Category Archives: governance

The story of Southwest One

By Tony Collins

Dave Orr worked in a variety of IT and project management roles for Somerset County Council and retired in 2010. For years he has campaigned with extraordinary tenacity to bring to the surface the truth over an unusual joint venture between IBM, Somerset County Council, a local borough council and the local police force.

Now he has written an account of the joint venture and the lessons. It is published on the website of procurement expert Peter Smith.

Orr questions whether Southwest One was ever a good idea, since it was formed in 2007.

The deal has not made the savings intended, a SAP implementation went awry, the contract has been mired in political controversy and criticism, Southwest One has repeatedly lost money, and many of the transferred staff and services have returned to the county council, and some services returned to the borough council. IBM and the county council have ended up in a legal dispute that cost the county council £5.5m to settle. Southwest One was not exactly the partnership it set out to be.

The contract may show how an outsourcing deal that doesn’t have the support of the staff being transferred is flawed fundamentally from the start (which is one reason few people will be surprised if a 10-year £320m deal for Capita to run Barnet Council’s new customer service organisation [NSCSO]  ends in tears).

These are some of Orr’s points:

-  Like other light-touch regulators, the Audit Commission repeatedly gave Southwest One positive reports, without ever qualifying the accounts, even as problems with SAP implementation mounted in 2009 and procurement savings were not being made in line with forecasts.

 - The contract called for transformation based upon ‘world-class technologies’, yet all of the IT Service was placed into Southwest One with no IT expertise back in the Somerset County client (until after a poor SAP implementation in 2009). Was the lack of retained IT skills in the Somerset County client behind the formal acceptance of a badly configured SAP implementation?

– Large scale outsourcing over a long contract of 10 years or more requires an ability to foresee the future that is simply not possible to capture in a fixed contract. In a 10-year contract, there will be three changes of national government and three changes of local government. That is a great deal of unpredictable change to cope with via a fixed, long-term contract.

– Local Government will always be at a disadvantage in resources and skills, to a large multi-national contractor like IBM, when it comes to negotiating, letting and managing a complex multi-service contract.

– What was the culture of Southwest One (75% owned by IBM)? Was it private, public or a hybrid? The management culture remained firmly IBM, yet the councils and police workforces were seconded and remained equally firmly public sector rooted. There is such a thing as a public service ethos. In fact, Southwest One was run like a mini-IBM based upon global divisions, complete with IBM standard structures and processes. Southwest One seconded employees were not allowed anything like a full access to IBM internal systems, thus creating additional complexity, as “real” IBM employees relied entirely upon on-line systems.

–  Mixed teams in a single shared service were hard to amalgamate. This meant the IBM managers of Southwest One never really gained the sort of command & control of the multi-tier workforces that their bonus-oriented model needs to function. “I doubt that IBM would ever again contemplate the seconded staff model over the TUPE transfer model,” says Orr.

– Somerset County Council ran with a “thin” client management team that, in Orr’s view, did not have sufficient expertise or enough staff resources to effectively manage this complex contract with IBM. The councils relied upon definitions of “partnership” that meant one thing to the councils’ side and quite another thing to IBM, says Orr.

– In Southwest One, Somerset County Council handed their entire IT Service over lock, stock and barrel. “Can you really consider IT as wholly a ‘back office’ service? Many successful private Companies see IT as a strategic service to be kept under their own control.”

– The real savings might have been found in optimising processes in big departments (like Social Care, Education, Highways) that lay outside of Southwest One’s reach. “The focus on IT rather than service processes was another flaw in the model.”

Orr  concludes that nobody who played a major part in the Southwest deal has in any way been held to account for what has gone wrong.

Southwest One – the complete story from Dave Orr

When Whitehall shuns statutory scrutiny

By Tony Collins

In some ways central departments are deeply accountable.

They provide volumes of statistics and reports to the centre of government (Cabinet Office and Treasury) – as far as their limited management information systems will let them – and senior officers will sometimes answer questions from MPs on Parliamentary committees. Their permanent secretaries will meet colleagues in other departments every week.

