Socitm identifies the big flaw in Government IT

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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 directors to change the way an organisation works for the purpose of say, cutting costs, doing things better or providing a new product for the sales teams.

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

Don't mention total administration costs of government

Cutting the total administration costs of central government is something nobody seems to talk about in any detail. There's talk of cutting HR costs, finance costs, ICT costs etc. But nobody, it seems, is willing to redesign and simplify the way things are done, which could save large sums in total administration costs.

When I ask press officers in at HM Treasury or Cabinet Office for the costs of government administration over the past 10 years, including outsourcing contracts, they react as if I've demanded the Trident missile launch codes.

Perhaps this is because they know that government finds it easy to expand and difficult to shrink. It's easy to add a new system and hard to simplify business processes.

What's wrong about the Government ICT Strategy?

Thus the Government ICT Strategy confines itself to IT, and says little about making incisions into the body 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:

"The Government ICT Strategy: Smarter, Cheaper, Greener focuses strongly on the delivery of technology for public sector organisations at substantially reduced cost through providing common infrastructures, standardisation and joint working/data sharing.

"Socitm members support these moves - reducing spending is critical in the current financial climate - but it is disappointing that the Strategy fails to discuss or demonstrate the wider opportunity for reducing cost and improving all public services through the application of ICT.

"We believe that a much greater emphasis should be placed on savings that would come from better technology deployment in order to achieve the Strategy's stated aim of 'improving the lives of the citizens and businesses it is here to serve'."

"These savings will not accrue to the ICT budget"

It adds:

"We are concerned that the Strategy almost single-mindedly focuses on technology and how it can be delivered at substantially reduced cost. Whilst this is critical in the current financial climate, the question remains: what is the technology there to do?

"... We agree that ICT, properly implemented, provides cross cutting professional support for business change and improving public service outcomes. Greater emphasis should be given, in our view, to the deployment of ICT to transform public services and to realise savings and benefits in these areas; these savings will tend not to accrue to the ICT budget."

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

Journalists at Computer Weekly are sometimes invited into government to see improvements in IT or a simplification of contracts. It's rare to see a pervasive simplification in the way things are done, with IT to support those changes. Yet it's widely accepted in government that complexity is the taxpayer's enemy.

Though there are welcome improvements in the administration of central government, the changes could not be described as radical.

Socitm understands this better than I. It says that,

 "current models of ICT services delivery are unsustainable, given the unprecedented pressures on public finances and ever increasing demands for local public services."

It adds:

"... The choice then becomes a wider one about simplifying public services and 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

4 Comments

  • of course, the fundamental flaw is that the discussion is still about IT, not just the operational constraint on public sector CIOs.

    Things will only improve when we move forward from the redundant iT paradigm.

  • Agreed. I think CIOs would also say that they need to be able to change organisations, which would mean redesigning ways of doing things. Can anyone imagine a reactionary civil service simplifying the way they do things? It's sometimes said that bankers have bonuses as their reward, while senior civil servants have complexity.

  • One other big question - Socitm has for many years openly aspired a seat 'at the top table' but this has proved elusive. Why? Is it the IT profession itself that is unable to make this leap? Or is it a characteristic of the public sector that silos professions?
    Along with the seeming addiction to complexity there is a general lack of chief exec engagement with IT across the public sector. IT is seen as a tool; a cost to be cut. This must be changed - without such engagement technology professionals will not be given the opportunity to demonstrate, or deliver, the efficiency and simplicity that the taxpayer/citizen wants.

  • Well put. I hadn't realised Socitm wasn't at the top table - though perhaps its lack of top table recognition gives it a strong independent voice.

    It's also true that those at the top of the civil service don't seem to understand IT. At informal get-togethers with journalists, permanent secretaries seem to take a self-deprecatory pride in not understanding IT.

    Maybe that's because the clever use of IT - IT that supports simplified ways of working - is synonymous with change; and not a few perm secs may believe that real change will send their souls straight to perdition.

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