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Cosy cloud coterie snuggles into top nob govIT jobs

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Mmmmmits snug at the top. Especially if you're Julian David, IBM's top UK salesman, who last week was picked to be Director General of Intellect, the ICT oligopoly's trade association.

It's only three years since David bagged the sale of the century, getting the Cabinet Office to re-badge IBM's cloud computing slogan as HM G-Cloud. Now he's not only got the cosiest seat in the business, but Andy Nelson, his apprentice on the G-Cloud programme, has been appointed government CIO at the Cabinet Office, the most senior job in government IT.

Imagine how made up David was when, chuckling over his cognac at the Intellect hearth, he learns that Nelson, Ministry of Justice CIO and senior responsible owner for HM G-Cloud, would be his opposite number in government.

How cosy it will be round the fireside when the pair are joined by Cabinet Office permanent secretary Ian Watmore, who was Nelson's colleague at Anderson Consulting (later known as Accenture) for seven years after they joined the 1980 intake.

How quaint last March's government ICT strategy now seems, with Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude vowing to "put an end to the oligopoly of large suppliers that monopolise [government] ICT provision".

Julian David - IBM - Intellect.pngAll that puff and bluster for aught

David moves into office at a crucial time for IBM. All his work promoting the G-Cloud is about to come to fruition. But it will need an extra push to get public bodies around the country to swallow it, close all their data centres, sack all their techies and give all their computer systems over to IBM or whichever branch of Acme Data Corp. they happen to buddy. That's what the G-Cloud promises.

David's just the man for the job. For though his 28-year career at IBM was officially terminated in 2010, he has an unrivalled track record selling IT industry fads.

He was there in 1998 as IBM's European Marketing director, flogging the Year 2000 bug fix to a terrified public, telling them it would be "the kiss of death" to anyone who didn't fix it.

He was there again flogging disastrous Enterprise Resource Planning systems in the millennial boom years.

The fateful year SAP began selling IT disasters to the retail industry, there was David again as ERP marketing director at the Retail Industry Unit of IBM, telling supermarkets how by spending mere hundreds of millions of pounds they could turn reliable old systems into ones that would burn their money more efficiently.

Andy Nelson - Government CIO.pngRetailers lapped it up. Andy Nelson, our new government CIO, was there in 1997 - lapping it up as Asda director of computer services, though only as long as it took to outsource the supermarket's computing to IBM.

Asda's then new CEO Allan Leighton did the deal after returning from a Harvard MBA programme. Two Harvard professors came to see it went smoothly.



Bad reputation

ian watmore DIUS Expo 08 Manchester Uni.jpgIt might not have gone so smoothly, but it certainly gave the eggheads something to think about when that first raft of ERP deals came to fruition in the mid-noughties.

MFI's £50m IBM SAP implementation led to losses and two boardroom scalps.

Sainsbury's had outsourced its entire IT in a £1.8bn deal with Accenture, then overseen by Ian Watmore. Four years later, its first ever net loss was attributed to supply chain and IT problems.

Sainsbury's kicked Accenture out and wrote off £260m IT spend. Bringing its IT back in-house was said to have helped turn the business around. Its management still denounces outsourcing, "unequivocally".

Angela Morrison, the woman who kicked Accenture out of Sainsbury's, had earlier kicked IBM out of Asda, undoing the work our new man Nelson had done in 1997.

Asda's subsequent, do-it-yourself SAP implementation was so successful it was rolled out across the rest of Walmart, its parent. Walmart's success was said to stem from doing its own IT, because it was too integral to trust to an outsourcer.

Other companies followed suit. JP Morgan bank terminated its $5bn IBM outsourcing contract in 2005. It had been the largest such deal in banking. Even Gartner, cheerleader for the US IT industry, admitted it was "time to stop compulsive outsourcing".

Worse still for IBM, the dotcom bust had forced the private sector to freeze IT spend. So IBM and its ilk turned on the public sector, which was famously the only sector spending any money. Watmore was now in government, overseeing the spending.

That's where Julian David pitched up after retail. As vice president of IBM public sector business he started flogging the same big outsourcing deals that had gone tits up in the private sector.

There was some good news to boost his chances.

Rob Fraser - Sainsbury's IT Director - receiving 2011 CIO of the Year award.png Boots terminated a £710m IBM outsourcing contract only half-way through its term in 2007, apparently because it had been so successful its modernisation finished early.

But Boots vowed never to put all its eggs in one basket ever again.

Rob Fraser, its group IT director (now at anti-outsourcer Sainsbury's), said outsource suppliers had no interest in helping customers cut the cost of their IT.


With friends like these...


But outsourcers were now busy trashing their reputations in the public sector. They made such a good job of it that government IT became synonymous with disaster. And government is going through the same re-evaluation of outsourcing industry went through in the mid-noughties.

This is the apparent legacy of John Higgins, Intellect boss for 14 years. He became head of the CSSA in 1998 and rode the rise and fall, consolidation of power, establishment of a bankrupt contractual model, left a trail of IT disaster stories and an industry with a reputation for bodge and exploitation - a reputation that became so well established the coalition government was able to define itself in opposition to it - to define Labour as the government of big-state IT failures. Government has denounced his trade association's membership and methods as the corollary of Labour IT. It has tried to mend their mutual record of kaput computing by rallying tech entrepreneurs not normally associated with Intellect.

On the occasion of David's appointment last week Intellect issued a press release in which the DG-designate said he looked forward to doing his bit to improve skills in the industry and support SMEs.

CW asked Intellect for David's SME credentials, Intellect said he had wide experience and had worked with SMEs.

Burmuda.pngDavid used to flog computers to SMEs as vice president of IBM's SME business. But his SME credentials consist of just eight months as a board director of EGS Group, a £3m company that had worked with him on the Cabinet Office G-Cloud plans in 2010.

He left EGS in May 2011 to open a UK office for Hong Kong-based, Bermuda-registered, Azeus.

...who needs SMEs?

David's SME credentials do not compare well with the notable notches he marked up as big business honcho at IBM.

The most notable of his recent achievements was an infamous £400m outsourcing deal by which IBM sought to gain control of public computing across the entire South West England. It is hard to imagine this megalomaniacal plan having any regard for SMEs.

