News Analysis

Government CIO should be given the teeth to drive standardisation

Karl Flinders

Massive changes in how IT is used in the public sector are required if the government is to achieve its goal of reducing the costs associated with running government departments. This would involve a government-wide transformation project.

But unless an individual is given the job to drive change and the authority to enforce it, inefficiencies in the public sector will continue. This transformation across departments, unlike a departmental transformation, requires the co-operation of disparate power bases which have traditionally made their own decisions.

Standardisation

The man at the helm of on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) transformation project, which ran from 2004 to 2008, told Computer Weekly how standardised IT services and more control in the centre could help the government achieve 40% cost savings.

Regulation and drive from the centre may seem against the current government's doctrine to decentralise power, but to cut the waste, reduce costs and still improve services, the government will have to grasp this, he says.

Steve Tuppen, director at Compass Management Consulting was the transformation director during the DWP project. He says there needs to be fundamental change within government and there needs to be someone to create and enforce IT standardisation across departments.

The CIO is the perhaps ideally positioned to set out a government-wide IT standardisation strategy and drive its adoption. But the role needs to be given more authority if the individual is to change a creature of bad habits.

Tuppen says as a result of fragmented and consensual decision making across government, there is little CIO empowerment to drive major change. "There is a mindset change needed which means getting the relevant organisations to trust that they can make use of standardised services and that they can trust suppliers to develop capability rather than getting involved and demanding bespoke builds," he says.

This impotence, he says, has been exacerbated because there has been no real push to cut costs. But the government cost cutting programme is the "burning platform" that will force departments to change.

Enforcement

Tuppen says the individual and team that drives the transformation must have the power to define standards, enforce them and measure each department in terms of value for money.

Former government CIO and Accenture UK managing director Ian Watmore will become chief operating officer of the efficiency and reform group in government next month. Could Watmore be the man to drive standardisation and how will John Suffolk's government CIO role change? Industry talk is rife that Suffolk will leave his post, but Suffolk recently told Computer Weekly he has no plans to do so.

A central figure in government being seen as an ogre that forces suppliers to invest in development in return for less spending need not be the case, with standardisation driven by an empowered individual welcomed by service providers.

Sam Kingston, UK head at T-Systems, says IT standardisation would enable suppliers to provide more for less.

"Suppliers can bring scale to their businesses and use less niche skills. It will give critical mass and economies of scale," he says.

But Kingston says suppliers would be less willing if the government does not guarantee good volumes of business at a good price. "This would drive them to the point of offering commoditised services," he says.

Abuse of standardisation

Kingston says this type of "abuse of standardisation" is unlikely in the current government because it knows it has to make it work.

He agrees that the government should give the CIO or another individual the power to drive standardisation. But he says governance across departments, for day-to-day operations, could drive the take up of standardised platforms across government. "Governance structures need to be in place to enable people to see the benefits of standardisation," he says.

Ovum analyst John O'Brien says standardised services are accepted by most people as the way forward in government, with Suffolk already an advocate.

But unlike the private sector, where a CIO can ensure that all departments toe the line, the current structure in government does not give the CIO such authority.

O'Brien says day-to-day governance would help people understand the benefits of technology and reduce the need to dictate from the centre. "It has worked with some of the shared services once they get good visibility of some of the cost benefits and process improvements," he says, adding that historically there has been no visibility of the benefits.

The government CIO or another individual should oversee and drive standardisation, says O'Brien.

IT standardisation being taken up across government appears to be a foregone conclusion. But whether it is driven by a more powerful CIO or increased governance is uncertain. A mix of the two seems most likely.


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