Government IT - time now time for real change?

The Government CIO John Suffolk and his CIO colleagues have a reasonably clear idea of what’s expected on IT by the coalition.

The new Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General is Francis Maude who, long before the general election, had set out his intentions on IT-related change.

It’s one of the duties of senior officials in the Cabinet Office, and elsewhere in government, to hear the plans of shadow ministers in the months before a general election. It’s a tradition that the officials listen to the opposition plans without commenting.

Nobody would now be surprised if Maude’s list of planned actions had been passed to Government CIOs.

Suffolkand Maude are both in the Cabinet Office and together have anoverall responsibility for Government IT.

Will Maude and Suffolk succeed in getting Gateway reviews published in full?

Maude was originallyfrom the private sector – he was managing director of Morgan Stanley.But he is also steeped in the ways of the civil service and Parliament.

 Hewas  Financial Secretary to HM Treasury (1990-1992), a minister at theForeign and Commonwealth Office (1989-1990), and a government whip(1985-1987).

I’d warned him before the general election that hewould meet much resistance from the Office of Government Commerce to hisplans to publish in full Gatewayreviews on IT-related projects and programmes. He seemed surprisedthat he would meet strong resistance.

Yet the OGChas been to the High Court to stop the publication of early Gatewayreviews on the ID Cards scheme. Eventually the OGC published them  -but only once the review reports were years old and had lost theirtopical interest.

The OGC eventually published Gateway reviewson the NHS IT scheme NPfIT – again when they were years old. 

Gateway reviewreports are important because they give an independent overview ofwhether a project or programme is in trouble or making good progress.

Sometimesthe review reports are wrong – they can give an overly optimistic viewif those the reviewers are questioning are exuberantly irrational. Butthe publication of Gateway reviews would give an incentive to allinvolved in a project to get it right, or at least to cancel a doomedproject early and cheaply.

Coalition IT plans

Other Maude plans:

 –  assessthe IT implications of making £6bn worth of cuts in the currentfinancial year

–    Scrapfailing projects

 –  Impose a moratorium on existing and upcoming procurements

–   Review big databases, and scrap ID Cards and ContactPoint.

–    Re-design the NHS ITscheme, NPfIT, and give patients more control of their medicalrecords

 –  Strengthen the central role of  the Government CIO John Suffolkand his team, giving them greater responsibility forthe effective management and delivery of projects.  

– Immediatelyestablish a presumption that ICT projects should not exceed £100m intotalvalue

–  Build a register of ICT-related assets across Governmentincluding intellectual property rights, so that taxpayers do not pay formaterial they already own.

–  Expect that seniorresponsible owners will remain in that role for the life of theproject. Sothat this doesn’t hold back careers, SROs may be promoted in post whilerunninga large project.

–  Minimise changes to contracts to counteractplans by suppliers to make up profit margins from low bid prices.

–  Publish all ICT contracts.

–    Encourage the use of Open Source software. When agovernment department, agency or Quango asks a vendor to write new codefor abespoke solution it will expect to require that this code is madeavailableunder an open-source license.

–   Whereopen-source options are inferior, assess whether it is worth paying athirdparty to upgrade an open source solution rather than buy proprietarysoftware.

–    Provide more opportunities for smaller, UK-basedsuppliers

–    Ask seniorresponsible owners to publish their plansonline via low-cost platforms such as blogs.

–    Publish in astandardised and open format every item of spending over £25,000.

–    Require local councils topublish online details of all expenditure over £1,000.

–   Introduce anew right to government data so that the public can receive governmentdatasets containing anonymised information that may be socially orcommerciallyuseful.

–    throw open the policy-making process tocrowd-sourcing andcollaborative design.

So will all this change – and more – happen?

All this comes as Suffolk andhis team continue what they were doing before the election to cut thecosts of IT, which run at about £14bn a year. The Flexcontracts are examples of such cost-saving deals.

 But ahigher spend on IT may be needed at least in the short term to bringtogether finance, HR and IT in a way the Tories and Lib Dems propose. 

Outsourcingcompanies are likely to offer the coalition low prices in the early years ofcontracts – and may even pay the government financial incentives as an offset to the price they quote to acquire public sector assets – but may back-end theircharges, as in PFI contracts.

Will the Conservative/Lib-Demcoalition then tell the whole truth on the whole-life costs of any forthcoming outsourcing contracts?

That said, I sense that therewill be a major change of the administrative machinery of government  -perhaps more change than we have seen for decades.

It’s a question ofhow much Maude,  the coalition, Suffolk and other CIOs can achievebefore a medley of ministers go native.


Will Tories create a raft of new projects?  – IT Projects Blog

HighCourt case on ID Cards Gateway reviews, the 1689 Bill of Rights andCommons’ Speaker – IT Projects Blog

Governmentordered to publish Gateway reviews on risky IT projects -Infosecurity

Whyso many government IT projects fail – Ian Watmore

Toriesslippery on committing to government IT reform – IT Projects Blog