Efficiency chief Ian Watmore heralds new government IT strategy

Ian Watmore, chief operating officer of the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group, has welcomed the call for a radical new IT strategy.

Ian Watmore (pictured), chief operating officer of the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group, has welcomed calls for a radical new IT strategy.

Speaking on Wednesday at the launch event for the System Error: Fixing the Flaws in Government IT report, published by the Institute for Government thinktank, he said the recommendations for agile and platform techniques would play a key part in future strategy.

Agile approaches enable projects to become more flexible, responsive to change and innovative, while platform refers to a shared, government-wide approach to simplifying elements of IT through economies of scale and greater interoperability, said the report.

The agile strategy will be used to develop the system for the government's flagship policy of Universal Credits. "Our job is to bring that about in the quickest and cheapest way. This is a great example not just of what we are going to do, but are actually doing," said Watmore.

He said an agile approach is a realistic way of dealing with legacy systems, which would be too costly to replace. "When something works we should stick with it and work around it," he said. "The real key is to link to the legacy in a quick and interoperable way."

However, Watmore says he has little time for the general trashing of government IT that goes on. "There's actually a large number of systems that work well up and down the country and we would notice if they didn't," he said.

Often government IT is only a reflection of policy decisions and to dub the ID card system a failed IT project is inaccurate as the move to scrap it was a political decision rather than a technical one, he says.

It is also necessary to take a pragmatic view of government practices, he said: "There's a lot in the idea of not trying to change the culture, but working with what you've got." Bureaucracy is unavoidable in government because it is held to account for everything it does, he said: "However, the advantage of the report is that it allows us to make smaller decisions, and enables people to make faster decisions."

Watmore added that the scale of the British government's decisions at a national level was unusual when compared to other countries, where decisions are made at a more localised level. "Government IT is as difficult as IT gets," he said

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