Apply commercial nous to government IT, say IT leaders

The new administration would do well to learn from corporate norms in optimising efficiency and benchmarking continuous performance improvement…

Government policy from the new coalition is now taking shape. Both parties adhere to a state model that is smaller and more efficient. With respect to government IT, the new administration would do well to learn from corporate norms in optimising efficiency and benchmarking continuous performance improvement, writes David Roberts, executive director at The Corporate IT Forum.

At a Computer Weekly pre-election roundtable, Nick Gaines, group information systems director at Volkswagen UK, commented, "In the private sector we always have to do more with less."

And, as I wrote before the General Election, there is a cadre of very senior IT managers in The Corporate IT Forum who could counsel hard-pressed large IT project leaders in government. They could play a part similar to that of a non-executive director of a company.

As executive director for The Corporate IT Forum, I met with some MPs on the eve of the election period. It seemed that their view of IT is, at present, supplier-biased, and somewhat coloured by what they have experienced as consumers. The corporate user experience is relatively out of focus in their eyes.

The Corporate IT Forum is a collection of many of the largest organisations operating in the UK. We surveyed our members during the election period with a view to helping to redress this balance.

What did we find?

For one thing, the issue of an IT skills deficit in the economy was a pressing concern for corporate IT, but not so much in the usual sense of equipping school pupils with basic digital literacy. All of the respondents favoured the creation of an internationally recognised, combined business and IT skills development programme for senior practitioners to position UK skills at a professional, rather than a commodity, level in a global skills marketplace.

There was also expressed "great concern that with the massive adoption of IT outsourcing to low cost regions we have eliminated the training ground for UK talent, and sold our future leadership away. This needs to be specifically addressed in creating a development programme".

Eighty-five per cent placed a high priority on the country's communications infrastructure in both rural and urban zones. "[We need] better network infrastructure for high-speed communications across the country. Many more free internet access points within towns to enable local people to become more aware of technology and therefore more informed."

All thought that corporate IT should be involved in assisting and consulting on government IT policy. Eighty-three per cent thought that a member of committee level would be right. One said, "I believe corporate IT can add enormous value for the entire process or life cycle. Advisory boards should be set up to understand, ask questions and make suggestions on technology and processes roadmaps."

National security has to be made a higher priority in terms of government IT investment, thought 43%, and Digital Britain and infrastructure were rated highest by 38% of the respondents.

However, there was a strong view to "encourage pragmatic use of technology to achieve savings in public services but [we should] avoid huge 'showcase' projects".

It is good practice to systematically cut IT costs to promote the business efficiency of government. This should not, however, be at the expense of getting the risk assessment right on government IT projects. Again, private sector corporate IT expertise can be parlayed to good effect.

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