Flush with the Boots boost in 2007, IBM formalised an agreement in principle to subsume the IT functions of 36 councils and emergency services in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

It initially involved IBM taking 75 per cent ownership of a public-private partnership called SouthWest One and acquiring the IT functions of Somerset and Taunton Deane Councils and Avon & Somerset Police.

It would implement a SAP system to run them and deliver £192m savings over 10 years. David said the project would cut costs and boost the local economy. But it floundered.

The SAP implementation went awry. A report by Somerset County Council Review Panel in 2010 said participating councils would have to renegotiate their contract before they would realise the savings IBM promised at the outset.

Alan Jones - former CEO of Somerset County Council.pngThe then Somerset CEO Alan Jones had earlier denied specific allegations of SAP problems and contract failures made by Ian Liddell-Grainger, local MP.

£65m of savings had already been booked, Jones claimed in 2009. The 2010 report said the venture had delivered only £2m of savings, had no clear idea how it would produce the rest and could anyway conceive only an estimated £45m cut in procurement costs.

The affair was murky, with Unison and councillors complaining about unwarranted secrecy. IBM had blocked an ITV reporter from using a little-known public scrutiny law to view the contract. Liddell-Grainger made unsubstantiated allegations of corruption. Jones got embroiled in grubby in-fighting with councillors.


David personally played an important part in turning this trashy reputation into a revamped sales story for outsourcers. Called the cloud, it was a transcendental vision worthy of the late 90s ERP pitch.

The cloud was a rebranding of ideas already in David's public sector pitch in 2007: departmental silos were bad, paying IBM to consolidate your data centres and virtualize your systems was good. Asset re-use was the carrot on the stick.

The fully formed cloud pitch was essentially outsourcing with dodgy bits stuck on. It promised to cut costs, cut jobs and deploy a radically new sort of computer system.

Julian David Presents RBWM plans for UK LAs to cloud at Intellect - Cloud Presentation - 11 October 2010.pngIt'll be different this time

As president of Socitm in 2010, Jos Creese promoted those same ideas, proposing local authorities sack computing staff and buy services instead from the cloud.

Creese fell in with David in 2006 when as CIO of Hampshire County Council (home of IBM HQ) he did a five year deal to rent an enterprise architecture made of elements that would later underpin IBM's cloud.

Hampshire had at the time just celebrated the successful installation of an SAP system. Council IT staff had done the installation themselves. Hampshire systems were running £2m-a-year more efficiently.

Creese's ideas echoed those touted by Ian Trenholm, CEO at the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, a council with intimate ties to the coalition government. David's cloud pitch did too.

The shared idea was that if councils standardised their business processes, their organisations would readily plug into the cloud.

Margaret Miller - Accenture - former Sainsbury's CIO.pngSainsbury's had adopted the same ideas for its abortive Accenture transformation in 2000 - the one that led the supermarket to realise how IT was too important to entrust to someone else.

Margaret Miller, its then CIO, said how was trying to adopt standard business processes so it could use commodity computer systems. Miller now advises government customers for Accenture.

Pompous postlude

The idea runs contrary to the bottom-up noises the coalition government made before coming into power.

It runs contrary also to agile and lean, the empowering methods to which government has turned in the hope of reversing the trend for moronic public computer ventures - methods more akin to Sainsbury's, Asda and Hampshire in the days when they took IT into their own hands.

The Cabinet Office is meanwhile making a song and dance about getting SMEs into the G-Cloud. But the cloud will ultimately be a greater force for consolidation than economic regeneration.

When every council in the South West is using the same business processes, IBM's SouthWest One will be able to make a better case for subsuming their IT. The G-Cloud may not, as we are told, be a greater opportunity for SMEs, but merely something that must be made to accommodate SMEs so they are not excluded entirely.

Placatory postscript

John Higgins presents an award to an IT company for being an IT company.png
David will have to work hard to prove his SME talk is anything more than hot air. He will have to work harder to rescue the legacy left by Higgins, who you might think a decent man who has done good work, but showed poor judgement by staying in office after the wind changed.

As it happens, your jaded correspondent has had the good fortune to meet the new DG, and was struck at what a jolly good chap he appeared to be. That might better qualify him for the job than any publicity guff about SMEs, for the current bout of government-led reforms have striven for genuine collaboration to replace the adversarial relationships that defined its relationship with ICT suppliers in the past. But what industry really needs is a reformer, not a placatory pair of hands.

Cabinet Office builds open source strategy on proprietary software

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The Cabinet Office has chosen a proprietary software system to implement the keystone of its policy to create a level playing field for open source.

Under pressure to fulfil the government's election promise to eradicate systemic bias against open source software, the Cabinet Office rushed through a procurement for an asset register last month. But it raised hackles among open source suppliers it invited to bid. They discovered the same problems that inspired Cabinet Office open source policy hindered their bidding for its own work.    

Cabinet Office called a group of open source suppliers and systems integrators together in June and told them it wanted an asset register, a system on which its policy has been contingent ever since it published its Open Source, Open Standards and Software Re-Use Action Plan in January 2009.

But it tendered for the system at last on 26 July, it gave suppliers just one week to prepare their bids. People at the meeting said Francis Maude was driving his office to complete the procurement quickly.

Maude's March 2011 ICT Strategy promised an asset register by September. The procurement specifications, obtained by Computer Weekly, declared a successful bidder would have just one month, to 9 September, to produce a working system.

Aine McGuire, sales director of Liverpool-based open source supplier Blue Fountain Systems, said: "It's very disappointing. To be fair, the Cabinet Office group were under a huge amount of time pressure. There was a six week time frame. It shouldn't have to be like that. It didn't seem fair."

"I want to do business with government like every other open source supplier out there and it would be nice if there really were opportunities. We weren't going to be building something. A six week time frame isn't enough if you are developing an application," she said.

Nick Gill, director of Nottingham-based open source supplier OpusVL, said his company could have produced a working register in the time given but his bid ran into trouble when it emerged that his company didn't have the security clearance to do the work.

Cabinet Office vowed in March to solve the security dilemma for open source suppliers. Computer Weekly understands Cabinet Office was trying to resolve the matter with CESG, the the electronic branch of the secret service that vets software for use in government. Open source suppliers and systems were not getting accredited because their distributed business model lacked the powerful resources proprietary vendors used to sponsor software applications through the CESG process.

