The government has promised to bring down the ICT oligopoly as part of a strategy that may have seismic consequences for the public and private sectors.
The 18 large ICT suppliers that have controlled 80 per cent of Britain’s much maligned public sector IT will have the rug pulled from beneath them if the reforms promised in today’s Cabinet Office IT Strategy work as envisaged.
Policy makers will be freed from the lead shoes put on them by the lumbering, multi-billion IT contracts that have tied them to the big suppliers and hold political initiative back, the policy claims.
Open standards will be “imposed” on technology in the public sector, creating a country-wide computing platform that will subvert the misshapen procurement regime by allowing young, innovative firms to merely plug-in to UK.gov.
Such an ecosystem may become a feat of civil engineering to define the early 21st Century: a public work to make monoliths like the National Programme for IT seem like the work of 19th Century engineers.
The reforms will bring far-reaching changes to every corner of the public sector. They will require the civil service to agree common working practices in order for the computer system processes built upon them to be interoperable.
“The government will put an end to the oligopoly of large suppliers that monopolise its ICT provision,” declared the strategy.
But government would “move away from large ICT projects that are slow to implement or pose a greater risk of failure” only “where possible”. The government is already locked into IT contracts, such as the £8.5bn Aspire deal HMRC has with Capgemini, that preceded the last Parliamentary term and may yet outlive the present government.
The government would nevertheless adopt a “presumption against” IT contracts above £100m, while HMRC got a special mention for a plug and play website into which IT SMEs have been plugging tax data apps.
The strategy also carried forward a raft of reforms begun under the last government. The coalition would re-use its software systems, instead of buying them anew for different departments.
It would build an “asset register” and a government app store. Senior officials would be made to take more interest in and responsibility for their IT systems so fewer of them turned into hash.
But just as the last government in 2009 promised “a level playing field for open source”, and a year later promised the same again. It has now been promised again. Open source would get a level playing field and would be used “where possible”.
Both the government may have to step up their campaigning efforts if it wants its next ICT strategy, in 2014, to reflect any serious support it may be have for open source.
The programme of reform would, appropriately enough for one proposing lean and agile development methodologies, only last 24 months.
Any longer would be too long to leave the large ICT suppliers unsupervised.