Public sector IT

Top 10 public sector IT stories of 2011

Kathleen Hall

To say 2011 has been a year of big change for the public sector is an understatement. Unprecedented public sector cuts from 2010’s spending review have started to hit IT budgets hard, while elsewhere organisations are starting to use technologies to break up decades-long procurement practices. Here Computer Weekly looks at the ten most significant stories of 2011.

1. Can the government deliver its ambitious strategy for public sector IT change?

There is no lack of ambition in the government's ICT Strategy Implementation Plan (SIP), boldly claiming to "fundamentally change how government incorporates ICT". But while the strategy contains a detailed roadmap of how it intends to achieve this aim over 19 areas, how achievable is a turnaround of the public sector's reputation for systemic IT failings?

The government says it is determined to tackle the failures and expense of IT through the publication of the SIP, which puts flesh on the bones of its IT strategy released earlier this year. To accomplish its goals, the strategy lays out a series of timelines for delivery and areas of risk identification and mitigation, both for the overall strategy and its 19 sub-sections. It also has a list of senior responsible owners (SROs) for each area.

2. Government CIO Harley retires

In November, government CIO Joe Harley retired, leaving a vacancy also in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) post he has held since 2004. Harley’s resignation follows that of previous CIO John Suffolk who also quit last year. The news came following government commitment to drive through major change across public sector IT.

Cabinet Office permanent secretary Ian Watmore said Harley's two jobs would be filled separately.

3. Department of Health CIO Christine Connelly talks candidly about the NPfIT

Before quitting her job as director general for informatics at the Department of Health, Christine Connelly spoke to Computer Weekly about what went wrong with the much-maligned £11.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT) and the aspects she believes have worked well.

If Connelly were to design the system today, she would include tighter contract terms: "When writing a contract that says everything is to hinge on the delivery of a product, it should have a very clear statement that says if the product is not there within an amount of time, everything else in the contract is then void. That's personally what I would do differently."

4. £12m Royal Courts eWorking system has ‘virtually collapsed’

As the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) prepared to move to its £300m Rolls Building in October, Computer Weekly learnt that its eWorking system was on the verge of collapse.

The Rolls building is a state-of-the-art law court complex designed to ensure London remains the world centre of financial law, and underpinning it the RCJ’s eWorking system was designed to make the flow of information from court users across the RCJ more efficient by removing unnecessary manual tasks and enabling users to submit files electronically. But only 11 documents were submitted in the second quarter of 2011 – fewer than 0.5% of all files entered on the system – with critics claiming the £12.5m project had "virtually collapsed".

5. CIO interview: Mike Bracken, UK government director of digital

Whitehall is not exactly known for being at the bleeding edge of technological innovation. But as the newly appointed government director of digital, ex-Guardian technology head Mike Bracken is set to change that perception. In an exclusive interview with Computer Weekly, he discusses the challenges ahead.

When the £141,000 per annum role of digital director was first advertised it was met with a flurry of angry headlines, most notably from the Daily Mail, which derisively branded the job as "Twitter Tsar". But given the scope of Bracken's task – to transform public sector services to a "digital by default" model – it is surprising he finds any time to tweet at all.

6. Ofcom further delays 4G spectrum auction for extended consultation

Companies and organisations are already vying for 2012 4G spectrum next year, as stakeholders see it as a crucial aspect to the UK’s future communications infrastructure. But amid the anticipation, Ofcom has announced delays to the auction of the 800Mhz and 2.6Ghz spectrum bands following a number of technical and competition issues around the sale.

The 4G spectrum was expected to be auctioned in the first three months of 2012, but this was extended by up to three months. Now Ofcom has predicted the auction will take place at the start of the fourth quarter of 2012.

7. Will £530m be enough to deliver UK-wide superfast broadband?

The government recently emptied the remainder of its pot of money, diverted from the BBC's licence fees, to improve broadband speeds across the UK.

The fund is to be matched by local authorities and amounts to just over £1bn. But experts are questioning whether this is likely to be enough to meet the aim of providing 90% of UK homes with superfast broadband by 2015. But will its £530m investment be enough to deliver next-generation broadband speeds in homes and businesses across the UK?

8. Government CIOs 'lack the skills' for cloud transformation

The government’s cloud agenda finally gathered pace this year, with new plans for a G-Cloud strategy and a framework contract in place which has seen record interest from small businesses. But key figures in Whitehall have warned that the majority of government CIOs do not have the right skillset for a move to cloud-based IT procurement.

As the public sector increasingly moves to a pay-as-you-go IT model based around cloud services, the challenge for government departments will be ensuring they don't fall back into old habits of signing large contract lock-ins with systems integrators, according to a departmental source.

9. Identity assurance - how it will affect public services and your personal data

The success of the government's "digital by default" agenda, a central drive in its ICT strategy, will depend to a large extent on how comfortable the public feels in transmitting personal data online. Computer Weekly examines the implications of the government’s Identity Assurance (IDA) scheme.

IDA will play a central role for the government in delivering digital public services – seen as an important way to cut the cost of the public sector. IDA is the process citizens will need to go through to verify who they are to access public services online. Part of the government's remit under the IDA project is to create a market of private sector identity assurance services to enable access. Individuals will be given the option to choose a certified private sector company to assure their identity, which will be used to confirm their personal data, in a manner analogous to how an e-commerce provider turns to credit card companies to assure you are the registered cardholder.

10. Government regulations prohibit council BYOD schemes

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) schemes are increasingly being used in private sector organisations as a way of reducing capital expenditure and allowing greater flexibility for staff. With the consumerisation of IT, more public sector staff are demanding greater IT capability.

But this is being impeded by central government regulations, public sector IT chiefs have told Computer Weekly.


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