Has the touchpaper of offshoring confidential UK citizen data been ignited?

I wrote in October about Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) winning a contract with the Home Office to run the Criminal Records disclosure service for over 10 years.

The contract is worth hundreds of millions.  It had been shortlisted for a contract on the government’s new Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The union representing the workers there revealed the news. DBS is the merger between the Criminal Records Bureau, that helps employers make recruitment decisions, and the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which prevents unsuitable people from working in certain places.

TCS has now made it official saying: “TCS will implement a programme to transform DBS, including the introduction of  electronic applications and improved online services to enhance user experience. The company will provide end-to-end process, technology and operations support for an initial period of five years, as per the agreement. The two organisations, DBS and TCS, will also collaborate to update the organisation’s business processes to help improve decision making and reduce processing times. TCS will also build new integrated case management system to support seamless integration and information gathering between disclosure and barring services.”

TCS is really breaking the public sector market. It has clients such as the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST), Cardiff City Council, and the DWP’s Child Maintenance Group.

Because the DBS data is very sensitive it seems there are no limits to what can be run by an offshore company. Are there still fears about this? The impression I get is that once outsourced it makes little difference where the supplier is from as most are all over the world anyway. Most Western suppliers have lots of offshore staff anyway, which do much of the work.

Currently Less than a third of public sector organisations receive IT services from offshore or nearshore location despite 90% outsourcing IT. This is one of the findings of KPMG’s in depth research of UK outsourcing contracts. So there is room for growth and with cost cutting pressures public sector organisations might be tempted.

Offshoring any public service remains controversial.

This came in from reader Mat X a couple of months ago.

“Public sector outsourcing barely works (if at all) even when all parties are in the same country, speak the same language and understand at least roughly what the government department is all about. So shipping the work offshore is likely to make this situation much worse. Moving government IT work offshore will also have a lot of hidden costs to the UK taxpayer: loss of jobs in the UK, with knock-on effects across communities where public sector employers dominate, loss of opportunities for future IT graduates in the UK, damage to the UK IT skills base etc. None of these will be accounted for when governments claim they are “saving money” through offshoring, but the negative impact on the UK IT industry and tax revenues will be substantial. The bottom line is that UK taxes should be spent to benefit the UK, not India. Moving work offshore also removes skills and understanding of the relevant systems from the UK. Look at RBS for a shining example of what happens when you fire all your experienced staff and move work halfway around the world. Do we really want our critical public sector systems to be dependent on companies on the other side of the world?”

Should the UK government offshore IT services?