At the same time, on things that really matter, some central departments – and councils – can be infinitely unaccountable. 

A report by the National Audit Office – which it says was researched and written unusually quickly, partly in response to parliamentary concern – gives a glimpse of how unaccountable central departments (and councils) can be.

When they don’t want to provide information they simply don’t – and nothing it seems can be done to force disclosure.

Power to ignore

With explicit and written approval from David Cameron the Cabinet Office has the power to mandate change in central departments. But senior officials can, if they wish, when faced with central requests for information, ignore, reject, deliberately misunderstand, confuse or minimise answers, or delay until the request no longer need be answered.

This ability of central departments to evade democratic and even statutory scrutiny surfaces in the NAO report Confidentiality clauses and special severance payments.

The report is into the gagging of public servants when they receive payments for ending their employments early. Rightly, the media’s coverage of the report focuses on the NAO’s concerns over gagging clauses that stop officials becoming whistleblowers. The FT said on Friday (21 June 2013)

“More than a thousand civil servants have signed gagging clauses that could stop them speaking out about problems, a system the [NAO] condemned as “unacceptable”.

What the national media apparently did not notice was that the NAO was unable to obtain all the information it had requested of departments.

“Despite the NAO’s statutory access rights, it received only 60 per cent of the compromise agreements requested from departments,” says the NAO.

The NAO has statutory rights of access to information held by departments. Indeed its Comptroller and Auditor General Amyas Morse certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. The NAO says he has “statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy”.

Avoiding NAO scrutiny

But some departments have not complied with the NAO’s requests, and one, the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, formally requested not to be involved in the NAO’s investigation.

Says the NAO report

“Unfortunately, some departments did not respond promptly to our requests, and were delayed by their legal teams’ questioning of our access rights.

The NAO adds

“The Department for Culture, Media & Sport requested not to be involved in this piece of work, a position which could not be resolved until after our fieldwork window had closed.

“We found it challenging to gain a complete picture of the use of confidentiality clauses as, by their nature, they are not openly discussed. Our work was also hampered by incomplete records, and access to data as outlined above.

“It took several attempts to identify the appropriate individuals within departments responsible for compromise agreements and the associated payments. We experienced delays in receiving data, and what departments provided was frequently incomplete or in a format that was difficult to collate and analyse.”

So what can the NAO do now it has been snubbed or, to put it in Whitehall-speak, has encountered departmental non-compliance with statutory access requests?

Little or nothing. The NAO has no power to punish. Through MPs on the Public Accounts Committee it can admonish. That is all.

Says the NAO:

“Given the innovative nature of this work, some initial difficulties were anticipated. We will continue to work with departments, the Treasury and Cabinet Office to explore ways in which we can obtain the evidence on a timelier basis. It is important that departments are able to respond more quickly to these investigations in the future.”

Councils too can evade democratic accountability. The NAO has no access rights to local authorities but councils are, in theory, subject to the Freedom of Information Act. In practice they can all but ignore the FOI legislation if they wish.

In March 2010, the Audit Commission published a report on severance payments to council chief executives. The study found that:

• agreed severance packages for 37 council chief executives totalled £9.5 million, 40 per cent of which were in pension benefits;

• three in every ten outgoing council chief executives received a pay-off;

• the average cost to councils of each severance package was almost double the annual basic salary, but in four cases was more than triple; and

• 79 per cent of mutually-agreed severance payments had a confidentiality clause.

But the NAO found that, in a recent survey of councils by a member of the public under the FoI Act, 52 councils refused to disclose information on their use of compromise agreements.

The good news

The NAO says: “Some organisations have chosen to be transparent about severance packages, such as NHS National Services Scotland, who agreed to the disclosure of a director’s remuneration package, despite a confidentiality agreement being in place, following consultation with legal advisers.”


How is Francis Maude to reform central government, particularly IT, if officials in central departments can apparently do what they wish?

