flesh - reference points for same: paras 2.7/3.5 (future OS direction), 3.9 (expert panel for OS Free content), 3.15 (TOID service - already available in the commercial sector), 3.17/3.20/3.21 (mapping agreements), 3.22 (expert panel for service specification), 3.23 (CLG obviously not sure they can swing this legally, using "would"), 3.24 (derived data and other licensing issues), 3.26 (redefining the public task), 3.27-3.30 (INSPIRE - lots of futurology in here, though OS does have good thematic institutional knowledge on some elements). You know where the devil is......

Not that you'll find me beefing about any of this too much......always best to have a plan I find. And now that we're in purdah don't expect OS to say anything much. Convenient - OS Consultation response ftw is likely on an internal OS memo!

Oh, yes, ftw....this wouldn't be a piece on the OS Consultation if I couldn't highlight para 3.25 and its dismissal of the assumptions of the Cambridge Study, long paraded by many as the basis for all kinds of GI futures, long held up by myself as an evidence-free piece of 'research' prepared to support a particular world view. Ha.

Footnote: if Appendix B is complete then there are some notable vocal absentees

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