Gill was exasperated. "I don't think there's any prospect of them ever using open source," he said, after explaining that he had been working closely with the Cabinet Office on open source strategy.

When it came to the crunch Cabinet Office had behaved like any other government department. After going to tender, it looked to see if there were any similar systems already in use across government, said Gill. Any such systems would inevitably be proprietary because they had only ever bought proprietary software. So departments chose proprietary because that's what they had always done. Open source alternatives didn't get a look in.  

"If this government want to use open source software, they will have to start doing things differently," he said.

A source close to the bid, who asked not to be named, said the Cabinet Office had opened the bidding to SMEs as long as they could demonstrate they had enough project management, business analysis and marketing resources, and evidence that they had previously built solutions for the public sector a clear advantage.
 
"If you met those criteria you could also qualify to bid to build the next generation fighter aircraft," he said.

Cabinet Office gave the asset register project, worth £100,000 over three years, to CDS, an established supplier of systems and information services to the defence sector. It's e-PIMS property asset system is mandated for use across government.

The draft systems specification Cabinet Office sent to interested suppliers in June said the asset register would be so different to anything seen before that an off-the-shelf system would not be appropriate.

"Although this project is sometimes referred to as an ICT Asset Register, it is recognised that the purpose and solution required are not analogous with existing ICT Asset Register solutions," it said.

The finished system was to use linked data and semantic web techniques. The resulting register of assets would create a way for government to implement its software re-use policy, by which it would catch out proprietary vendors who resold the same software systems at a premium to different government bodies.

Mark Taylor, open source entrepreneur and chairman of a Cabinet Office board for SME suppliers, said the system was meant also to address the government's ignorance of its IT spending, a matter it has been promising to address for 10 years and was raised again most recently in the Public Administration Select Committee inquiry into government IT.

"Everyone has been criticizing the Government for spending too much on IT and doing it in a closed, proprietary way. Perhaps an even bigger criticism is that they don't even know *how much* they are spending," said Taylor.

Computer Weekly understands the Cabinet Office open source team had been counting on the asset register as one of the primary means of achieving carrying out its open source strategy. It has been trying to get systems integrators to offer open source systems but a lack of information about those systems already in place, combined with inertia among government bodies, has led opportunities to challenge them over specific procurements have been slipping through its fingers.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said in a written statement: "Open source solutions can compete for all relevant contracts - however the Cabinet Office still must make the best decision for the taxpayer.
 
"The winning bid was assessed as providing value for money. It was comprehensive and scored highest when compared with the other bids on the basis of its ability to fulfill the functional requirements."

CDS were unavailable for comment.

Bristol Council open source: the allegations in full

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Bristol City Council's failure to deliver on its open source strategy is beginning to make the coalition government's manifesto commitment on open source look incontinent.

The council's own open source strategy is looking ineffectual. Bristol Council cabinet committed to an open source infrastructure a year ago - as long as it was doable. It ordered a pilot but that was discredited by an allegation that it had been fixed. Now the council has refused to release the suspect pilot reports under Freedom of Information, it is time to look at those allegations in full.

Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius, told MPs in May how, left to establishment suppliers Capgemini and Computacenter, the open source strategy got caught in a thicket of indifference and vested interests.

Bristol set an original deadline for its open source strategy to be costed and risked by November 2010. They told Capgemini to get on with it, said Taylor, but Capgemini did nothing. Bristol told Capg to work with Sirius, who were experienced implementing open source infrastructures for companies like SpecSavers. They ignored Surius, said Taylor in a letter to MPs on the Parliamentary Administration Select Committee (PASC).

The council meanwhile tendered for an open source infrastructure using the £6bn Buying Solutions Framework for Commodity IT Hardware and Software (CHITS). Thus it would be ready to roll when the pilot produced its recommendations.

Five large CHITS suppliers bid for the work: Computacenter, Fujitsu Services, Insight Direct, Softcat and SCC. Sirius complained it was forbidden from bidding for the work because it wasn't on CHITS, a list dominated by the UK's largest infrastructure suppliers. Sirius teamed up as Computacenter's open source advisors and the pair won the business. But things then took a turn for the worst, said Taylor's letter.

Ostracized

"ComputerCenter (sic) began the project by having a series of meetings with Bristol City Council without inviting Sirius or even mentioning that the meetings had occurred.

"Sirius first met with the Council on 17th January at a meeting billed by ComputerCenter as the 'kick off'. On the same day we were included on an email from ComputerCenter's Project Manager referring to earlier meetings and assuming all recommendations to the Council would be proprietary software as usual," said the letter.

From the very start of the work in January, Sirius was already writing formal letters of complaint to Bristol over Computacenter's bias for the proprietary software vendors with which it had a business relationship and against open source.

This bias was a hot topic in Whitehall. Within a month, the Cabinet Office called the UK's systems integrators in for a telling off: why had they been ignoring government requests for open source systems for two years?

Capgemini had not even started the pilot, said Taylor's letter. It had been five months.

So Bristol asked Computacenter and Sirius to do the pilot themselves before implementing its findings. What transpired so frustrated Taylor that his protests put him at loggerheads with Computacenter and had him kicked off the programme.

Taylor complained that Computacenter - one of Microsoft's largest UK resellers - had skewed the pilot's parameters so it came out in favour of Microsoft. Implicit in this allegation was the assumption that Computacenter's profit margins relied on the supply and servicing of proprietary software systems, that these systems raise a relatively high income from their monopoly rents and that an industry established on this model had no interest in alternatives.

Bias

It went right to the heart of the commitment written into the government's coalition agreement to "create a level playing field for open source". The industry was founded by companies like Computacenter on proprietary software by publishers like Microsoft and its business model had become thus fossilised. The open source model was disruptive. The proprietary software industry wasn't going to let it in, no matter how discredited it had become for its cost, waste and failure.

"ComputerCenter showed a clear and persistent bias towards proprietary (invariably Microsoft) software," said Taylor's letter to MPs.

ComputaCenter turned the pilot into "an enormous and costly paper-based check-box exercise" that dragged on for months longer, he said.

But here was the key allegation of bias: Taylor said Computacenter had made the "starting point" of its pilot, "a comparison between how well a Microsoft software stack and an Open Source software stack compared with a Microsoft software feature set". On those terms, nothing could win but Microsoft, not even the largely Novell-based infrastructure the council was already using.