The NAO found cases of payments that were higher than contractual entitlement, where there was the apparent reward for failure, and no attempt to seek Treasury’s approval.  Is all this lawful? 

On top of this there are departmental officials who avoided the NAO’s statutory requests for information.

If they can circumvent the law they can probably resist any central demands for change. Resistance seems to be regarded within departments as honourable.

One irony is that bureaucrats in Russia probably have little choice but to respond to central demands – whereas officials in Whitehall departments don’t have to.

Radical reform to change Whitehall’s outdated and costly ways is unlikely to happen while senior officers in departments run the system and have the final say.

NAO report “Confidentiality clauses and special severance payments

Did officials exaggerate death of the NPfIT?

By T0ny Collins

In 2011 the Department of Health made a major announcement that implied the NHS IT programme, the NPfIT, was dead when it wasn’t.

The DH’s press release announced an “acceleration of the dismantling of the National Programme for IT, following the conclusions of a new review by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority”.

It said the Authority had concluded that the NPfIT was “not fit to provide the modern IT services that the NHS needs…” The National media took the press release to mean that the NPfIT was dead.

What the announcement didn’t mention was that at least £1.1bn had still to be spent, largely with CSC, provided that the company successfully completed all the work set out in its revised contracts, and that the projected end-of-life of some centrally-chosen NHS IT systems was 2024.

Some will say: who cares if the DH issues a press release that is misleading. Others may say that in a democracy one should be able to trust institutions of state. If the DH issues an official notice that has the effect of manipulating public perceptions – gives a false impression – can citizens trust the Department’s other official notices?

The press release in question did not say the NPfIT was closing but gave that impression. The announcement distanced the government and the Department of Health from an IT scheme, perhaps the world’s largest non-military IT programme, that was failing. This was the press release:

The government today announced an acceleration of the dismantling of the National Programme for IT.

“The government today announced an acceleration of the dismantling of the National Programme for IT, following the conclusions of a new review by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority (MPA). The programme was created in 2002 under the last government and the MPA has concluded that it is not fit to provide the modern IT services that the NHS needs…”

The press release was given added weight by those quoted in it. They included the Department of Health, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS.

But the truth about the press release emerged this week at a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, began a hearing on the NPfIT on Wednesday by asking Sir David Nicholson, the NHS chief, a canny question.

Hodge:  “There was a big announcement back in 2011 that you were closing the NPfIT programme.”

“Yes,” replied Sir David.

“That’s not true,” said Hodge. “It was a PR exercise to say you closed it.”

Nicholson: “It certainly was not a PR exercise.”

Hodge: “What changed?”

Nicholson: “The governance arrangements changed.  So there are separate senior responsible officers for each of the individual programmes [within the NPfIT].”

Hodge: “With the greatest respect, changing governance arrangements is not closing the programme.. .I think the impression you were trying to give was that you were closing the programme. All you were doing was shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. You were shifting the way you were running it but you were keeping all that expenditure running… The impression given to the public was that you were going to get out of some of these contracts.”

On the basis of the press release the Daily Mail published a front page lead story with this headline:

£12bn NHS computer system is scrapped… and it’s all YOUR money that Labour poured down the drain

On the day of the press release the Daily Telegraph reported that the £11.4bn NHS IT programme was “to be abandoned”.  Similar reports appeared in the trade press.

But this week’s Public Accounts Committee heard that the NPfIT is very much alive:

– the estimated worth of CSC’s contracts under the NPfIT has risen from £3.1bn to £3.8bn at today’s prices.

–  officials expected to pay CSC a further £1.1bn on top of the £1.1bn it has already received, and this payment may include up to £600m for Lorenzo deployments at only 22 trusts. Hodge said: “You are going to spend another half a billion with this rotten company providing a hopeless system” – to which the DH argues that CSC has delivered thousands of (non-Lorenzo) working systems to the NHS which trusts and community health services rely on.

– About £500m of the £1.1bn still set aside for CSC will go on GP systems supplied by CSC’s subcontractor TPP Systmone.

