Brown's budget cuts rely on IT

As the smoke clears after Gordon Brown's budget last week, it is clear that the chancellor is relying on IT to deliver cost savings across Whitehall.

As the smoke clears after Gordon Brown's budget last week, it is clear that the chancellor is relying on IT to deliver cost savings across Whitehall.

Behind the political jousting and rhetoric lay some very tough spending plans for departments of state. The Home Office was told it would get a zero real increase in spending for the years from 2007 to 2008. HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury, to say nothing of the Cabinet Office were told that spending would be cut by 5% a year.

Given that the demands on these departments and the services they provide are not going to shrink by 5% a year, it will be down to IT to provide most of the efficiency savings the chancellor is counting on.

The track record of government IT-led modernisation projects means that the chancellor is either making a brave or a foolhardy assumption. IT can revolutionise the delivery of public services and bring substantial efficiency savings, but that is going to require more, not less, investment in technology.

Of course, we need successful projects that deliver what they promise, but we also need IT professionals to be prepared to say no when ministers and civil servants demand the impossible.

One of the jobs of the new government CIO, whose appointment is underway, will be to maintain ministers' enthusiasm for IT while ensuring they have realistic expectations of what can be done.

That might mean telling Brown or his successor that Downing Street planning assumptions are rather optimistic.

It also means fighting for the idea that the next stage of public sector IT should not simply be about cost savings, but about seizing the opportunity to deliver new, innovative services for the citizen.

The storyteller's art

Allan Paller, director of research at US security body the Sans Institute, will make an important point this week when he speaks at the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit's E-Crime Congress. Read article: IT must talk the board's language to win backing.

He will urge IT security professionals to "stop whining" about threats and instead offer executives solutions to the problems they face. Better still, he will say, tell real-life stories of other companies that have faced the security problems, the impact on their business and how they solved them. The board will then ask you what needs to be done.

This is sound advice. We live in a world dominated by metrics, but the ability to tell a story and take the listener with you is a vital business skill.

 

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