Solving Boundary-Similkameen

When analyzing the new legislation governing redistricting in British Columbia this cycle, I noted in passing that the creation of three “protected regions” creates an isolated, unprotected region in the Okanagan. If there are districts that have unbalanced population in the Okanagan, the only way to solve the problem is moving population around inside the Okanagan.

Well, there is a district with unbalanced population: Boundary-Similkameen (37,840) is 30% below the provincial population average (54,369), and 36% below the average population of unprotected ridings (58,810). So about 15,000 people need to be added.

On the face of it, this is no problem, the other ridings in the region have excess population in the 4% to 14% range, so there’s lots of people to transfer to Boundary-Similkameen, in theory. The trouble is, people don’t live in a nice uniform distribution over the whole land area of the region. They are clumped together.

Here’s what the situation looks like now:

The commission cannot take population from the east or west, those are both protected regions, the only direction to go is north. But, to the north is Penticton, with a population of 33,000. The whole of Penticton cannot be added, the only way to balance Boundary-Similkameen is going to be splitting Penticton in half.

Splitting communities in half, particularly small ones that are much smaller in population than the district itself is generally avoided by Canadian boundary commissions, because retaining jurisdictional integrity is one of the concerns they attempt to address (unlike the US of A). One of the “failures” of the last commission was the splitting of Williams Lake between Cariboo North and South.

If the commission were drawing borders without the artificial restriction of the protected regions, it would be possible for Boundary-Similkameen to discard some of it’s communities on the east and west edges (into underpopulated ridings that need the help) and transform into a simple north-south oriented riding running from Penticton down to the US border.

However, that’s not on. It’s not the only conundrum the commission will be wrestling with, either.

PostGIS Feature Frenzy

A specially extended feature frenzy for FOSS4G 2014 in Portland. Usually I only frenzy for 25 minutes at a time, but they gave me an hour long session!

Thanks to the organizers for giving me the big room and big slot!

PostGIS for Managers

At FOSS4G this year, I wanted to take a run at the decision process around open source with particular reference to the decision to adopt PostGIS: what do managers need to know before they can get comfortable with the idea of making the move.

That's not a strategic plan...

Strategy documents.

Did I just see you yawn? Let me try again. Strategy documents.

Setting high level goals is important, but the process walks a knife edge: are the goals too general to be realized? are they too specific to provide a guide to the whole organization?

Here’s the goals from the BC CIO’s strategic plan:

  • Adopting and incorporating outcome management in strategic planning activities;
  • Applying integrated, collaborative, consistent and transparent approach to strategy development;
  • Developing and delivering on IM/IT goals and objectives; and
  • Optimizing collaboration across the division and with stakeholders

It’s hard to choose where to start hating these: the focus on process; the organization-centric worldview; or the relentless use of the passive voice. You choose.

When Vivek Kundra took over as Barack Obama’s CIO, he produced a 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management:

  • Apply “Light Technology” and Shared Solutions

    • Complete detailed implementation plans to consolidate at least 800 data centers by 2015
    • Create a government-wide marketplace for data center availability
    • Shift to a “Cloud First” policy
    • Stand-up contract vehicles for secure IaaS solutions
    • Stand-up contract vehicles for commodity services
    • Develop a strategy for shared services
  • Strengthen Program Management

    • Design a formal IT program management career path
    • Scale IT program management career path government-wide
    • Require integrated program teams
    • Launch a best practices collaboration platform
    • Launch technology fellows program
    • Enable IT program manager mobility across government and industry
  • Align the Acquisition Process with the Technology Cycle

    • Design and develop a cadre of specialized IT acquisition professionals
    • Identify IT acquisition best practices and adopt government-wide
    • Issue contracting guidance and templates to support modular development
    • Reduce barriers to entry for small innovative technology companies
  • Align the Budget Process with the Technology Cycle

    • Work with Congress to develop IT budget models that align with modular development
    • Develop supporting materials and guidance for flexible IT budget models
    • Work with Congress to scale flexible IT budget models more broadly
    • Work with Congress to consolidate commodity IT spending under Agency CIO
  • Streamline Governance and Improve Accountability