– Further spending on the NPfIT may come as a result of Fujitsu’s legal action against the DH after it left the NPfIT in 2008, which leaves the taxpayer with a potential pay-out of £700m or more. The outcome of a formal arbitration is expected in about six months. The closing arguments are due at the end of this month.

– £31.5m has so far been spent on the DH’s legal costs in the Fujitsu case, mostly with the .law firm DLA Piper.

– DH has agreed a compensation payment to CSC of £100m. In return CSC has released the Department of Health from a contractual commitment for 160 NHS trusts to take the Lorenzo system. The DH has made a further payment to CSC of £10m in recognition of changes to its software which had been requested by the NHS but not formally agreed with CSC.


It appears there has been no deliberate deception and no deliberate manipulation of public perceptions of the NPfIT. But the fact remains that the DH made a major announcement in 2011 which gave the impression the NPfIT was dead when this was not true.

When a BBC Radio 4 journalist called me this week and we spoke briefly about the NPfIT he said: “I thought it was dead”.

Perhaps the mindset of officials was that the NPfIT was dead because everyone except the suppliers wanted it to be. But because local service provider contracts had to stay in place – the suppliers being much better equipped than the DH to handle any disputes over early termination – large payments to CSC and BT had to continue.

It’s a little like the political row over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It’s unlikely Blair lied over the existence of WMD. He probably convinced himself they existed. In a similar act of self-delusion officials appear to have convinced themselves the NPfIT was dead although it wasn’t.

But if we cannot believe a major DH announcement one starts to ask whether any of the department’s major announcements can be believed.

Uncoloured information on the NPfIT has always been hard to come by. So credit is due to the Public Accounts Committee and particularly its MP Richard Bacon for finding out so much about the NPfIT.  All credit to Margaret Hodge for picking up on Bacon’s concerns. Were it not for the committee, with indispensable support from the National Audit Office, the DH would have been a sieve allowing only bits of information it wanted to release to pass through.

The fall-out from the NPfIT will continue for years. We still don’t know, for example, what all the trusts with BT and CSC systems will do when the NPfIT contracts expire in the next three years. The hope is for transparency – and not of the sort characterised by the DH’s announcement in 2011 of the NPfIT’s dismantling.

This post also appears on ComputerworldUK

Francis Maude –“unacceptable” civil service practices

By Tony Collins

Francis Maude laments civil service inaction over a cabinet committee mandate for centralising procurement. It “corrodes trust in the system”.

Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service,  confronted Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister in charge of civil service reform, on BBC R4’s In Defence of Bureaucracy last week.

The irreconcilable differences between O’Donnell and Maude were obvious and may be a sign of how difficult it will be for the minister to make lasting and deep cuts in IT-based spending, simplify overly complex processes, and reduce duplication.

O’Donnell spoke of the virtues of the civil service that have served the country for more than a century, particularly its impartiality.  But Maude said the “value of impartiality can sometimes turn into indifference”.

O’Donnell said: “We need to be proud and passionate about the public sector ethos…” and confronted Maude for saying things about the civil service “that are not always totally positive”.

francis-maude.jpgIndeed Maude said,

“Most of the civil servants I deal with are terrific, work hard and do really good work.  It is not universal.”

O’Donnell then confronted Maude for saying that ministers in this and previous government have too often found that decisions they have made don’t get implemented. Is that the fault of ministers or civil servants, asked O’Donnell.

“I’d be astonished if it’s ministers,” said Maude who added,

“ I had a meeting the other day around this table …  where a decision was made by a cabinet committee, more than a year ago, on the centralising of procurement. It had happened to a very minimal extent.

“If there is a problem with it, that can be flagged up and tell us. Just to go away and not do it is unacceptable … it is protection of the system. This is the speaking truth unto power thing. What is unacceptable is not to challenge a ministerial position but then not to implement it. That is what corrodes trust in the system.”

