Government IT - time now time for real change?

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The Government CIO John Suffolk and his CIO colleagues have a reasonably clear idea of what's expected on IT by the coalition.

The new Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General is Francis Maude who, long before the general election, had set out his intentions on IT-related change.

It's one of the duties of senior officials in the Cabinet Office, and elsewhere in government, to hear the plans of shadow ministers in the months before a general election. It's a tradition that the officials listen to the opposition plans without commenting.

Nobody would now be surprised if Maude's list of planned actions had been passed to Government CIOs.

Suffolk and Maude are both in the Cabinet Office and together have an overall responsibility for Government IT.

Will Maude and Suffolk succeed in getting Gateway reviews published in full?

Maude was originally from the private sector - he was managing director of Morgan Stanley. But he is also steeped in the ways of the civil service and Parliament.

 He was  Financial Secretary to HM Treasury (1990-1992), a minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1989-1990), and a government whip (1985-1987).

I'd warned him before the general election that he would meet much resistance from the Office of Government Commerce to his plans to publish in full Gateway reviews on IT-related projects and programmes. He seemed surprised that he would meet strong resistance.

Yet the OGC has been to the High Court to stop the publication of early Gateway reviews on the ID Cards scheme. Eventually the OGC published them  - but only once the review reports were years old and had lost their topical interest.

The OGC eventually published Gateway reviews on the NHS IT scheme NPfIT - again when they were years old. 

Gateway review reports are important because they give an independent overview of whether a project or programme is in trouble or making good progress.

Sometimes the review reports are wrong - they can give an overly optimistic view if those the reviewers are questioning are exuberantly irrational. But the publication of Gateway reviews would give an incentive to all involved in a project to get it right, or at least to cancel a doomed project early and cheaply.

Coalition IT plans

Other Maude plans:

 -  assess the IT implications of making £6bn worth of cuts in the current financial year

-    Scrap failing projects

 -  Impose a moratorium on existing and upcoming procurements

-    Review big databases, and scrap ID Cards and ContactPoint.

-    Re-design the NHS IT scheme, NPfIT, and give patients more control of their medical records

 -  Strengthen the central role of  the Government CIO John Suffolk and his team, giving them greater responsibility for the effective management and delivery of projects.  

-  Immediately establish a presumption that ICT projects should not exceed £100m in total value

-  Build a register of ICT-related assets across Government including intellectual property rights, so that taxpayers do not pay for material they already own.

-  Expect that senior responsible owners will remain in that role for the life of the project. So that this doesn't hold back careers, SROs may be promoted in post while running a large project.

-  Minimise changes to contracts to counteract plans by suppliers to make up profit margins from low bid prices.

-   Publish all ICT contracts.

-    Encourage the use of Open Source software.  When a government department, agency or Quango asks a vendor to write new code for a bespoke solution it will expect to require that this code is made available under an open-source license.

-   Where open-source options are inferior, assess whether it is worth paying a third party to upgrade an open source solution rather than buy proprietary software.

-    Provide more opportunities for smaller, UK-based suppliers

-    Ask senior responsible owners to publish their plans online via low-cost platforms such as blogs.

-    Publish in a standardised and open format every item of spending over £25,000.

-     Require local councils to publish online details of all expenditure over £1,000.

-    Introduce a new right to government data so that the public can receive government datasets containing anonymised information that may be socially or commercially useful.

-    throw open the policy-making process to crowd-sourcing and collaborative design.

So will all this change - and more - happen?

All this comes as Suffolk and his team continue what they were doing before the election to cut the costs of IT, which run at about £14bn a year. The Flex contracts are examples of such cost-saving deals.

 But a higher spend on IT may be needed at least in the short term to bring together finance, HR and IT in a way the Tories and Lib Dems propose. 

Outsourcing companies are likely to offer the coalition low prices in the early years of contracts - and may even pay the government financial incentives as an offset to the price they quote to acquire public sector assets - but may back-end their charges, as in PFI contracts.

Will the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition then tell the whole truth on the whole-life costs of any  forthcoming outsourcing contracts?

That said, I sense that there will be a major change of the administrative machinery of government  - perhaps more change than we have seen for decades.

It's a question of how much Maude,  the coalition, Suffolk and other CIOs can achieve before a medley of ministers go native.


Will Tories create a raft of new projects?  - IT Projects Blog

High Court case on ID Cards Gateway reviews, the 1689 Bill of Rights and Commons' Speaker - IT Projects Blog

Government ordered to publish Gateway reviews on risky IT projects - Infosecurity

Why so many government IT projects fail - Ian Watmore -

Tories slippery on committing to government IT reform - IT Projects Blog 



  • We may not know who the minister is until we know if there is an NPfIT, or what (probably diminished) form it takes.

    Andrew Lansley, the Sec of State for Health, knows a fair amount about the NPfIT, very little of it good.

    There again, he hasn't yet had the benefit of being briefed on the NPfIT by the mighty DH marketing machine.

    It's the DH's position, and particularly the position of NHS Chief Exec Sir David Nicholson, who's the overall senior responsible owner of the NPfIT, that the programme is an unacknowledged success, contrary to the reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the media.

    Will Nicholson, DH and CfH convince a sceptical Lansley? Perhaps.

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