Bill McCluggage, deputy government CIO, talks exclusively to Computer Weekly about the changes in the government's new IT strategy.
"I think that's fair comment," says McCluggage in response to Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude's remarks that the government's IT strategy is "lapidary" - that is a polishing of something to make it new, to you and me. Indeed, much of the policy unveiled in the government's much-awaited IT strategy has been discussed for some time - using agile and platform approaches, improving SME procurement and a move to open source.
But there is also a lot to be excited about, he says, "For the first time we have 30 listed actions with dates and timeline, that's a radical change from the past."
Another welcome change is the commitment to leadership and accountability. "From the top-level leadership, there's a definition of mandated standards that we haven't seen before," said McCluggage.
"One of the interesting issues is that owners will stay with projects longer, which should lead to their successful delivery. In the past you tended to see senior responsible owners [typically civil servants rather than CIOs] placed into projects and quickly moved on," he said.
The strategy strikes a well-defined balance between cost savings and cutting out waste and duplication, says McCluggage. "We're building a common infrastructure which will underpin actions that will enable the change we need to move to digital-by-default for government services. And we want to include more SMEs by opening up the culture of procurement."
The government's refusal to rule out contracts over £100m is probably wise, he says, as systems such as the one being developed for universal credits are likely to exceed such expenditure caps. But a shift in mindset is also afoot, he believes. "We are changing the way we deliver large projects with the introduction of agile technologies - and we are already walking the walk with that when it comes to universal credits," said McCluggage.
"If you look at the ecosystems that are generated through the use of agile methods, they are geared to small-sized businesses, by chunking £100m over four-to-five years we will open the process, for example. But in some cases large projects in the UK do need the ability of systems integrators, so it's important that this isn't a pivot in just one direction. We need to make sure there's a balance."
The future of G-Cloud
One notable omission from the strategy was the mention of the term "G-Cloud" - the old flagship Labour IT policy. But McCluggage is adamant this does not mean all the work done under the previous government on this project has been negated. "We have not torn up that work, there is a lot of exceptionally valuable information there, which will act as a foundation moving ahead with cloud computing and as we build up our ecosystem," he said.
"We are already involved in the implementation of cloud computing. The key is how we then choose to accelerate that process across government and that's what will come next once have good working knowledge and well-defined case studies in place.
"Government is made up of various departments, it is not a homogenous environment, there are different system complexities and requirements when you look at things like infrastructure as a service. And there are some government services with large volumes of personal data which wouldn't belong in the private cloud. Then you also have to match sharing mechanisms - that's why cloud computing is an architecture."
McCluggage says there are six organisations which are "foundation delivery partners", acting as early adopters of cloud technology, including the Department for Education, the Home Office and Warwickshire County Council. The government is already in the process of rolling out cloud-based projects, such as the Home Office crime map website which is hosted on Amazon's EC2 platform.
Further details of the government's cloud strategy will be published later this year. Overall, McCluggage believes the strategy marks a change from the past. But is it really possible to prevent the mistakes of previous IT failures simply by publishing new policy?
"This is not about mandating, but changing our whole approach and introducing a mantra into departments so when they see a big project they automatically challenge it."