Whitehall slams its IT suppliers

Strategic IT partnerships between the public and private sector have no future unless suppliers get their act together, stop...

Strategic IT partnerships between the public and private sector have no future unless suppliers get their act together, stop making exorbitant claims, and deliver true value for the whole life of contracts.

That was the stark message from Peter Gershon, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, who is responsible for government procurement policy.

Speaking at an Institute of Economic Affairs’ conference earlier this week, Gershon hit out at the one-in-three or four success rate in UK public sector IT projects.

Public sector client-side reform is under way, he said, and it is now high time for reform on the IT industry side.

“Industry should not make it difficult for government clients,” he said. “Every day I’m faced by suppliers who make exorbitant and unsubstantiated claims. If they were selling to individuals they would be made a regulated industry.

"Often clients believe what they’re told and are disappointed when they don’t deliver the anticipated benefits.”

Gershon also challenged prime contractors to pass on innovations from their supply chains during the life of a contract.

“We see all too frequently that suppliers are unwilling to put forward radical challenging ideas that can deliver ongoing value,” he said, adding that partnering too often stops with the prime contractor and does not extend down the supply chain to tap into the creativity of small and medium-sized businesses there.

“The challenge to IT suppliers is to get their act together,” he said, “otherwise the fate of partnerships is in doubt. It’s at the stage of putting users off and not buying at all. If that’s what you want - so be it.”

Gershon also warned IT suppliers that the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee is still not convinced that public-private partnerships (PPP) are the way to go for IT projects, saying that it was only after a struggle that the PAC recognised that PPP could provide value for money for the construction industry.

“The PAC still has to be won over with IT,” he warned.

he added that the PAC saw partnering as a mechanism where suppliers take naive public sector clients for a ride.

Gershon outlined the three attributes he wants from suppliers: realism in commitments; recognition of the need to deliver success and value for money; and risk management skills.

“I am disappointed by the private sector’s ability to price and manage risk,” he said.

Also speaking at the conference, e-envoy Andrew Pinder said that two out of five IT projects in his organisation have gone wrong because of lack of supplier competence.

“We want to see a change of heart by suppliers. We want them to make a difference, by trying to be honest, to innovate and, when things go wrong tell you when things are going wrong.”

“We need genuine partnerships,” he said, with suppliers not regarding government as a cash cow.

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