Do read the Government IT Strategy. Much has changed from previous drafts. The big issue ia, however, to turn aspiration into reality. The claimed savings look like those in the Gershon report: impossible to achieve without a change of culture but pedestrian compared to those achievable once that change has been achieved.
Delivery, not aspiration, is that name of the game.
On Tuesday PITCOM had a meeting on Cloud Computing addressed by Salesforce.com, arguably the biggest and most successful cloud operator. The audience included a number of senior public sector IT figures. I was sat next to a CIO who whispered to me that they had looked at Salesforce.com. They were indeed impressive – but the cost per transaction was well above staying in-house. The issue was to do with marginal costs. The organisation had an efficient, mature operation and no need for change – provided politicians or regulators did not mess them about. The choice might well have been different if they had a new application to organise or outsourcing contracts coming to maturity.
The public sector budget cuts in prospect, who-ever wins the election, are likely to be such that no-one can afford to pay off current staff and/or contractors with generous redundancy and compensation in order to make theoretical future savings. We have to move to a world of genuine rapid payback incremental savings: cash flow not funny money.
This could add to the attraction of Cloud Computing as government data centres and outsoucing contracts come up for renewal. But the savings could all too easily be wiped out by legal wrangling and compensation unless government also adopts best practice in dispute avoidance procedures and makes it attractive for the incumbent to make respond – perhaps by themselves transitioning the operation to their own Cloud.
Earlier I said that Salesforce.com was arguably the worlds largest and most successful operator Cloud. We tend to forget that HP, IBM as well as major Banks and others have been running seamless, global data centre networks for well over a decade. So too have players like Fujitsu, Logica and others to serve the UK and Europe. They did not call them “clouds” but they were – move-over customers willing to transition idiosyncratic, consultant specified one-off systems to shared open source applications have been able to get massive price reductions from at least one of them for nearly two decades. At long last it looks as though HMG will follow others in taking them up on that offer.
Cloud and Open Source are mature approaches with deep roots.
The other barrier to be overcome is that most of the country does not have the secure and reliable symmetric bandwidth to enable a user, large or small, to rely on Cloud computing. Graceful degradation to stand-alone processing with seamless synchronisation facilitiies for when service is restored is essentail – but cuts the potential savings .
More-over, given that the current plans of BT and Virgin will barely have covered 40% of the UK by 2013/4, it looks as though Cloud Computing will be confined to major conurbations, unless its proponents help pull through the investment necessary to expedite and extend the access their customers need.
That situation may only change when Amazon and Google, for example, “extend” their definition of “net neutrality” and becoming involved with plans to use innovative aproaches to slash a zero off the prices currently being quoted for connecting the rest of the country. We should also remember that the “last10%” , who major players appear content to write-off, comprises over 65 parliamentary constituencies, many of which will be keenly fought over in May.
At this point I should mention that the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) Council met yesterday and received a progress report on the plans to produce briefing material for those candidates who plan to use local campaigns to get access to world-class broadband as part of own election strategies. The first draft is now in my in-box. It makes chilling reading.
The big question mark over the Government IT Strategy is whether there is the political will to run aspiration into reality. But it will take at least three to dance this particular Tango (the mind boggles!).
I personally doubt we will see serious progress unless and until the Finance Directors of the would-be suppliers order their marketing colleagues to take a realistic look at the imperatives driving the decisions the Finance Directors of their customers will have to take.
At one of my recent meetings it was told something was impossible “because we have to consult the Finance Director”. I was appalled, but not surprised.
One of the most enjoyable periods of my life was in 1973 – 4. As a one of only two business graduates in ICL, I was able to spend time with elderly finance directors discussing which of the nostrums I had been taught at London Business School they might like to inflict on their colleagues in order to work out how computers might help address the problems they faced.
My former boss still cannot understand how I got away with what I did. I will only say that they were so surprised at finding some-one in an IT supplier who was financially literate and so tempted by the prospect of cutting a new fangled business graduate down to size, that all I had to do was remember when to shut up and listen. I know some of you will find that last part the hardest to believe.
A similar approach is central to turning aspiration to reality with regard to the Government IT strategy. Would-be suppliers must take a Finance Director’s view of how they can help address the immediate, “stop the bleeding”, problems of their customers – while building relationships for the longer term. Fancy accounting (as with PFI) will not help.
That will entail a return to some very old concepts of relationship management in parallel with innovative ways of making proper use of mature technologies, like Cloud and Open Source, while not drinking the snake oil.