Socitm identifies the big flaw in Government IT

Government CIOs can bring about only limited organisational change – and that may be the biggest single weakness in their job descriptions.

It’s a subject touched on in an excellent policy briefing paper which is newly-issued by Socitm, the association for local government IT professionals.


In the private sector CIOs often aim to work with boards of directorsto change the way an organisation works for the purpose of say, cuttingcosts, doing things better or providing a new product for the salesteams.

In Government, organisational inertia seems to restrictCIOs to IT. That may be why the focus in the Government ICT Strategy ison achieving savings in technology budgets, rather than achievingsavings in the costs of running huge and complex departments.

Don’t mention total administration costs of government

Cuttingthe total administration costs of central government is somethingnobody seems to talk about in any detail. There’s talk of cutting HRcosts, finance costs, ICT costs etc. But nobody, it seems, is willingto redesign and simplify the way things are done, which could savelarge sums in total administration costs.

When I ask pressofficers in at HM Treasury or Cabinet Office for the costs ofgovernment administration over the past 10 years, including outsourcingcontracts, they react as if I’ve demanded the Trident missile launchcodes.

Perhaps this is because they know that government findsit easy to expand and difficult to shrink. It’s easy to add a newsystem and hard to simplify business processes.

What’s wrong about the Government ICT Strategy?

Thus the Government ICT Strategyconfines itself to IT, and says little about making incisions into thebody of government administration. The ICT Strategy talks about:

– A new, single holistic telecommunications infrastructure

– The Government Cloud, G-Cloud

– Data Centre Rationalisation

– Government Applications Store [G-AS]

– Shared Services

– New, common designs for desktops

The Socitm paper  “Socitm policy briefing: The Government ICT Strategy: Smarter, Cheaper, Greener”  recognises that Government IT plans are too focused on IT.

Socitm says:

“TheGovernment ICT Strategy: Smarter, Cheaper, Greener focuses strongly onthe delivery of technology for public sector organisations atsubstantially reduced cost through providing common infrastructures,standardisation and joint working/data sharing.

“Socitm memberssupport these moves – reducing spending is critical in the currentfinancial climate – but it is disappointing that the Strategy fails todiscuss or demonstrate the wider opportunity for reducing cost andimproving all public services through the application of ICT.

“Webelieve that a much greater emphasis should be placed on savings thatwould come from better technology deployment in order to achieve theStrategy’s stated aim of ‘improving the lives of the citizens andbusinesses it is here to serve’.”

“These savings will not accrue to the ICT budget”

It adds:

“Weare concerned that the Strategy almost single-mindedly focuses ontechnology and how it can be delivered at substantially reduced cost.Whilst this is critical in the current financial climate, the questionremains: what is the technology there to do?

“… We agree thatICT, properly implemented, provides cross cutting professional supportfor business change and improving public service outcomes. Greateremphasis should be given, in our view, to the deployment of ICT totransform public services and to realise savings and benefits in theseareas; these savings will tend not to accrue to the ICT budget.”

Complexity is the enemy of the taxpayer – so the solution is clear

Journalistsat Computer Weekly are sometimes invited into government to seeimprovements in IT or a simplification of contracts. It’s rare to see apervasive simplification in the way things are done, with IT to supportthose changes. Yet it’s widely accepted in government that complexityis the taxpayer’s enemy.

Though there are welcome improvementsin the administration of central government, the changes could not bedescribed as radical.

Socitm understands this better than I. It says that,

 “currentmodels of ICT services delivery are unsustainable, given theunprecedented pressures on public finances and ever increasing demandsfor local public services.”

It adds:

“…The choice then becomes a wider one about simplifying public servicesand choosing which public services to continue to offer.”

Could anyone summarize the changes that need to be made in central government administration better than that?

Links:

Council IT managers disappointed at Government ICT Strategy – ComputerWeekly.com

Socitm response to Government ICT strategy – Socitm website

Government ICT Strategy – Cabinet Office website

Tomorrow’s public services and ICT strategies – Adrian Hancock blog

Public sector ICT needs a rethink – a systems engineer in the public sector

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