OpinioN8

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I've already sold my soul to Google - is Haringey a software rival

Michael Anderson on HoL has pointed out a mapping tool on the Haringey website

I'm not impressed so far. Google maps does a better job of most of these things and provides directions, and sizes the map to fit the context, and provides links , and has a rollover to provide more information and has user ratings of each of the facilities and has a direct to link to street view where Haringey only provides a near miss in a new window.. See, for example, the images for "dentists" below. Google is streets ahead.

On planning applications I still prefer using the partial post code in the search servlet. Google doesn't do planning applications. Neither application does Neighbourhood Forums.

I'm not sure I want my tax dollars spent bringing this Haringey lookalike up to Google standard.

Q1 What is the cost justification. How much money is this going to save in visits and phone calls to Haringey staff and how badly is the budget going to over run before it does so?

Q2. Is this a Haringey initiative or is every borough in the country doing it?

Q3. Is there a privatisation behind this? Surely not unless some IT company has been given carte blanche to do the development.

My initial thought is to pull the plug on this before too much more money is wasted.


Tags: mapping

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I think there might be a misunderstanding of what’s going on here. Haringey legitimately holds various datasets containing information that it has a duty to make available to the public. It could simply put up lists on its website- here it is conducting a trial presenting the information via a mapping application. 

There are several companies which provide mapping applications, of which Google is one. You pay a charge to all to embed their map into your application and populate it with your own data. Google may well charge more than others: I’d suspect that is why it hasn’t been chosen. Or you may not have as much control over what is populated in the map. This map gives a property level index capability which I suspect might not even be available via a Google API (interface to Google program). I think from the ‘Crown copyright’ note that it is quite probably using the Ordnance Survey mapping system (still a public body) but it will be charging for its use. But the OS has the definitive property level database in the UK and it would make sense to choose it. In fact, thinking about it, I don’t think Google holds that data comprehensively for the UK.

Most councils are exploring this: good on Haringey to do so as well. Costs? Firstly no tax dollars are going on this. Potentially Council Tax pounds sterling are. A huge amount? I doubt it - this looks a standard developer offering. The mapping is all managed by 3rd parties and these days very affordable for a multi-million pound body. It will necessarily be a bought in service: for some decades all UK councils have outsourced IT services mostly for technical/salary reasons rather than maintain an in house staff. Similar to very many businesses, they have commissioning only IT services. 

Finally, a general comment on the concept of ‘The Google standard’. By its ubiquity we are all used to Google, but it isn’t the only service offering information. It’s very good, very clever, a lot lucky, and a lot cunning in the way it dominates our IT experience. But it isn’t the only way, and because sometimes something is different it doesn’t equal worse. We need to step outside the familiar occasionally.

So I suggest suspending the automatic disbelief that Haringey can do anything right, and judge it on its merits alone.

No, this is not a trial   - and I quote "My Haringey is a new service currently in beta test so we would really appreciate your views on how we can improve this." The trials are over, the software house testing is complete, and now they are engaging the public to chase down bugs and to identify enhancements.

There was no automatic disbelief about Haringey's abilities, I tried the facility and I didn't like it. 

For automatic disbelief in outsourcing you might try Ron Swanson

Beta test is a trial to me. Beta products can change rapidly.

Anyhow, I doubt there is agreement possible. Of your three questions:-

Q1 - Cost Savings. Possibly almost unanswerable, as designing the framework to measure that seems arduous. But most organisations use web front ends for services now.

Q2: Almost certainly other councils do similar. If not, it's sweet of haringey to try

Q3: costs. We don't know. it may be in house and a simple mash up (they have the licence for OS maps for the planning depts., so it may well be very low cost. I'll ask.

I sent my feedback and questions as requested. I received this reply:

Many thanks for your comments on the new My Haringey site. As this is a new service we are trying to gather as much useful feedback as we can so we can make improvements. Your comments and suggestions on the usability and usefulness of the site have been very useful and will form part of our wider review.

 

As for your 3 specific questions:

 

      Q1 What is the cost justification. How much money is this going to save in visits and phone calls to Haringey staff and how badly is the budget going to overrun before it does so?

It is much cheaper for the council to provide information online that by phone or face to face. If we can provide the information on our website in a way that is easy to access then residents will be able to look the information up themselves online rather than have to phone or come in to visit us. As for budget the contract is for 3 years with the current supplier and is a fixed amount covering development, hosting and support (see point 3 below)

 

      Q2. Is this a Haringey initiative or is every borough in the country doing it?

Most council websites have online public mapping systems which display similar information to My Haringey. Many also have collected local area information in the way we have too. Socitm – the IT professional standards body in their Better Connected annual review of all council websites state that:

 

“The use of a map or ‘Find my nearest’ in the right place on the customer journey can enhance the information provided in so many ways. The information is more specific, and hence more relevant and helpful for the user. Providing a map introduces that visual element, which has immediate impact and is ideal for presenting location-related information clearly. A good 'Find my nearest' can make a complicated task much simpler to complete.”

 

      Q3. Is there a privatisation behind this? Surely not unless some IT company has been given carte blanche to do the development.

As we did not have the in-house skills to deliver this ourselves we carried out a competitive tender for this work amongst GIS suppliers and the company who won the tender and provide and host the service (Astun) have a 3 year contract with us to deliver the service based on our requirements. This is an open source based off the shelf service called iShare which is in use by around 60 other councils in the UK – see https://astuntechnology.com/ishare/ for more details.

 

If you require any further information please let me know.

 

Best wishes

 

 

Paul Barnett

Communications Manager (Online)

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