Slack and government

Anyone working in, or following digital services in (any) government, is probably aware of the use of Slack 1)https://www.slack.com/ as an ephemeral instant messaging service by people working in digital services.

If they’re aware of that, then they’re also probably aware of the Freedom Of Information request recently submitted to the UK governments Cabinet Office, Government Digital Service.

And they’re probably also aware of the coverage on The Reg2)https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/08/07/ico_investigation_into_slack_in_government/.

Lots of government departments, all over the world, use Slack.

Slack has a lot of benefits, as mentioned in the Reg article –

It’s also a boon to those who need to work remotely or are in cross-departmental teams – both of which should be high on the government’s agenda.

The benefit of talking with colleagues in other government departments can mean the difference between things taking days and them taking weeks, or months. As a practicing user centred designer, its value can’t be measured.

Being able to ask the x-government community of hundreds of user centred designers for advice, or how to approach a difficult problem, and get the answer in almost real-time, is worth so much.

It also helps us forge important work relationships which help us make better services for the public.
While I am a great supporter of Slack as a communications tool – there are other options than Slack.

We should be using, like we recommend to government departments, open source software where possible.

There are a number of open source alternatives to Slack.

My personal view is we should be seriously looking at alternatives to Slack. From my knowledge of the space currently, Mattermost seems as the best alternative to Slack3)https://about.mattermost.com/slack-vs-mattermost/ for a number of reasons.

It is used by large organisations and governments worldwide. It is an open source project which can be self-hosted, or hosted commercially.

My personal view is government should shape Mattermost to meet government users needs.

There are many benefits of using Mattermost4)https://about.mattermost.com/slack-vs-mattermost/ – government would have access to the full source code, it could be self-hosted to provide improved privacy and security, it would be possible to make it legally compliant, extend it as necessary.

Mattermost would allow for federation, so different government department instances could be interconnected5)https://about.mattermost.com/features/ to allow that important cross-government community to be saved.

All of these “boring” but vitally important needs would then allow the full benefits of Slack-like communications to be realised:

  • dev/web-ops could get their “chatops”6)https://www.atlassian.com/blog/software-teams/what-is-chatops-adoption-guide operations working (chatops is where devops staff manage web infrastructure through a webchat tool)
  • agile developers could get their Continuous Integration, Git software versioning, Kanban board7)https://about.mattermost.com/community-applications/ progress piped into their development channels
  • agile teams could have their daily stand-ups with web-based video calls8)https://about.mattermost.com/community-applications/
  • and lots more9)https://about.mattermost.com/community-applications/

Being an open source project, if integration to a particular service was not available developers could develop the needed integrations. This work could then be contributed back to the Mattermost open-source community10)https://github.com/mattermost to be made available to the wider community.

I wold love to see government digital services, around the world setting up Mattermost instances and providing it as a Government As A Platform11)https://governmentasaplatform.blog.gov.uk/2016/02/29/governmentasaplatform-foundations/ service for their internal civil servant, and contracting users.

Any thoughts?

 

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References   [ + ]

1. https://www.slack.com/
2. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/08/07/ico_investigation_into_slack_in_government/
3, 4. https://about.mattermost.com/slack-vs-mattermost/
5. https://about.mattermost.com/features/
6. https://www.atlassian.com/blog/software-teams/what-is-chatops-adoption-guide
7, 8, 9. https://about.mattermost.com/community-applications/
10. https://github.com/mattermost
11. https://governmentasaplatform.blog.gov.uk/2016/02/29/governmentasaplatform-foundations/