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The New Boy

Mike Bracken (photo: Guardian)So Mike Bracken, former digital boss at Guardian Media Group is the new Executive Director for Digital for the UK government. Welcome, Mike. In times as tough as these for the public sector, it’s a real coup to have recruited someone of your calibre to the role.

The post was recommended by Martha Lane Fox in her review of Directgov, to give some real clout to the task of improving UK government on the web. Things have moved on since, of course, with Alpha.gov.uk open for comment and Beth Noveck due to be working on open government issues here too.

People who know Mike say he’s a delivery guy: able to make stuff happen in corporate environments, with a track record of building great developer teams and supporting practical innovators like Rewired State and even MySociety. He’s seen the supplier side too at IT firm Wavex so will be an interesting match for the big systems integrators when the contract arguments start, with Ian Watmore as his wingman.

Mike popped in to say hello to a little field trip group I organised back in February to see how Guardian Media Group approach their digital platforms, trying to understand how an Alphagov-ish vision of a mega-platform might work. I think I asked him then whether he felt a single government platform – bigger even than The Guardian’s digital estate – would simply cover too much stuff to ever be made workable. He didn’t seem fazed by the idea; government just another big corporate bureaucracy to wrangle.

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And he’ll need those wrangling skills. There are vested interests big and small that will fight a more agile, streamlined, potentially in-house digital delivery model, especially if it changes back end processes too. Alpha.gov.uk, for all its shortcomings, is blazing an exciting trail but has a long way to go to swallow the existing supersites and assimilate the dozens of rationalisation programmes underway. There are proverbial hares running throughout government on digital issues, from Skunkworks to the Government Digital Service, the Transparency Board to the Efficiency and Reform Group, the Government Communications Centre to the news-driven goals of the Number 10 digital unit – not to mention departmental restructuring and the perennial risk of getting dragged into pet projects of the centre. And these are not boom times in government, so hiring new people and investing in new platforms will be a tough sell every step of the way.

A former colleague of Mike’s blogged some slides he presented on one of the Guardian’s most audacious technical projects, its Open Platform, which combines business philosophy, commercial strategy and technical implementation. It’s a good sign for the future.

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Good luck Mike, it’ll be great to see what you do next.