After more than three years as the champion of electronic government services within Whitehall, the former e-envoy Andrew Pinder has finally shared his verdict on strategic management within the public sector.
"Soggy", was the judgement of the man whose CV includes a spell as IT director at the Inland Revenue and at major financial institutions.
The public sector, and central government in particular, has a real problem with direct management control because of the huge scale of public sector projects and difficulties in changing business processes, Pinder said. Inevitably, IT projects suffer.
Pinder spoke to Computer Weekly as it was announced that he was joining the board at Entrust, a US-based security specialist.
Pinder steadily climbed the ranks of IT management before taking up his position as e-envoy in 2001. He has been head of European operations and technology at Citibank, director of operations and technology at Prudential Corporation and IT director at the Inland Revenue.
Although he has now joined a security firm, Pinder said the biggest problems for government IT were not security related. "The big issues in government are changing business processes and getting managers to drop 50-year-old working ways," he said.
"There are soggy levers of control within government. When I worked for Citibank, if the chief executive said he wanted something to happen, it happened. In public sector there is more of a gyroscopic effect and direction is more difficult to change."
The size of government IT projects also makes them difficult to control, Pinder said. "The public sector is slower to react. A lot of that is to do with the scale.
The NHS plans to create 50 million electronic health records and this is a larger project than the private sector would consider, according to Pinder. "At the Inland Revenue I managed the computerisation of PAYE and that was the largest IT project in Europe at the time," he said.
Having moved from the user community to join a supplier, Pinder had a gentle warning for public sector IT managers. Public sector IT spending might have been the only bright spot for suppliers during the post-dotcom downturn, but private sector IT spending is now increasing. This means the public sector should not expect the discounts they had enjoyed during the downturn.
Although Pinder will inevitably enjoy handsome remuneration on the board, there are perks to the job. "The coffee is undoubtedly better outside the civil service," he said.
Messy CV of a risk-taker
Andrew Pinder has risen from in-house IT management to get a board-level position at a major supplier, but he had no pre-planned career path.
"My CV is really messy," Pinder said. "I just seized the opportunities that came along and took risks. That is what I would tell anyone to do. There was never a plan. People would come along with an interesting proposal and I would look at it. I became e-envoy when I was around the Cabinet Office as a contractor. Alex Alan left the post and I was asked to fill in. After a while the prime minister asked me if I would like to apply for the job."