Revenue CIO unveils priorities to remedy inefficient IT systems

Steve Lamey, chief information officer at HM Revenue and Customs, has set out his plans for removing major inefficiencies in...

Steve Lamey, chief information officer at HM Revenue and Customs, has set out his plans for removing major inefficiencies in processes, dealing with poor-quality data and updating ageing technology at one of the government's biggest departments.

Lamey said that among his top priorities was setting "killer" key performance indicators - for example, to ensure that the Revenue stops sending out 30 million letters a year to the wrong addresses.

He wants to cleanse data to eradicate duplicate or incorrect files on taxpayers and to streamline and unify business processes so that, for example, the 72 tax offices manage self-assessment forms in a consistent way. At present, each office has its own business processes.

Lamey also wants to improve ways to collect unpaid tax, which has been estimated at £30bn to £50bn a year, and discourage the civil service from paying senior staff according to how much they have to spend and how many staff the department employs.

A further key task is to modernise systems, which he said were fragmented, complex and unreliable. 

All this must be accomplished while pushing through the merger of two of the government's largest departments and making efficiency savings as part of the government's plan to cut £21bn from Whitehall's running costs by 2008.

Lamey's frank assessment of the state of the tax department's processes and systems is a rare and fresh approach for a senior government official. MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, the House of Commons public spending watchdog,  have often criticised government CIOs for being defensive, and willing to propound only good news.

Lamey joined Inland Revenue last September from a private sector culture in which CIOs are not afraid to articulate the scale of an organisation's problems and tasks.

He told the Government IT summit last week that it had taken him more than three months to discover how many letters were sent out. Officials had been unaware that 35% of the 90 million letters sent out each year were returned. 

He also found that millions of self-assessment forms are dealt with so quickly that about 48% are processed incorrectly the first time and need to be reworked.

"If we could get more right up-front, that would be a good efficiency benefit. That is one of the real targets we are currently working on."

Improving the accuracy of tax data is a particular challenge.

"Clean data - that is my biggest, biggest, biggest, biggest challenge. If I could get the data clean in our organisations so that many millions of people have not got multiple entries [of names and addresses, for example], we can do much less reworking. Reworking is a real killer."

Lamey added that he was struck by the lack of significant key performance indictors in the public sector and within his department, which will be among the first weaknesses he tackles.


CV: Steve Lamey

Steve Lamey was CIO and vice-president of information management at British Gas.

He says he has spent a significant part of his career being responsible for improving the business processes of organisations as well as IT.

At HM Revenue and Customs he is the organisation's first CIO and has a much wider remit than IT. He is a board director and chairs a business improvement board, which gives him a role in saving money and improving efficiency by helping to change the way staff work.

"I am not just a CIO," he said. "I think most CIOs in the private sector have a wider range of jobs than just looking after IT."

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