About £230bn a year – nearly a third of everything government spends – is on public sector procurement.  In 2010, Nigel Smith, then CEO of the Office of Government Commerce, spoke to the “Smartgov” conference about the need for major reform in the way government buys things.

He spoke of the need for re-useable software, open source if possible, and said that suppliers regularly use fragmentation within government to maximise profits. “This has got to change,” says Smith.

He said there were 44,000 buying organisations in the public sector which buy “roughly the same things, or similar things, in basic commodity categories” such as IT and office supplies.

Massive duplication

He spoke of “massive duplication”, high tendering costs on suppliers, and a loss of value due to a lack of true aggregation. He said suppliers had little forward look of opportunities to tender and offer innovative solutions for required outcomes.

“Contract management with supplier relationship management is inconsistent, with too little attention paid to continuous improvement and benefits capture within contract.

“The opportunity to improve outcomes and efficiency gains should not be constrained by contract terms and innovations should not stop at the point of contract signature.

“If we miss this opportunity [to reform] we need shooting.”

So it is clear procurement [and much else] needs reforming. But in the R4 broadcast last week (which unfortunately is no longer available) O’Donnell portrays a civil service that is almost as good as it gets.

He speaks of its permanence in contrast to transient ministers. His broadcast attacks the US system of government in which public service leaders change every time there is a new government.  The suggestion is that the US system is like a ship that veers crazily from side to side, as one set of idealogues take the captain’s wheel from another. O’Donnell implies that in the UK civil service stability lasts for decades, even centuries.

The virtues he most admires in the UK civil service are what he calls the 4 “Ps” – Pace, Passion, Professionalism and Pride.  His broadcast speaks of the UK civil service as a responsible, effective, continual and reliable form of administration.  


O’Donnell’s most striking criticism of Maude’s intended reforms of central government goes to the heart of what Maude is trying to do: change what is happening in departments.

When, in the broadcast, Maude suggested that civil servants were not challenging ministerial decisions and were not implementing them either, O’Donnell replied that Maude was “overstating the issue”. But O’Donnell went much further and added a comment that implied Maude should leave departments alone.

O’Donnell said

“These sorts of problems mainly arise when ministers at the centre of government want to impose their will on secretaries of state who want to be left alone to run their departments as they see fit.”

Is O’Donnell giving permanent secretaries and departmental ministers his support if they continue to snub Cabinet Office reforms?

It is hardly surprising Maude is a bundle of frustrations. Central government administration cannot be reformed if departments have the autonomy to refuse to implement decisions of a cabinet committee.

It is ironic that cabinet committee decisions are binding on the entire Cabinet – but not, it seems, on departments.

Perhaps the gap between political and civil service leaders at the centre, and senior civil servants in departments, is as irreconcilable as ever. Today’s UK civil service is more than ever “Yes Minister” without the jokes.  Should this be the dysfunctional basis for coalition reforms of central government?

Perhaps this explains why Maude is trying to implement open standards, make government procurement friendly to SMEs and encourage the use of G-Cloud while the Department for Work and Pensions and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are  agreeing new mega-contracts,  with the same handful of monolithic suppliers.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the current Cabinet Secretary,  is perhaps a little more Maude-friendly than O’Donnell when he says in the R4 broadcast,

“There are lots of things we need to do better. Too many projects that we undertake are delayed, are over budget and don’t deliver on all the benefits that were promised. We are not as digital as the most effective private sector organisations are. We have been slow to embrace the digital revolution.”

Fine words. But if a cabinet committee’s decision on centralising procurement has little effect, how is Sir Jeremy going to convert his words into action? Or Francis Maude’s?

Are HMRC’s IT costs under firm control?

By Tony Collins

 The costs of IT outsourcing at HMRC have soared despite a well-written contract that promised large savings. When, as Inland Revenue, the department first outsourced IT in 1994, annual IT costs were around £100m.  Now it has emerged that HMRC’s  annual IT spending was running at more than  £1bn between April 2011 and March 2012.  Only some of the 10-fold increase is explained by new work.

