DECC IT overhaul follows government digital standards

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is accustomed to large outsourcing contracts, yet it is the first department within government to move away from a single supplier approach, to a new multi-sourcing model across all its core activities.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) often deals with large outsourcing contracts, but it is the first government department to move away from a single supplier approach, to a new multi-sourcing model across its core activities.

It is an approach recommended by the Cabinet Office and Government Digital Service (GDS), and one that other departments are likely to follow.

A “tower” model approach has allowed DECC to break down its IT contract into as many component parts as possible, and find different specialist companies – mainly sourced from G-Cloud - to supply the various technologies. The different towers are then overseen by a service integrator which ensures each of those components work with each other.

Those towers include PSN, hosting, user devices, office productivity, line of business support, printed and electronic records, and document management (EDRM) to enable DECC to become more collaborative, unified and joined up.

The model is more complex and requires more in-house resources compared to its legacy Fujitsu outsourcing contract, but the DECC will see net savings on IT costs of 15-20% year on year.

“Because the model changes, instead of relying on a single outsourced company to do it for you, we have greater control over strategy and architecture in-house, so we can bring in people with the skills that are able to determine our future with regard to where we go with IT,” says CTO, DECC Martin Ritchie.

The IT team has increased from seven members of staff to 15 in recent months. New posts include a mix of service managers, enterprise architects and commercial contract managers. Increased staff levels mean the team can deliver change to IT systems in a quicker and more agile way than before.

DECC's new services will go live on 1 April, so there is a lot to do in a short time to deliver the new tower-based model. Jeremy Boss, CIO & technology leader, says “Many of the towers are based on new services that need to be tested and proven. This always was a challenging timetable.”

The transformation journey

This transformation of DECC IT began in the autumn of 2011, which was in the early days of the GDS. This meant DECC was ahead of the curve and had to develop a new model of IT for government departments.

But GDS’s strategy wasn’t clear at the time, and DECC had to work with the Treasury and Cabinet Office without clear guidelines on how it should be shaping its future IT.

“So we started to develop our own model about what IT should look like, and we looked at best practice across industry and government that had succeeded in delivering the tower model,” says Ritchie.

Cabinet Office agreed to the DECC tower model approach, after discussions, but the lack of clear strategy during the early days of government transformational IT meant time was limited and DECC had a deadline to keep to.

Boss says: “The whole process to agree on the strategy did take up more of the project time than was ideal, so we still have a lot to do in a short space of time, and there’s not much contingency which is never great.”

The deadline of April 2014 will see the end of the current Fujitsu contract.

Ritchie says the Fujitsu contract was good “for keeping the lights on” - making sure IT was working and functional - but it didn’t deliver change and refresh with the speed of technology changes. “It wasn’t designed for doing that,” he says.

For example, last year DECC told Computer Weekly that moving to cloud services before the end of the contract would have “significant cost implications.”

But Boss says the contract was not possible to renew, even if the organisation had wanted to.

“I think it’s clear that government hasn’t got best value from giving the whole IT to an external organisation to handle,” says Boss. “No doubt, when the contract was set up 15 years ago, no one quite anticipated the change in technology and the organisation that would occur.”


Over the past three years, much has changed in the way government departments procure IT, including the launch of G-Cloud.

Ritchie says during the procurement process for the towers, it was necessary to buy single and multiple contracts to deliver the new service.

“We ended up with a bit of a mixture between older frameworks and the emerging G-Cloud,” says Boss. “We may have been the last people able to do that.”

At the time, there wasn’t an option to procure a service integrator on G-Cloud, so the SI contract has been awarded to CGI (formally Logica) on a longer framework contract than the two-year limit of the services bought from G-Cloud.

“There will be much more of a revolving door, constant activity, changing suppliers all the time, which is good to get innovation and new ideas. But the cost is to manage that environment,” explains Boss.

However, Ritchie says the whole new model and strategy was built with change and innovation in mind.

Boss says G-Cloud has matured over the past couple of years and has helped DECC become an early adopter and the most advanced Whitehall department to implement government IT in this new model.

“We probably have used G-Cloud services a lot more than many people have done, for strategic things not just tactical things,” says Boss.


