IT industry seeks to improve relationship with government IT buyers

The UK IT industry wants to make “real changes” in its relationship with government following longstanding criticisms

The UK IT industry wants to make “real changes” in its relationship with government following longstanding criticisms of a lack of competition and of buyers being locked in to long-term, inflexible contracts.

Technology trade body TechUK has announced a “three-point plan” that it hopes can “help bring the best of digital technology into government, delivering better public services at greater value to citizens”.

The plan comes in response to a critical report from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in March 2014 that highlighted “barriers preventing companies from entering the market or expanding their share of supply, and also deterring buyers from switching between suppliers”.

The OFT report also said: “Supplier conduct can limit the ability of customers to shop around by using complex pricing and pricing that is not always transparent… Incumbent suppliers may behave in such a way as to create or increase obstacles to public sector organisations switching to other suppliers when contracts end.”

In response, TechUK said it “wants to make real changes to put right the mistakes of the past”. The three points of its plan are:

  • Sending more industry experts to work with government to dramatically improve its in-house knowledge and expertise;
  • Offering government access to the whole market and all suppliers, and working with officials so they can test new ideas safely;
  • Working with government so it has better data about suppliers and is able to evaluate them and pick and choose them more effectively.

The IT industry has recognised that it must do better, said Julian David, chief executive of TechUK.

“This plan is designed to do that by improving the way we work with government, flooding it with expertise and knowledge about digital technology and how the tech industry works. It will make government a more demanding customer, and give them the ability to test new ideas and innovations safely without the fear of failure,” he said.

“Now we want to move forward positively with government and make this plan a reality. The prize is better public services, and a public sector that is able to make crucial savings in an age of austerity.”

However, TechUK acknowledged that the plan has been produced “independent of government” and that it has yet to discuss it with ministers or public sector IT leaders. Last month, TechUK also published a “digital manifesto” detailing how the next government can turn the UK into a digital leader.

“Over the next five years, the UK has the opportunity not just to be a digital leader, but to use digital technologies to address the fundamental long-term social and economic challenges that will determine our future, and that of our children and grandchildren,” said the manifesto.

The Coalition government has gone to great lengths to reshape its relationship with IT suppliers, launching new purchasing frameworks such as G-Cloud to encourage more SMEs; introducing a ban on any IT contracts worth more than £100m; and recruiting hundreds of IT experts to improve its in-house digital and technology skills.

A number of large, long-term government IT outsourcing deals are due to expire in the next few years, and Whitehall IT leaders have already said those mega-contracts will not be renewed, which will potentially affect big suppliers such as HP, Capgemini, Fujitsu, Atos, IBM and CSC, which between them account for more than £4bn of government IT spending per year.

Government digital director Mike Bracken told Computer Weekly in a recent interview that he wants a very different buyer-supplier relationship from the cosy relationships of old.

“I don’t like going to Twickenham with suppliers and all that sort of thing. We have a user focus, and we’re evangelical to some degree about that. We focus on our users; we want to have an open and innovative and price-efficient supplier relationship,” he said.

“The engagement [with big suppliers] is what it is. The ideal engagement is via a browser, a quick, open, transparent engagement to buy services, to commission organisations to work in a way that is interoperable and open. Our architecture and our commissioning are based on the principles of open standards, so we’ll get better prices and more competition.”

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