Computacenter in addition "lobbied Bristol to buy a proprietary, not an open source infrastructure. Taylor said Computacenter made him sign a contract forbidding him direct contact with Bristol, the council that had turned his 2010 consulting advice into an ICT strategy championed in person by council leader Barbara Janke.

He was excluded from meetings about the pilot and not informed of others. He relied on Councillor Mark Wright, who authored the council's ICT strategy, to inform him when meetings were happening. He fought against Computacenter's insistence that the council should use proprietary software instead of open source alternatives.

In May, Computacenter submitted a recommendation that, said Taylor, the council use "an essentially entirely proprietary Microsoft stack". Taylor complained and his partnership with Computacenter collapsed.

Computacenter claims the allegations are "potentially libellous" and refuses to discuss them, perhaps highlighting one of the most important aspects of this episode - the question of the government's transparency agenda, as discussed elsewhere.

But the episode raises concerns also about the government's SME-led innovation policy, something else championed by Bristol's "Digital City" strategy. Ultimately, both issues are indicators of the state of the industry, fed as it is by school leavers whose computer education consists of learning to operate Microsoft applications.

As Microsoft celebrates the 30th anniversary of the IBM PC on which it piggy-backed to power it is worth reflecting on how it was, famously, the IBM platform's openness that made it such a success. If anyone cares also to reflect on how the 30-year old industry might benefit from reform, they might find a lack of transparency will work to the detriment of them and everyone else.

Bristol restarts open source pilot

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Who can have stepped in to rescue the pioneering open source pilot at Bristol City Council after it collapsed amid alarming allegations that Boo-Hissstems Integrator Computacenter had skewed the scheme's outcome to favour its chum Microsoft?

You may remember what a stink was caused when Sirius, the firm that helped Bristol mastermind the open source project, cried foul on Computacenter and was promptly hustled out the door.

Can it be that LinuxIT, the firm that within days of Sirius' departure came forward to speak in defence of Boo-Hisstems Integrators, was subsequently rewarded with the Bristol job at Computacenter?

Strangely, Jeremy Comley, the LinuxIT marketing director who was so keen to talk when the business was up for grabs, is now refusing to comment about it at all.

Bristol IT officer Gavin Beckett, who's so big on free software he's a member of the Open Forum Europe Public Sector Group, the panel that has since being patronised by the Cabinet Office become the Milk Marketing Board of open source.

Computer Weekly has been keen to know what steps Bristol and LinuxIT were taking to keep Computacenter in line. If it was skewing the pilot to favour its chum Microsoft, it would make a mockery of the pioneering steps the City Council was taking to stop tax payers being ripped off by greedy software companies.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you can get a perfectly decent suite of office software for free, then buying a Microsoft Office suite that retails for £200 is a waste of tax payer's money; or when you can get a perfectly decent operating system for nothing, then buying an operating system that retails for upwards of £200 is a waste of tax payers money.

But its not as simple as that. Users rear up in techno-xenophobic revulsion when they are given something other than Microsoft.

So years since the first round of public sector open source pilots at councils like Bristol, and we are still doing open source pilots at councils like Bristol to determine whether its worth using an alternative to Microsoft.

And people say, yeah but we have the cost of training people to administer something other than Microsoft, because Microsoft's all they know. And then someone in the corner of the office has the impudence to think maybe there's something in these stories about Microsoft's software monopoly being a blight on commerce and culture, so they go home and look at the operating system section on PC World's website and see that Microsoft is all there is, and in a horrifying moment, their spouse comes in with a glass of wine and an uncharacteristically eerie laugh: ha ha ha - you silly darling - what are you doing? You know there's nothing other than Microsoft! Come on back to your Xbox now.

Neither Bristol City Council nor LinuxIT will say what steps they have taken to ensure Computacenter doesn't fix the open source pilot to favour Microsoft. They must be very silly to think there's an alternative.

UK shakes dust off open source policy

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Liam Maxwell jazz hands.pngIf it looked like UK open source policy, just recently exhumed, had already been swept back under the same carpet it has been kept under since it was first launched two and a half years ago, the announcement yesterday that Liam Maxwell had acquired responsibility for it with a Cabinet Office portfolio did surprisingly little to improve its mien.

It is then just as well Cabinet Office is about to announce long-overdue progress in its cause of creating a level-playing field for open source software. Because the new appointment will need all the help he can get.

No matter that Maxwell is head of IT and has taught at Eton, the toff school that groomed Prime Minister David Cameron for power. Whoopee-do that he wrote Tory Tech Policy and the open source strategy now being executed by the Cabinet Office. Yawn, 'scuse me, but it is of little significance that he did all this simultaneously and even as he held the ICT portfolio at Windsor & Maidenhead Borough Council, where he waved a shitty stick at Microsoft and championed open standards. He might appear like superman. But you'd have to think twice about it since he agreed to take this Cabinet Office job.

Because Maxwell's only going to be Cabinet Office Director of ICT Futures for 11 months. It was a full time job. Yet he's taken it on secondment with no explanation. As one interested observer put it, that gives him about a 0.00001 per cent chance of getting anything done.

Think about it, said this observer. He turns up at his allotted desk on 1 September. He learns where the toilets are and that sort of thing. That will take him till December. He'll then produce a report and call some meetings. But what will Sir Humphrey and all the other old goats in the civil service make of him?

"These are hardened civil servants who wait for ministers to go by, and for governments to change," said said observer. If they know he's only going to be there for 11 months, will they deign to jump when he says so?

Then Maxwell is said to be in possession of intelligence that the same attitude has been adopted by the Boo Hissstems Integrators who control the public sector ICT oligopoly.

Maxwell's assigned team have already been asking nicely would the integrators please do more open source software, on which they could less likely fleece government with oligopoly rents. Maxwell is said to be in possession of a report in which a Boo Hissstems integrator says, don't worry about all this open source lark, it'll blow over: just hang tight till this lot get voted out of government.

Some fringe elements in the civil service may have acquired outlandish ideas about getting things done since they started entertaining members of the Agile systems development cult, but they've got to be wearing some pretty loud disco trousers if they think Maxwell will get their agenda pushed through in just 11 months.