Using the PSN framework to buy DECC’s networking requirements is another example of how an approach to centralised purchasing frameworks for buying commodity products helps save time in meeting requirements.

“Undoubtedly, had we not have had the PSN framework, it would have taken us longer to do the procurement, because we would have had to work more specifying what we wanted, defining all the security levels and testing out the solutions offered to us," says Boss. "A lot of work has been done for us by our colleagues in PSN, so it’s a very good route to market."

Green IT

DECC as a department has an objective to reduce the use of carbon, and it has taken this ethos through its procurement strategy for the transformation project. The way the tower model is designed around laptops and flexible working allows the business to become more efficient, while using cloud-based services, the department doesn’t need to set up a new unnecessary service.

“We’ve been very upfront with all our suppliers that green is very important. And the key part of the assessment criteria particularly on the main service integrator,” says Boss. “We asked them to tell us how they could help us make our IT more green and that was a very visible part of their bid.”

He says the service integrator came back with ideas to ensure DECC’s green maturity levels hit a level five – two points higher than level three which is the government target by 2015.

Overall, Ritchie believes the department has done well with the planning, design and early procurement stages, “but the proof is in the pudding for when we actually deliver the service to users.” The department needs to have all of its services, live on PSN at IL3 security level from 1 April.

The fixed deadline is the biggest challenge for DECC, but it also found it challenging to be an early adopter. “Being first means there aren’t a lot of people you can look to,” says Ritchie.

Boss says the department has exchanged ideas across government including the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

“A number of colleagues have at some point been further ahead of us, and now we’ve overtaken some of those because we’re on a fast implementation schedule,” he says.

The BIS and DECC family

As an early adopter of this model, other departments are likely to look and learn from what DECC is doing.

BIS is partnering with DECC and going to follow its tower-based design and many of its contracts. The two departments already have an existing relationship, so at the time of tendering the contracts, DECC extended them to BIS as a shared service.

This allows BIS to use some of the same services, and some of the same towers will be managed by DECC as the main contracting body.

But because not all the towers are the same, this opens up opportunities for the two departments to compare and contrast services. When G-Cloud contracts are up for renewal, the departments can decide which are better and switch. “So that gives us an ability to ensure the suppliers keep focused on providing great services,” says Boss.

“BIS are on the same schedule as us,” he says. “They’re bigger than us and have a bigger user-experience change to make so their journey too is quite challenging.“

Outside of the BIS and DECC family, other departments will have to make separate procurements, but all of the services will be open and can been seen by others.

Mobile working

For users at DECC, the team tried to spread out many of the changes over a period of time to avoid culture shock. Last year DECC moved all of its users on to Windows 7 and a new Outlook/Exchange environment, as well as updating Office apps to 2010.

Three quarters of DECC’s 1,800 employees and contractors will be given new hardware as the laptops used at DECC were five years old and in need of replacing, but devices under two years will be reused.

We will pilot a small number of Windows 8 tablets as an alternative to laptops and see how it goes

Jeremy Boss, DECC

“To the user who comes in and uses email and Office apps, they won’t really see any change other than that they have a new device and will take less time to log on,” says Ritchie.

DECC was already very mobile and was the best performing department during the Olympics for home working. “We were starting from a position where our IT wasn’t bad,” says Boss. “In fact, compared to other government departments, it was pretty good.”

The department currently provides BlackBerrys to its employees, but it is planning to switch to smartphones running Windows 8 for a third of its staff because they are cheaper and better aligned with user needs and existing security.

BYOD is not on the department’s immediate IT agenda, due to the uncertainty around PSN, says Boss, but it will be considered in the second phase of the transformation project.

“The concern is that it’s an uncontrolled device,” he says. “There are more and more tools and products to manage the security question, but at the moment they’re not in the position for us to adopt now.”

Meanwhile, the department has a selection of different devices employees can choose from to use, and Boss expects to introduce other devices over time. “We will also pilot a small number of Windows 8 tablets as an alternative to laptops and see how that goes,” he says.

“We want to prove the business case, we think they will be appropriate for certain types of workers, what we’re not going to do is give everyone a smartphone, tablet and a laptop. That doesn’t do well on efficiency and cost, and doesn’t meet our green requirements.”

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