Are there lessons for Barnet, Cornwall and other public authorities as they ponder large-scale outsourcing, given that HMRC did almost everything right and still faces a costly contractual lock-in to major IT suppliers until 2017 – a 13-year outsourcing contract?

HMRC has made some extraordinary payments to its outsourcing suppliers since 2011  – more than mid-way through a 13-year contract.

HMRC figures collated by former Inland Revenue IT employee and now payroll specialist Matt Boyle of Research4paye show that HMRC paid its “Aspire” IT partners £964.2m in a single year, between April 2011 and March 2012.

HMRC paid a further £42.6m of invoices from Serco for one year of website development and support. These figures do not include all of HMRC’s IT costs between April 2011 and March 2012, such as invoices from Accenture for maintenance fees and for work relating to Customs.

IT costs soar

1994. £100 annual IT costs. Inland Revenue first outsources its 2,000-strong IT department to EDS. The annual cost of the 10-year contract is about £100m a year according to the National Audit Office.

2004.  £250m annual IT costs. The end of the EDS contract. HMRC’s annual IT costs have risen to about £250m a year (National Audit Office figure).

2004. £280m annual IT costs. Capgemini wins from EDS a new 10-year HMRC outsourcing deal called Aspire (Acquiring Strategic Partners for the Inland Revenue). Capgemini’s main subcontractors are Fujitsu and Accenture. Capgemini’s bid is for £2.8bn, an average of £280m a year.

2005. £539m annual IT cost.  Inland Revenue merges with Customs and Excise to form HMRC which takes on £1bn Fujitsu IT contract from Customs. The first year of the Aspire contract costs £539m, nearly double the expected amount. The NAO blames most of the increase on new work.

2007. In return for promised savings of £70m a year from 2010/11, HMRC extends Capgemini’s contract by three years to 2017. There’s an option to extend for a further five years.

2010. £700m annual IT costs. Under FOI, HMRC releases a statement saying that the Aspire annual contract costs are running at about £700m.

2011/12. £964.2m annual IT cost. HMRC’s list of invoices from its Aspire suppliers for one year between April 2011 and March 2012 add up to £964.2m. A further £42.6m is invoiced by Serco for website development and support.  This puts HMRC’s IT annual outsourcing costs at 10 times higher than they were when Inland Revenue let its first outsourcing deal in 1994. Some of today’s HMRC systems pre-date 1994 [BROCS/CODA].

Aspire – a good contract?

It appears that HMRC did everything right in its Aspire contract. Indeed the National Audit Office has found little to criticise. Aspire is committed to “open book”, so Capgemini, Fujitsu and Accenture must account for their costs and profit margins.

The contract has some innovations. The suppliers’ margin is retained by HMRC until trials are successfully passed. Even then 50% of the margin is retained until the final Post Implementation Trial about six months after implementation.

Charges under Aspire are split into two categories: “S” and “P”.  The former is mainly a commodity pricing arrangement with unit prices being charged for all service elements at a commodity level (e.g. per Workstation, volumes of printed output etc). The charge to HMRC will vary by volume of demand for each service line.

The ‘’P’’ series charge lines are charged on a man-day basis. Application development and delivery is charged mainly on what HMRC calls an “output basis utilising function points“.

Where IT spending goes

There are more than 800 invoices from Aspire covering the year from April 2011 to March 2012. Some of the invoices are, individually, for tens of millions of pounds and cover a single month’s work.

The invoices cover services such as data centre output, data centre operations, systems software maintenance, software coding changes, licences, IT hardware and data storage.

For some of the Aspire invoices HMRC gives a brief explanation such as £57.6m – “June monthly payment for development and support”. But some of the biggest invoices have little explanation:

May 2011:  invoice for £24.7m – IT Software. A further invoice of £61.7m – “data output prod”.

June 2011: invoice for £55.8m – “data output prod”. A further invoice £56.8m – “data output prod”.

