How government's new IT strategy will affect the public sector

The effects of the government's new IT strategy may reach central government departments first, but they will filter through to the whole of the public sector over the coming months and years.

The effects of the government's new IT strategy may reach central government departments first, but they will filter through to the whole of the public sector over the coming months and years.

The government aims to save £3.2bn a year with the new infrastructure, by making it easier to share systems and applications and provide services in partnership with other organisations without having to make big infrastructure investments.

The planned measures include a new government-wide voice and data network, a government cloud infrastructure allowing organisations to host IT services from a shared environment, and an applications store containing business applications that can be shared and reused.

Shared services - where councils join up to share HR or finance IT systems - have been around for years, but the investment and process changes required to really feel the benefits are substantial.

Government CIO John Suffolk hopes this new public sector-wide infrastructure will make it easier for councils and other organisations to take the plunge and change the way they do things. He says it will cut costs, something that has becoming increasingly urgent as talk of severe budget cuts intensifies this year.

Local authorities can choose whether to join, but economically it makes sense, he says. "Organisations know their business better than anyone else, and they will have their own agenda. But here are a whole host of opportunities to improve services to citizens, improve security and save cash. Cash is going to get significantly shorter over the next period and it will stimulate a lot more activity in things like social media and shared services."

Suffolk plans to wait and see whether the strategy will still be a priority after the election, which could mean a change in government or a shake-up of the current one. "We are focusing on the basics, which has nothing to do with the government of the day." He has met twice with opposition politicians, which is normal for senior civil servants before an election.

Jos Creese, CIO at Hampshire County Council and chair of the Local Public Services CIO Council, expects local authorities to be keen on the strategy. "My main priority is to help John Suffolk shape that strategy so it is as applicable as possible to local government, rather than something that is designed around central government and difficult to apply."

He says it is too early to decipher the detailed implications of the strategy for local government because it has not yet worked through the public sector, but he expects the ideas around consolidation of technology to appeal. "There are elements of the strategy that will enable greater use of shared services, and it should allow us to avoid the cost of them while getting the benefits."

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