    • Reform and strengthen Investment Review Boards
    • Redefine role of Agency CIOs and Federal CIO Council
    • Rollout “TechStat” model at bureau-level
  • Increase Engagement with Industry

    • Launch “myth-busters” education campaign
    • Launch interactive platform for pre-RFP agency-industry collaboration

While there’s still a certain amount of navel-gazing at internal concerns, around things like CIO councils and review boards, the plan at least is made up of actions, stated in the active voice, most of which can be evaluated on a done/not-done basis over time. The organization can track whether it is executing this plan, and whether staff are allocated to it’s accomplishment.

Of more recent vintage, the UK Government Digital Service has a strategic plan (note, available in simple HTML):

  • Improve departmental digital leadership
  • Develop digital capability throughout the civil service
  • Redesign transactional services to meet a new Digital by Default Service Standard
  • Complete the transition to GOV.UK
  • Increase the number of people who use digital services
  • Provide consistent services for people who have rarely or never been online
  • Broaden the range of those tendering to supply digital services including more small and medium sized enterprises
  • Build common technology platforms for digital by default services
  • Remove unnecessary legislative barriers
  • Base service decisions on accurate and timely management information
  • Improve the way that the government makes policy and communicates with people
  • Collaborate with partners across public, private and voluntary sectors to help more people go online
  • Help third party organisations create new services and better information access for their own users by opening up government data and transactions

There are fewer done/not done items here than in the US plan, but a lot less emphasis on internal processes and more about achieving results, for “people” (the word “people” shows up in four of the twelve points). The plan is focussed on not on internal processes, but on external results.

Which organization is likely to produce more positive results for the people who pay their salaries? The one “optimizing collaboration across the division”? Or the one that seeks to “increase the number of people who use digital services”?

This can be (heck, it IS) deathly dull, but these documents provide the base note over which the activities of an organization are laid: does this organization accomplish things, or does it talk about how best to accomplish things? You can tell a lot, and learn a lot, from these documents.

Technocuffs

Bill Dollins wrote an excellent paean to the positive aspects of vendor lock-in, which is worth a few minutes of your time:

Lock-in is a real thing. Lock-in can also be a responsible thing. The organizations I have worked with that make the most effective use of their technology choices are the ones that jump in with both feet and never look back. They develop workflows around their systems; they develop customizations and automation tools to streamline repetitive tasks and embed these in their technology platforms; they send their staff to beginning and advanced training from the vendor; and they document their custom tools well and train their staff on them as well. In short, they lock themselves in.

I think locking yourself into a good technology could have all the positive knock-on effects Bill lists. But, we never quite know what we’re getting, good or bad, until we’ve spent some time with it. Which to me means being carefully modular and standards-oriented in design (which is to say, the opposite of how most vendors will architect a solution).

The BC Integrated Case Management (ICM) project yet again provides an excellent example of the negative aspects of vendor worship. In this case, ICM chose their software vendor first (way back in the single-digit 2000’s they chose Seibel) and then chose their system integrator (Deloitte) and finally began to get the first major phases of delivery a couple years ago. One result of this slow motion train wreck is that the Seibel software is dragging other aspects of the Ministry’s technology base down to its level.

For example, among the limitations (scroll to the bottom) ICM (Seibel) imposes are:

  • “Using any version of IE other than IE 8 may result in unexpected behavior”. So no IE 9, 10, or 11. Also, no Windows 8 support, since IE 8 only works on Windows 7 or less. Also no browser other than IE.
  • “The 32-bit ActiveX Seibel plug-in does not work with 64-bit IE”. So all sorts of potential collisions between 64-bit/32-bit libraries. (The sysadmins weep.)

Only a few years after launch, ICM is already locking the Ministry to desktop technology that is several versions out of date, which will in turn restrict flexibility for doing more modern work in the future. This is one of the the downsides of lock-in.