Government lacks skills to deliver ICT strategy, says NAO

The government lacks the technical skills to deliver on aspects of its ICT strategy, the National Audit Office has found.

The government lacks the technical skills to deliver on aspects of its ICT strategy, the National Audit Office has found.

The NAO was responding to the progress made on the government’s ambitious ICT strategy released in March to tackle systemic problems in government ICT projects.

It commended the early progress being made by the government in implementing its ICT Strategy praising its “pragmatic and collaborative approach” but said progress has not kept pace with the government’s ambitions.

The ICT Strategic Implementation Plan has identified 19 areas to transform government ICT, including open source, the cloud, datacentre consolidation, the Public Services Network, ICT capability and end user devices.

“We are concerned that the important technical skills, including cloud computing and ‘agile’ delivery methods, which are needed in the short term in departments and agencies to implement the new ICT solutions, are not available.

“Government also lacks key business skills. Although it has outsourced ICT systems development and services for many years, our reports have often stated that government is not good at managing commercial relationships and contracts or procurement,” said the report. 

The government’s cloud project lacks funding, an agreed business plan and dedicated resources at this stage, said the report. “This is a more innovative area of work and government has less experience of how to standardise its requirements and procure services through the internet. Some central and local government organisations have, however, started to buy applications through cloud computing.”

The PSN is the most advanced project and has funding and a resource plan, it said. “This project started in June 2008 and is relatively low risk as government and its suppliers have a good understanding of the requirements."

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “ICT is going to play an increasingly important role in changing how government works and how services are provided. The government’s ICT Strategy is in its early days and initial signs are good. However, new ways of working are as dependent on developing the skills of people in the public sector as they are on changes to technology and processes; the big challenge is to ensure that the strategy delivers value in each of these areas.”

Of the 17 actions in the strategy due by September 2011, seven have been delivered on time. Work on most of the other actions is under way with a small number behind schedule at this stage, said the report.

Recommendations include:

The CIO Board should do more to help government organisations to use the new ICT products and services, such as cloud computing and ‘agile’ delivery.

Better engagement with the senior civil service who are not ICT professionals so that government reform programmes have ICT at their core.  

The Cabinet Office must address capability gaps, particularly in procurement, supplier relationship management, new methods  and digital services.

The government must maintain a productive relationship with suppliers, as both sides face fundamental change in conducting their business.

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