In 2010, William Heath, with a number of others, set up Mydex, a project designed to give the UK population more control over their personal data. Heath, with a history of digital rights campaigning behind him, believed big government databases were inefficient and set about bringing change to the public sector's data strategy rather than raising a hefty profit for himself. For this reason, Heath set up the business as a Community Interest Company, which means any profit made by the firm has to be reinvested into its cause.
When, some weeks back, the government launched the Government Data Service, Heath could barely contain his excitement.
"I'm very hopeful about the direction of travel in government now," he says. "We can't bring about a change of culture by describing the problem. It's actually putting the right people in place and giving them the power to do the right thing and veto the wrong thing that makes change."
Heath points to the presence at the top level of internet-savvy people like Martha Lane Fox, Ian Watmore, Tom Loosemore, Liam Maxwell and Mike Bracken as evidence.
"Ideal Government started in 2004 to sketch out the gap between what government IT was like and what people who understood the web thought it could be like – the most prominent voices at that time are now at the heart of it."
As a sideline intended to point out the flaws in past thinking, Heath also became the main speechwriter for Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom, the Twitter-obsessed fictional civil servant Yes, Minister's Sir Humphrey Appleby would likely have aged into had he lived to see the internet. Not such a coincidence: the 'career mentor' Heath speaks of is Yes, Minister co-creator Antony Jay.
You get the sense that Heath might almost be ready to tick the "change government IT" box. His day-to-day focus has already shifted to the next stage: changing how all organisations think about data. Instead of huge, centralised stores, Heath believes our data belongs under our control – like the midata policy the government announced last year.
"Those of us who believe in user-centric identification, user empowerment and vendor relationship management [VRM] feel the market by which organisations acquire more and more data about users and swap it freely among themselves, managing risk and providing personalised service – we think that doesn't work now and doesn't scale," he says.
Heath studied languages at Cambridge, but was more interested in rock 'n' roll bands. Worried about jobs, on the advice of his career mentor he looked for something fast-flowing.
"If you don't know anything, but you're quick-witted," he says, "then if you pick something fast-changing you can find out the essentials and there are always people downstream who need to understand that."
In the 1980s, that meant computing and, since Heath wanted something based in the UK, that meant International Computers Limited.
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