Unfortunately, by then, many of those responsible for planning NPfIT and other delayed big bang exercises (such as ID "cards") had moved successfully into Central Government planning and procurement. This year the reshuffles have seen former Andersen (renamed as Accenture in 2001) consultants succeeding former Andersen consultants - despite a change of Government. Little wonder that the drive to get UK Central Government IT spend into line with that of other countries (who typically spend 30% less for equivalent products and services) is making such slow progress . More-over forward spend also appears mired in consultant driven "delayed big bang" projects (such as the DWP Universal Credit) and high overhead frameworks (such as BDUK and PSN for broadband and communications and Ed Milliband's Smart Meters project).
Meanwhile Local Government attempts to respond to a 28% cut in funding are gathering pace ; based on pooling residual in-house expertise rather than hiring in consultants with no experience of delivering value for money in a public sector environment. They are also learning from "smart procurement" in other parts of the EU, using the Directives to get round the obstacles placed in their way by central government attempts to hire consultants to find ways of using state aid to protect incumbent suppliers and outdated outsourcing models.
I am now yesterday's man but believe we can do very much worse that look back to the last time a new Conservative Government inherited such a dire situation - and learn from what they did well, as well as from their (our) mistakes.
It quickly became apparent that PFI-style leasing deals (which had become popular when the Callaghan government ran out of money) only made financial sense if the private sector was at least 15% more efficient than the public sector (to cover the extra cost of risk funding). More-over outsourcing (whether public or private sector) only made sense if it enabled the sharing of scarce/expensive resources (e.g. skills or equipment) across multiple clients. Thus we (Wellcome) could make very attractive bids for testing and quality control services but little else. It also made sense for us to also outsource our global commercial IT and communications network but not our research and production systems or the related global quality assurance operation (which even then enabled us to organise a product recall inside 48 hours of a report anywehere in the world, including over Christmas and the New Year when most networks and computer centres used to go off air for maintenance).
If one applied similar analyses to the UK public sector it was apparent that there was the potential for massive savings from shared services, but the legal and cultural barriers were such that this was commonly only practical by sharing a common private sector supplier. Unfortunately, this lesson was lost sight of when outsourcing gathered pace as a response to the IT skills shortages of the 1980s. We saw complex customised outsourcing contracts which wiped out not only the potential savings to both client and supplier from shared systems, but also the flexibility to respond to change. Instead of seeing a reversal of policy we then saw layer of consultants and lawyers on both sides to specify theoretically optimised solutions which, by definition, would become sub-optimal before the implementation date.
All the major suppliers, consultancies and law firms were complicit. I am probably unfair is calling it "the Andersen approach" because they were "merely" very much more professional in hiring bright young MBAs and turning them into impressive consultants who knew everything about everything - but had never personally delivered anything.
However, one thing is for certain, economic recovery is more likely to be once again, as in the past, be based on bringing core tasks back in house to be handled by those emotionally (not just contractually) committed to the job. Whether or not you think the worst is now over, read not just your Machiavelli but your Shackleton.