On top of open source he's been charged with making government the sort of place that gets things done. He might do that first. Then he's been asked to implement open standards policy, which was recently cut back, reform procurement for the sake of SMEs, and advise on using new technology.

A catty observer might ask why a man of Maxwell's talents wasn't given a permanent job. But the clue might be in the title. A "director of ICT futures", is like any futurologist, the sort of chap you put in a dicky bow and roll out to do slots on the radio about kerrazy ideas like floating cars and open source software. Mickey Mouse likes to wear a dicky bow. Maxwell, who's been seconded by Eton, might want to get back to some proper work when he's finished doing jazz hands for open source.

Non-job

The appointment took a vaudeville turn when Cabinet Office announced it yesterday. It had been talking to Maxwell about taking the "director of ICT futures" post since January. Ian Watmore was said to be keen on him. Tory Tech command was practically his brain child anyway. But there was some debate about whether he "could or should take the job", said someone close to the negotiations. It was a matter of some "delicacy" which remains unexplained.

Cabinet Office initially announced he had been appointed "Director of ICT Futures". Then said he wasn't actually going in at director level after all. He was going to be a non-permanent advisor though the job description was precisely the same as the one it had advertised for "Director of ICT Futures".

Whatever his title, many of those SMEs now in his care will be wondering if the Eton boy wonder's temp contract will be handled by Boo-Hissstems integrator Capita like all the other temp contracts it recently took from SMEs with Cabinet Office permission.

Chin job

The Cabinet Office has meanwhile managed after six months of work behind the scenes to establish another talking shop for its ICT policy. The long-promised open source advisory panel will have its articles of incorporation signed off Wednesday.

Computer Weekly was told the wet-ink proposal involves the production of a web site in which government departments can seek advice from "the community" on the acquisition of open source software.

The arrangements were made by the Public Sector Group of industry lobby Open Forum Europe, which in December (some two years after it formed) scored its first significant success by recruiting Cabinet Office operator Qamar Yunus as joint chair. It's membership is notable for its absence of big hitters from the heffing departments of state DWP, HMRC and MOD.

There are also unconfirmed reports Cabinet Office is about to produce the final open source reference stack (a list of approved open source software) on which it first sought advice from "the community" back in February. Verily, at this pace of change old Liam Maxwell could be in and out the Cabinet Office with such agility no one even notices he was there.

Bristol Linux house sings for its dinner

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A Linux shop has spoken out in defence of boo-hissstems integrators otherwise blamed for dominating the industry, stifling competition, ripping off tax payers and presiding over public IT failures so infamous they discredited the last government and stained the reputation of an entire profession.

LinuxIT, a £3.5m open source integrator in Bristol, has been speaking to boo-hissstems integrators (BHSITs) and has found they're not the great ugly ogres their track record would suggest.

They are actually really quite likeable when you think about how, with 80 per cent of the public sector IT wrapped up, they've got 19 billion quid to spend, and haven't a clue what to do now the government has ordered them to do more open source and be nice to SME IT suppliers.

Jeremy Comley, marketing director at LinuxIT, told CW it had been courting BHSITs, and found them quite amenable.

"We've had some very positive meetings with SIs," he said.

"We've found those SI's we've talked with so far have been keen. They would like to embrace open source solutions more than they have in the past. We are reaching out more and more to systems integrators and the one's we've reached out to so far are welcoming our input," he said.

LinuxIT was down with the idea that customers might want "blended" solutions - a bit of open source, a bit of proprietary. There's no point getting sectarian about it. Not like some of those other open source nutjobs you get wandering the moors. Oh no. - is sort of what he said.

What he actually said was: "That's in stark contrast with some of the other open source players in our space, in our view.

"Some people in the open source software space tend to be ideological. But its about being pragmatic. We are working from the inside on an evolution rather than revolution. That's in contrast to other players in the OSS space," is what he said.

Mmmmm.

Thumbnail image for Gravy Train Pups.jpgPortraying itself as the oligopolist's friend may help LinuxIT cash in at a time when the boo-hissstems integrators are bemusedly digesting a government dictat to pull their socks up and deliver the open source solutions the public sector has been requesting but not getting for two and a half years.

The stance may reach a hand across the gulf threatening to open between the open source industry and the multi-billion pound corporations that constitute the public sector IT establishment.

There may now be a short window in which to build bridges before the way collapses into a chasm of affliction, avarice and sarcastic reportage. Unless the weed's have simply got to be cut so the flowers can grow. (Why when appeasement is born of hope can it leave such a bitter after-taste?).

But LinuxIT's approach may also insult others in the open source community whose obstinacy has helped expose the injustice inherent in the oligopoly and make commercial and institutional prejudice against open source software a matter of public policy.

The extraordinary measures the Cabinet Office has been forced to take in the last six months to ensure its open source policies don't wither on the vine are an indication of just how obstinately the BHSITS have hung onto to the tax paying gravy train.

It may be no coincidence that in the last two or three months, after developing an offering for the purpose, LinuxIT has been getting somewhere with the SIs.

Buts its actually so far just seen two of them. Or three. And Comley won't say which ones because its commercial in confidence. Ha.

So LinuxIT did a presentation to a couple of BHSITS and got some warm vibes. The Cabinet Office is meanwhile trying to get the BHSITS to swallow the open source strategy it adopted in 2009. It got a bunch of them before they British Computer Society recently and asked why they didn't deliver open source solutions like the government asked them. They gave the oligopolist's view of a blended solution: yeah, we'll do it when it makes sense for the customer, like we always have done.

LinuxIT has meanwhile employed Comley, formerly a staffer at the British Computer Society, as marketing director. They acquired him three months ago and appear to have lost his off switch.  

"From the conversations we are having at this stage, I would say we've noticed the change probably in the last six months or so. It's taken us that amount of time to come with a solution to enable us alongside our SI partners, as we see them, to provide a set of solutions that will enable is to embrace the very best of open source solutions, which of course we know very very well, having worked on the enterprise side of open source for many years. We are a master affiliate for the Linux professional institute in the UK & Ireland. As well as, of course being a Premier Partner of Red Hat and a Gold Partner of Novell and working very closely with other community / enterprise solutions such as Alfresco, which is a very interesting social media management solution. So its a different approach. It's more pragmatic. We feel it will take some time for even specialists like us to really get our minds round to the best of our abilities the needs of the public sector and the private sector. And that's why we even more recently restructured ourselves to provide some real direction around how SIs ought to approach OSS solutions, how the public sector through Kevin Stenner with his background here, and other sectors as well, you know, finance, telecoms, retail - people who perhaps should be much heavier solutions of OSS solutions," is an excerpt of what he told CW.

