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Big government departments may struggle with 50% cloud target, says HMRC CIO

Kathleen Hall

Larger government departments may struggle to meet Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s target of 50% of all new IT spend through cloud computing, according to Phil Pavitt, CIO at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)

“I think for two or three big authorities dealing with very specific [systems] that will be hard,” Pavitt told Computer Weekly.

But he believes that HMRC, one of Whitehall's biggest users of IT, will deliver 50% or more of its new IT spending through the cloud – if spend on larger systems that would be inappropriate for the cloud is discounted.  

“PAYE is relatively unique to us, it’s an enormous system and brings in a couple of hundred billion [pounds] – that will probably never be a cloud-based service,” said Pavitt.

Although he says it is unlikely the department’s heavy duty tax systems will migrate to the cloud, HMRC will make IT procurements through the new CloudStore over the next two years. Areas such as business intelligence, desktop software, data management, manipulation, and mining are of particular interest, said Pavitt:  “We work on longer cycles, so things will come through renewal in the next couple of years.”

The department’s online tax self-assessment systems are built for peak workloads near to the annual deadline, with HMRC recently reporting that 78% of its tax returns this year were filed online. The systems are a mixture of bespoke and open source software, the latter mainly used on the front end. 

“We will get to point in the next four to five years where big systems like self-assessment have reached the age where they need to be replaced. Those large-volume systems will definitely lend themselves to the private cloud,” said Pavitt.

In April, the pilot for real-time information (RTI) - one of the key systems underpinning PAYE tax reform - will begin with 310 volunteer employers and pension providers, with the next trial increasing that figure to 250,000 by March 2013. RTI aims to calculate employees' tax payments in real-time, instead of the current annual method. RTI is also a key component in the development of the Department for Work and Pensions' flagship universal credit system

“We’ve jointly written the test processes and the governance on the tech side so each party can make a halt and put in amendments,” said Pavitt.

“We were going to do RTI anyway, we are not doing it to feed universal credit - although it will. It was a natural progression in the improvement and modernisation of PAYE.”

Pavitt is also senior responsible owner for the end-user device strategy within the wider government IT strategy, and as such is grouping devices into about 12 "families" to tender for a framework which will drive down costs through standardisation.  

He says for too long the government has not been treated by suppliers as a customer. “Ideally I’d like to get to a point where it is like signing up for a mobile phone contract - if you sign up to a device for 12 months you get it for free,” he said.


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