Government CIOs should have more power, says Cabinet Office

Government CIOs should be given more power to say no to certain IT spending, according to Martin Read, government efficiency advisor at the Cabinet Office.

Government CIOs should be given more power to say no to certain IT spending, according to Martin Read, government efficiency advisor at the Cabinet Office.

"We do need to achieve a better control over spend, we want better purchasing agreements from vendors, better standardisation and value to the crown," he said.

Having examined the cost of the previous government's IT spend, Read said the variety of difference in standards and pricing was "breathtaking".

"It's almost impossible to get hold of reliable information for public sector spend on IT: until we have that information it's hard to make all the decisions we would want to," he told delegates at the annual Government ICT conference.

However, Read was positive about the opportunity for change. "We are in an environment where things can get done more easily. When the money runs out you have to do things you wouldn't have contemplated before," he said.

Mark Hall, deputy CIO at HM Revenue & Customs, agreed. "The reduced budget is a driver for efficiency rather than a blocker. Our new IT strategy is to reduce, reuse and simplify. Working with suppliers is a key part to that," he said.

Hall said the total cost of IT in his department was around £1bn per year, but the department has created a model which breaks down this spend to a per-person level in order to measure and minimise costs.

The department is also moving to a "13-machine strategy", where it will move from using 600 applications to 13 core platforms - consolidating the department's IT on a significant scale, he said.

Andy Nelson, CIO at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), said his department's back-office functions were being reduced by £500m. "This is a major opportunity to drive efficiency and effectiveness," he said.

The MoJ will move to a single model for HR, payroll and procurement services, which is to be underpinned by one in-house shared services capability, delivered by a common IT platform for 2012-13, he said.

"Too many IT projects have gone spectacularly wrong. We need more information, but we also need accountability of the people spending the money. The buck needs to stop with the permanent secretary," said Read.

"We need to be smarter with IT projects, which are very rarely just 'IT projects', but business change projects. The issues go beyond IT to the way people operate."

Big IT projects by their nature are likely to fail, Read said. "The emphasis needs to be on a wider use of pilot projects and better accountability. I certainly hope we will also see a better review process, and proof of the business case at the start," he added.

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