Computacenter row threatens blockhead end for open source in Bristol

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IT giant Computacenter has raised the prospect of legal action against a small open source supplier for complaining to Parliament about its "Microsoft bias".

The veiled threat followed a letter sent to MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), in which Mark Taylor, chief executive officer of Sirius, described a project involving Computacenter he said exemplified the the government's declamation of large IT suppliers: that they dominated the market and crowded out competiton.

Computacenter stated on learning of the letter it was seeking "advice" because it was "potentially libellous". It now says making such a statement did not in itself constitute a threat.

That depends on your perspective. Mark Taylor, chief executive of Sirius, which with a £2.3m turnover is about one-thousandth Computacenter's size, was scared stiff when he heard about this. Yet if Computacenter did sue him for being a whistle-blower, it may prove his point.

The Parliamentary committee to which Taylor sent his letter is exploring allegations that companies like Computacenter abuse their market power by punishing small suppliers when they don't keep in line.

The big IT suppliers are so powerful, it is said, they control the vast majority of public sector IT, which is done in their commercial interest. That may count as quid pro quo from supplier's perspective. But when that supplier is part of an oligopoly servicing a monopoly, it is a little unfortunate for anything trying to breathe outside that comfortable little world that has become known as government IT.

This must be most upsetting from Computacenter's point of view too. It has a certain Blue-chip reputation it must present to its customers. Anyone trying to daub the façade with graffiti must be firmly stamped on.

Computacenter has declined to say what offence it has taken with Taylor's letter. It is seriously perturbed, however, at being identified as one of the boo-hissstems integrators that are said to treat SMEs so poorly.

The multitude of winds that have whipped up the current bout of government IT reviews and inquiries (in the name of SMEs, agile, procurement reform, open software, open standards and open markets) threaten an existential crisis for the large suppliers.

Microsoft bias?

Wintel laptop.jpegTake for example the question of whether Computacenter has a Microsoft bias. It's like asking if the Pope is a Catholic.

Computacenter built its business selling "Wintel" computers and infrastructure. When it made 30 employees millionaires overnight on the occasion of its 1998 flotation (link: sic), it was thanks to the Wintel computing boom. It has branched out a little over the years: it now does services too: though mostly on farms of Wintel computers for big corporations. And while it has its customers' interests at heart, it is essentially like a great, huffing bull with Microsoft branded on its balls.

Computacenter's boom years were the late 90s when the corporate mantra was economies of scale. Customers got the economies of its scale by buying thousands of Microsoft computers. Now the market has gone sour and the typical contract has become so large that only Microsoft suppliers can satisfy them because only they are large enough.

Sirius discovered this after writing Bristol City Council's ICT strategy this time last year. Bristol was down with its open source angle and adopted its recommendations. Sirius then couldn't pitch for the work because it wasn't on the official procurement lists. It went in with Computacenter but was shown the door, said Taylor's letter to MPs, when he protested over the Microsoft bias CC had put in Bristol's proof-of-concept open source pilot.

It would be a terrible irony if the project failed because Bristol had no choice but to ask a Microsoft reseller to demonstrate how an alternative to a proprietary infrastructure might be feasible. It would also be shameful for Bristol, a City that that has made the Zeitgeist its identity: multicultural, ecological, collaborative, egalitarian, open. That's what people from Bristol say about their own City. So if not Bristol then where?

If Computacenter's pilot finds against open source, more than seven years of work at Bristol would have been for nothing. Bristol's entire infrastructure would be based on infantilising proprietary technology and its vision of being a Digital City regenerated by a small army of creatives up to their arms in collaborative computer code would be somewhat obscured.

To understand how awful that would be, imagine Bristol's vision being one of municipal authority as bountiful Big Society fount, its computer systems built open and spread like nourishing tributaries throughout the City. Or imagine, conversely, great multinational corporations sat atop the globe like gluttonous octopuses, their proprietary software systems sucking the life and inspiration from the computing generation.

You might detect a little bias there. It's merely one point of view, though one Computacenter is unlikely to plaster over mail outs funded by its next injection of Microsoft marketing development money.

Corporate image

That doesn't mean Computacenter can't get with the programme. But Microsoft and its reseller Computacenter, the model of the noughties corporation, represent the antithesis of the Bristol zeitgeist: monocultural, rapacious, tight-lipped, dog-eat-dog, proprietary.

Granted, Computacenter looks fairly enlightened when viewed from within the retarded world of the City of London. In its last financial results, Computacenter chairman Greg Lock proudly declaimed how the corporation had achieved enlightenment: it had adopted the UK Corpote Governance Code, "not simply because we must do so, but rather because it is the right thing to do."

And bravo. Don't worry that the Code's key principles read like the listing for the soundtrack of Thatcher's Britain: "Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability, Remuneration, Relations with Shareholders".

If a corporation is an organism and the board of directors its brains, the Code is comparable to one of the first great periods of human enlightenment, when prehistoric man first started organising into paternalistic clans governed by power tempered with honour.

It is progress a little in advance of that earlier enlightenment when pre-prehistoric man learned to adulate the heavens. Ug. Heavens: glorious. Me: glorious. You: cower, worm, before my competitive mastery. Though its morality is essentially tribal.

This may explain why Taylor this week accepted a post on an SME board being established by the Cabinet Office to help them tackle the problems they are too scared to air in public. There might be safety under the shadow of reforming minister Francis Maude.

Since Taylor was one of the key players behind both the coalition government's and Bristol's ICT strategies, you would imagine him wily enough to deal with a lumbering corporation like Computacenter on his own. That is assuming Computacenter's Microsoft bias has indeed scuppered Bristol's open source pilot. Both Bristol and Computacenter say the game's not over. Taylor says Computacenter elbowed him out and submitted assessments that had been fixed to favour Microsoft.

After slogging away for 30 years by the rule of Mammon, Computacenter may have just lumbered innocently into the midst of a political thorn bush. It might now look up and see how much is riding on Bristol's pilot. It's failure will mark the failure not just of Bristol's ICT strategy but of Maude's and Taylors.

