Hung Drawn and Quartered

One of the sadder features of the General Election was the failure of so many candidates with a solid understanding of the world of information systems to be elected or re-elected. Several came so close that I hope they will be successfull, when the National Government falls apart: whether over failure to agree savings that satisfy the IMF, the timing of the referendum on electoral reform or the immunity of MPs from having their broadband cut-off after their children have downloaded …


I will not name those I have in mind (I mean candidates who came close, not MPs with children) but they come from all three main parties.


Meanwhile the biggest challenge facing the IT industry is how to help restart public sector procurement, given the apparent political consensus that cuts should begin with big projects – not just ID Cards and surveillance systems but the centralised databases of Health and Child Care. Failure will cost the nation, as well as their shareholders, dear.


The problem is not confined to the UK – global service revenues fell by over 5% last year -according to Gartner. We can expect that fall to accelerate this year and I agree with one of the Gartner bloggers that more of the same is not an viable option. Kable carries an excellent article quoting the former Chief Executive of Surrey County Council making this point in a UK public sector context.   


The good news is that some of the suppliers who have begun the process of helping  customers focus on bottom-up, locally driven, incremental change programmes, where the savings from each phase pays for the next, are already crying all the way to the bank. The challenge is to those market leaders, whose management won promotion by winning big-bang sales campaigns and cannot handle a different way of doing business. We need to rembmer that the IT industry is no longer young, lithe and flexible. It is a creaking geriatric. Its off-spring, like the Internet, are over forty. Even its grandchildren, like the World Wide Web, have grown up and left home.  


Meanwhile the elderly thought leaders of the IT services industry appear to be hoping that a transition to Cloud Computing (which most see as a return to integrated service bureau of their youth) will save them. Those who already have under-used data centres may be right but raising the funds to build new ones will not be easy, even if they can find locations with adequate power supplies and communications links. More-over they also need to work together to educate their customers in the use of the OJEU fast track routines to enable the low cost, rapid and transparent procurement of small projects that will use their services on a trial basis, grow to critical mass and generate sufficient transactions to give them the necessary return.


Changing industry sales processes to reward those responsible for delivery for selling incremental upgrades on the fly, within OJEU rules, will be even harder for those who have forgotten the value of building account management and customer support round staff continuity rather than off-shore call-centres. 


More-over the public sector cannot choose its customers and commonly has fixed budgets for a service. It does not receive more funding when services are more popular than expected.. A public service which pays a charge per transaction runs out of budget faster when the excellence of the response leads to greater demand.


Change, the mantra of members of the would-be Government of National Unity, is an even bigger challenge to the tribes of the IT supply community, including management consultants, lawyers and lobbyists, than to the political classes. The latter have at least begun to appreciate that the silos of Whitehall, whose creation was the brain-child of Lloyd George, need a fundamental overhaul  – albeit their virtues are that demolition would be as foolish an option as blanket preservation under “listed building status”.