A few big IT suppliers may have Tories over a barrel

A well-informed presenter of BBC R4’s File on 4 interviewed two weeks ago the Conservative shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien about the failures of some large public sector IT-related projects. Time and a focus on specific matters didn’t allow all of the interview to be used in the broadcast.

O’Brien said that a Tory government would learn the lessons from past IT catastrophes, although he didn’t go as far as promising an end to them.

With refreshing realism for a senior politician, O’Brien said that giving a commitment to end IT failures would be “foolish and over-optimistic”, given that government ministers are not the people delivering the product.

“But I’m very confident the one thing we can do is learn the lessons from experience,” he added. “I am confident that our process will minimise the chances for what are design errors.”

He said he would hope to “set the policy to make sure that we get the tools that deliver that policy and that we commit the resources that are necessary”.

File on 4’s presenter asked whether the Conservatives would be dependent on a small number of big IT suppliers that have been involved in several large IT-related failures.

O’Brien said:

“There are a limited number of suppliers who have either the expertise or the scale of what’s required. They are not necessarily UK companies. We’ve had lots of discussions, ongoing discussions, with many of these suppliers, clearly in advance of us knowing we’re going to form a government.

“It is not a potential government’s view to identify who will bepotential suppliers; far from it. On the contrary, it’s going to bevery necessary, if they want to have the chance to supply, they willhave to row in behind what is a clear and supportable policy oftransparency, because public money is involved.”

File on 4 asked: “Isn’t the reality going to be that the suppliers haveyou over a barrel because you say there are very few of them and theywill be able to call the shots?”

O’Brien replied:

 “I think not. The marketplace out there issufficiently competitive. If they want to be selling at scale, they’llhave to have fantastic products, which are competitive, at fantasticprices, and with a tremendous service support that will give them theedge.

“If they don’t have that, they will allow new entrants to compete forthat business and I expect we’ll see a little bit of churn. But at sametime I think the commercial operators are commercial and they will lookfor the opportunities.

“I am not at all concerned or dismayed that we’ll be having to havediscussions with the very same people who’ve been having discussionswith the current government, if we form the government.”

He added that the Conservatives “very strongly encourage localinnovation” and that “designing the systems and products that meetlocal needs is what will drive the market”.


File on 4 programme on the NPfIT and Government IT – BBC website

New Labour’s unlucky 13 IT projects – IT Projects Blog

Conservatives publish NHS IT Policy pledges – IT Projects Blog

Tories promise radical reform of Government IT – ComputerWeekly.com

Tories uncomfortable on what they’ll do about the NPfIT – IT Projects Blog