Computacenter would do well to back up and consider while licking its wounds how the idea of software freedom has taken hold in mainstream politics. If it does anything else it will end up looking like the ignorant box shifter it has long tried so hard not to be. Why not give Bristol what it wants?

MPs pooh-pooh happy clappy ICT strategy

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Happy clappy.pngMPs had fun with the government's ICT strategy at yesterday's sitting of the Public Accounts Committee. What was it, a novelty act? Some sort of new-age frippery?

It was "motherhood and apple pie", said PAC chair Margaret Hodge MP. No-one could disagree with anything in it.

But she wasn't satisfied.

"Cabinet Office didn't deliver in the past," she said. "What on earth will be different this time?"

Austin Mitchell, MP for Grimsby, said the strategy exuded good intentions. But it didn't have any heft. There were no baseline numbers and no targets on which it could be measured.

PAC is used to dealing with more substantial fair, and has on occasion got high-gauge ammunition from the National Audit Office, on which it bases its inquiries.

But the NAO report from which this PAC inquiry took its lead - February's ICT Landscape Review - was even less substantial than the Cabinet Office ICT Strategy. It was like an ambiguous coalition statement on ICT transformation for the 21st Century, re-imagined as a Peter & Jane picture book. It wasn't substantially different from the ICT strategy.

Most entertaining of all was NAO's claim that "80 per cent of central government ICT work is undertaken by 18 suppliers."

This battle cry for the coalition ICT strategy was given credence by the NAO report. But the NAO told Computer Weekly it couldn't substantiate the number.

"This statistic was based on an interview with the government," said an NAO spokesman. "It was okayed by the Cabinet Office but we don't have any audited data to back it up. It was a senior level civil servant who has since left the government."

Post-new age age

The stat actually derives from references provided by numerous reports written on the matter in recent years by the likes of Eton's Liam Maxwell, Cambridge University's Mark Thompson, and other alumni of the Cameronian Network for a Post Bureaucratic Age (NPBA), on whose work the Conservative and then coalition ICT strategy was based.

It goes back to 2004 when academics estimated 80 per cent of UK government ICT was delivered by just 5 firms. It was updated in 2009 by estimates supplied by Kable, the research firm founded by William Heath, the NPBA compadre behind Mydex, the ID assurance system favoured by the coalition to fill the hole left by ID cards.

The point, as Cabinet Office chief operating officer Ian Watmore told the Committee yesterday, is that government information on precisely who is doing what with whom for how much is poor. The Cabinet Office major projects authority was getting a grip on it. But it had, since committing to the task in August 2010, still not defined precisely what a major ICT project was.

NAO said it was trying to design a mechanism to benchmark IT spend, and presumably power hierarchies. The Office of Government Commerce, recently subsumed into the Cabinet Office, vowed to address the issue when it was founded in 1999. Ten years later, it was still asking suppliers what government had bought from them.

Post-private outsourcing

There are anyway no detractors to the smash-the-ICT-oligopoly policy. Even the major ICT suppliers have refused to tell Computer Weekly what's wrong with it.

As well they might. Hodge said 65 per cent of government ICT was delivered by the private sector. And 100,000 of 135,000 government ICT professionals were employed by private companies.

"The private sector have been the problem," she said. "We've seen a small oligopoly of providers who have ripped the government off. They've been very expensive, have delivered late and not delivered to specification."

"Your point about the oligopoly is correct," said Watmore, though he was less certain about whether they could be proven liable contractually.

Margaret Hodge.pngInsubstantial as it was, the NAO report had at least catalogued promises government had made to fix the IT problem over the years. Hodge liked the 2001, 2003 and 2008 attempts to employ more SMEs.

Post-gate

Watmore, who was head of ICT strategy for the last Cabinet Office just as he is for this one, reckoned this time was different.

"We are finding a way for SMEs to come in, and not just underneath some of the prime contractors, where they get smothered and we pay double margin," he said. An SME tsar, Stephen Allott, had been appointed.

Something else he had changed were Gateway Reviews, introduced in 2004 as a means of preventing expensive IT failures. They had failed. So we've now got a... what was it called? First Gate? Starting Gate? Pouting Gate?

Whatever it's called, it's been rebranded and stuck in an earlier stage of the systems lifecycle where it is hoped it will prevent "very famous politicians making big commitments", as Watmore put it, or over-selling by ICT suppliers "who will say whatever it takes" to win a £2bn contract.

And so the government would be using Agile methods, training staff, consolidating data centres and so on. It was still ultimately sacking civil servants and relying more on the private sector. The NAO will really have its work cut out when New Labour's ICT oligopoly is disbanded and the collaborative age ushers in its apparently amorphous new clique of SMEs.

HMRC orders supply chain to heel

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HMRC building.png
HM Revenue and Customs has ordered ICT suppliers to step in line as it tries to cut costs from one of the UK's largest computing infrastructures and fix the perceived failures of one of the government's largest outsourcing contracts.

The initiative has seen HMRC take steps to address a problem Cabinet Office has sworn to tackle as part of its ICT Strategy: the exclusion of SMEs from government business and the tight control the UK's public sector ICT oligopoly has over government contracts.

In close collaboration with Cabinet Office, HMRC has told Capgemini to include SMEs in project meetings in Whitehall, indicating the extent to which the 240 suppliers to whom Capgemini subcontracts work its £8.5bn Aspire contract have been excluded to date.

HMRC has also ordered suppliers to open their kimonos so it can see for itself if it's getting value for money from them. The main criticism against large contracts has been the power they give outsourcing firms to inflate prices and suppress innovation.

Mark Hall, deputy CIO at HMRC, told government IT managers at a recent Inside Government conference, its changes were part of a programme to better manage its "commercial model" with suppliers.

"We have started a new process called Tripartite," he said, "Which is where we were always challenged, around getting everybody to the table.

"So now when we have conversations, the prime contractor, ourselves and the SME delivering the goods are in the same conversation.

"We are working around cost savings and working very closely and collaboratively with the cabinet office. This is not just about what we can negotiate, its about what UK government can negotiate," he said.