On top of these payments HMRC paid about 24 invoices of management fees in the year. Typical monthly invoice amounts for Aspire management fees ranged from about £390,000 to £2.9m.

There are dozens of Aspire invoices in the year for IT software changes to support day-to-day HMRC’s business. Quite a few of those invoices for software changes are each for tens of thousands of pounds but more than 30 invoices for IT changes in the year 2011/12 each bill more than £100,000. The biggest single invoice in the same year for software changes to support day-to-day HMRC business is  £469, 964 in December 2011.


Matt Boyle collated the figures on HMRC’s IT spending from spreadsheets published by HMRC . All credit to Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, for making government departments publish details of their invoices over £25,000.

And credit is due to Matt Boyle for collating and totalling HMRC’s IT-related invoices. Boyle says he is surprised at the high costs of Aspire. He is also surprised that the contract excludes web development and support.


HMRC appears to have done nearly everything right and still its IT outsourcing costs are soaring, apparently uncontrollably.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the department and taxpayers would have been much better off if Inland Revenue had not outsourced and instead spent the millions it pays annually on, say,  management fees, to building up an in-house IT force and expertise.

Central government seems now to shun big outsourcing deals but local authorities including Barnet and Cornwall are at the stage Inland Revenue was in 1994: they are considering saving money by outsourcing major IT and other services to one main supplier.

If they learn from HMRC’s experiences – and the sums it has had to pay to outsourcing partners – it may take a little of the sting out of HMRC’s enforced prodigality.

[It may also be worth mentioning that some including Boyle ask how it is possible to credibly justify a spend of £46m in one year on a website.]

DWP finds hidden Universal Credit reports – after FOI requests

By Tony Collins

The Department for Work and Pensions has found two reports on Universal Credit reports it commissioned from IBM and McKinsey and did not know existed.

One of the reports was a Universal Credit “end to end technical review” carried out by IBM at a cost of £49,240. Another was a review of the Universal Credit “delivery model assessment phases one and two” carried by McKinsey and Partners at a cost of £350,000.  The assessments were in the first half of 2011.

In March, under the FOI Act, Campaign4Change asked the DWP for a copy of the reports and the Department couldn’t find them.

On 19 July 2012, Julie Kitchin, Senior Business Partner, Operations at the Financial Control Directorate, Risk Management Division, DWP Quarry House, Leeds, said in a letter:

“You asked for a copy of the Universal Credit Delivery Model Assessment Phase 1 and 2, and the Universal Credit End to End Technical Review.

“To ascertain whether the Department holds these documents I requested a thorough search of the Universal Credit Programme document library.

“Universal Credit Colleagues have confirmed that the Department does not hold documents with these titles or under these names…”

I replied that a mistake appeared to have been made. “The reports I asked for are referred to in this Parliamentary reply, which gives the cost of the reports and the consultants whom the DWP commissioned to produce them. How can the DWP now say they have no record of the reports?” I gave a link to the Parliamentary reply.

Kitchin said she would seek clarification.  Now Martin Dillon of the DWP’s Central FOI Team, says his Department has found the reports. Says Dillon in a letter,

“It has taken time to locate the documents as they are sensitive in nature and held securely and separately from the normal programme library of information – accessible only through a secure authority.

“I can however now confirm that the relevant records have been located and retrieved.”


So will the DWP now release the Universal Credit reports?

Not a chance.   The DWP does not publish any consultancy reports, especially external assessments of Universal Credit. Indeed it appears to be so innately, instinctively and culturally secretive that it hides from its own staff independent  assessments of its projects.

Could it be that the DWP is in part PR-driven, to the extent that it commissions tens of millions of pounds worth of external reviews of projects, which ministers and officials can quote from selectively in case a project such as Universal Credit is criticised in Parliament, but which remain hidden so that anything negative is always kept from public and Parliamentary scrutiny?

In defence of the DH’s decision to pay generous sums to BT for Rio and Cerner deployments under the NPfIT, the department quoted selectively from a series of consultancy reports which it refused to publish.

