Concern over connectivity glitches in Whitehall IT overhaul

Ministers have raised concerns about network connectivity after a government move to a new multi-sourcing model of IT procurement

Ministers have raised concerns about network connectivity after a government move to a new multi-sourcing model of IT procurement.  

The Financial Times reported today that business secretary Vince Cable and energy secretary Ed Davey have both complained to prime minister David Cameron about problems with network connectivity since moving to new computer systems in May.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are the first government departments to move away from single contracts with one large IT supplier, to a multi-sourcing “tower” model that allows them to break down IT contracts into as many component parts as possible.

The departments then find different specialist companies – mainly sourced from G-Cloud – to supply the various technologies. The towers are then overseen by a service integrator, which ensures the components work with each other.

The move is in line with the government’s aim of ending the oligopoly of large suppliers by trying to encourage SMEs to sell IT to departments.

The multi-sourcing model is more complex and requires more in-house resources than using one supplier, but DECC estimates that it will see net annual savings of 15-20% on IT costs compared to its legacy Fujitsu outsourcing contract.

But since last month's migration, the departments have reportedly experienced intermittent email, internet and network connectivity.

However, a Cabinet Office spokesman said the departments “remain responsible for their own technology and services”.

“Civil servants need modern technology to do their jobs, so we are replacing the expensive, inflexible and outdated contracts that we inherited in 2010,” the spokesman said. “Our government IT reforms are saving taxpayers’ money and ensuring SMEs can compete alongside bigger providers.”

A BIS spokesman said: “This is an ambitious programme and we have experienced some intermittent problems as a result of moving to a new system. We are working hard to resolve them as quickly as possible and to minimise disruption. Much progress has now been made. BIS and DECC were the first government departments to implement the Cabinet Office’s new ICT strategy and lessons learned will help other departments when they renew their IT in the future.”

BIS and DECC joined forces to implement their tower models. The two departments have an existing relationship, so at the time of tendering the contracts, DECC extended them to BIS as a shared service.

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

BIS and DECC may both have been affected by the glitches because of their shared contract.

But not all the towers are the same, which opens up opportunities for the two departments to compare and contrast their services. When G-Cloud contracts come up for renewal, the departments can decide which are better and switch. 

“That gives us an ability to ensure the suppliers keep focused on providing great services,” Jeremy Boss, CIO and technology leader at DECC, told Computer Weekly earlier this year.

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