Suppliers told to open up

HMRC aimed to cut £900m, 25 per cent of its cost base. The other major reform programme involved identifying "value chains". That meant understanding where its expenditure was delivering value, from the citizen "right through to the to the final piece of technology in the supplier".

"This is quite challenging for supply chains because it demands transparency," said Hall.

"You need to be able to open up and look at the whole supply chain. This is not dissimilar to what motor manufacturers or logistics companies do. It's the same as Lean, but where Lean works bottom up, we are doing it top down," he said.

HMRC tap.png
HMRC was in addition scrapping unwanted computer systems to cut the cost of processing £435bn revenues and £39bn of payments it transacts with 38m citizens and businesses every year.

"It's about moving from a complicated legacy estate due to multiple inheritances, to what would be a simplified IT estate based on just 13 core platforms," he said.

HMRC hoped the consolidation would be self-financing. Savings taken from decommissioned IT systems would be pumped back into the rationalisation programme.

The ICT Strategy had nevertheless not changed HMRC's "direction of travel" since Cabinet Office launched it in March, said Hall.

"Its made us think slightly differently," he said.

It was not dissimilar to the last strategy, published under the Labour government in January 2010. But he did concede it was less about centrally provisioning an enterprise architecture and more about collaboration and the Agile methodology.

Agility problems

HMRC felt Agile was a challenge, though, when it had to rely so much on external suppliers.

"The new approach is far more agile, far more collaborative," said Hall.

"The question is then how do you [create] a delivery approach that allows that to happen, because agility's great but you do all need to work in the same way," he said.

It's in-house team of 200 developers were "increasingly" being turned to Agile. Their future reform was assured and was being examined.

Marion Sinclair, information systems strategist at Kensington & Chelsea Borough Council, asked Hall an Agile question, though she didn't mention the A-word.

Was there any way to align IT with business processes in a way that allowed projects to keep up with the speed of change and deliver efficiencies sooner? Hall said HMRC was trying to do that with Lean process re-engineering. It took power from IT people and put it in the hands of process people.

HMRC was meanwhile still wringing savings out of its £8.5bn contract with HMRC. It had renegotiated the contract in 2006, 2007 and 2009. It would realise £125m of savings from the latest negotiations this financial year. They would equate to £1.2bn of savings over its life.

Agile will fail GovIT, says corporate lawyer

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In a guest blog, corporate IT lawyer Alistair Maughan argues that Agile development is an evangelical fad ill-suited to government IT.
 
Maughan_Alistair High Res.jpgThe Government ICT strategy had some good ideas. Agile project management isn't one of them.

The Cabinet Office expects Agile will reduce the risk of ICT project failure. It's a nice idea in theory. But it won't work in government IT. It won't work in the real world.

Two of the most cautionary examples of failed ICT projects in recent years demonstrated the drawbacks of Agile.

The court battles of BSkyB v EDS and De Beers v Atos Origin showed that when Agile projects go wrong, they can go spectacularly wrong.

The Agile methodology is meant to deliver IT projects flexibly, in iterations. It's meant to involve customers more directly and adapt quickly to their changing needs. This means the final system only emerges gradually. It means customers don't pay a fixed price for a complete project. They pay for a commitment of resources.

But the lack of clearly defined project roles and requirements is a problem for Agile.

Agile evangelists argue fiercely that the conventional waterfall development methodology is unrealistic. They say the sheer scope of work required by its pre-set deliverables often leaves it unable to fulfill expectations. They set themselves up to fail, say the evangelists, when they should be working collaboratively for success.

I'm prepared to accept on trust that, if all goes well, Agile may reduce the risk of project failure. But Agile simply won't work in the real world of government ICT. We need a Richard Dawkins to bust the myth of the Agile gospel.

Sceptical

There are four clear reasons why Agile won't work in government ICT. The most obvious is that government customers want to know up-front how much a system will cost. That's not so unusual, is it?

Under Agile projects, you pay a given amount of money for a set amount of effort. But you can't guarantee a specified outcome for a specific price.

This won't work in government. Departmental budgets are managed very tightly, and they must be approved. Agile implies that charges for time & materials should be open ended. Government departments won't accept that.

Government is also legally required to follow open procurement rules.

That means comparing different bidders on a like-for-like basis, and deciding on best value for money. Agile can't give you a clear specification of outputs up-front. Nor can it give a definitive up-font price.

So how are government bodies supposed to make Agile comply with the legal requirement that public procurements are fair and open?

Unprotected

As if that isn't problem enough, Agile offers insufficient means of remedy if things go wrong.

This is a particularly sensitive issue for government, where departments suffer public opprobrium if their project isn't a resounding success. The press, the National Audit Office, and the Public Accounts committee (PAC) will give government a kicking if they can't make suppliers pay for the damage they caused.

Agile makes it hard to apportion blame because the customer is intimately involved in the work. Since Agile contracts lack clear contractual delivery obligations or remedies, how do you enforce properly? How do you recover loss or damage if there's a problem?

I wouldn't want to be the first Permanent Secretary to admit before the PAC that his or her department has no real right of legal recovery from a failure.

Poor fit

Agile is fourthly not suited to public sector management structures.

Decision-making is centralised in government. Civil service structures ensure every important decision flows up to senior levels. The Cabinet Office has under the current government taken even greater power over ICT projects. But Agile decision-making (over requirements, for example) flows down. This is key, so small devolved teams can react quickly and adjust to new scenarios.

It is inevitable that Agile decisions will go through management hierarchies in central government. This will be like kryptonite to Agile projects.

Agile projects rely on decisions based on mutual trust. They are therefore well suited to in-house projects. But the faith they ask customers to have in service providers makes them ill-suited for external developments.

You can have an ICT project with a watertight contract, clear deliverables, openly and legally procured, with a fixed price and appropriate remedies if you don't get what you want. Or you can have an Agile project. You can't have both.

I do appreciate that as a lawyer specialising in large ICT projects, you may think, "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?". But my job is the help create successful projects.

I've seen too many projects flounder for a lack of trust between customer and supplier to think the answer to government's ICT problems is the Agile credo of, "Let's trust each other some more".

Partner and head of Technology Transactions at international law firm Morrison Foerster, Alistair Maughan has advised on large public and private IT contracts including HM Revenue & Custom's controversial 10-year £8.5bn deal with Capgemini. Follow him on twitter @ICToutsourcelaw

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