Officially the DWP has not made up its mind on whether to publish the Universal credit reports. In private its officials know there is no way it will publish them.

This is the official DWP response to Campaign4Change on the reports requested under FOI:

“It is occasionally necessary to extend the time limit for issuing a response. In the case of your request, we need to extend the time limit because the information requested must be considered under one of the exemptions to which the public interest test applies.

“This extra time is needed in order to make a determination as to the public interest. Accordingly, we hope to let you have a response by 13 September.”

Universal Credit is one of the government’s biggest IT-related projects. Ministers say that all is going well. But what if the plans are to go live with a tiny proportion of claimants in October next year, with most of the remainder to follow after the next general election, if at all? Is that a PR success or a postponed disaster? It’s certainly a good reason to keep independent assessments of the project secret.

“If people don’t know what you’re doing, they don’t know what you’re doing wrong.” – Yes Minister.

Has DWP lost £400,000 worth of Universal Credit studies it commissioned?

DWP hides already published report on Universal Credit

Millions of secret DWP reports.

Time for truth on Universal Credit IT

Maude gives up on plan to publish regular reports on major projects

By Tony Collins

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has given up on publishing regular “Gateway” reports on the progress or otherwise of big IT and construction projects.

Publication of the independent reviews has proved a step too far towards open government.  Were Maude to insist on publishing Major Projects Authority “Gateway” review reports, it would alienate too many influential senior civil servants whose support Maude needs to implement the Civil Service Reform Plan of June 2012.

Gateway reviews are independent reports on medium and high-risk projects at important stages of their lifecycle.  If current and topical the reviews are always kept secret. One copy is given to the project’s senior responsible owner and the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority keeps another. Other copies have limited distribution.

In opposition Maude said he would publish the reviews; and when in power Maude took the necessary steps: the Cabinet Office’s “Structural Reform Plan Monthly Implementation Updates” included an undertaking to publish Gateway reviews by December 2011 .

When some officials, particularly those who had worked at the Office of Government Commerce, objected strongly to publishing the reports (for reasons set out below), the undertaking  to publish them vanished from further Structural Reform Plan Monthly Implementation Updates.  When asked why, a spokesman for the Cabinet Office said the plan to publish Gateway reviews had only ever been a “draft” proposal.

The anti-publication officials have thwarted even Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the Home Civil Service, who replaced Sir Gus O’Donnell.  When in May 2012 Conservative MP Richard Bacon asked Kerslake about publishing Gateway reviews, Kerslake replied:

Yes, actually we are looking at this specific issue as part of the Civil Service Reform Plan….I cannot say exactly what will be in the plan because we have not finalised it yet, but it is due in June and my expectation is that I am very sympathetic to publication of the RAG [red, amber, green] ratings.”

Inexplicably there was a change of plan. The Civil Service Reform Plan in fact said nothing about Gateway reports. It made no mention of RAG ratings. What the Plan offered on openness over major projects was an undertaking that “Government will publish an annual report on major projects by July 2012, which will cover the first full year’s operation of the Major Projects Authority.”  (This is a far cry from publishing regular independent Gateway assessments on major projects such as the IT for Universal Credit.)

Even that promise has yet to materialise: no annual report has been published. The Cabinet Office originally promised Parliament an annual report on the Major Projects Authority by December 2011. The Cabinet Office says that the annual MPA report has been delayed because the “team is now clear that it makes sense to include a full financial year’s worth of data and analysis in its first report”.

When eventually published the annual report will, says the Cabinet Office,  “make for a far more informative and comprehensive piece, and will include analysis of data up to 31 March 2012. This will be the first time the UK government has reported on its major projects in such a coherent and transparent way.”

Even so it’s now clear that the Cabinet Office is discarding its plans to publish regular Gateway review reports. Maude wants cooperation with officials, not confrontation.  He made this clear in the reform plan in which he said:

“Some may caricature this action plan as an attack on the Civil Service. It isn’t. It would be just as wrong to caricature the attitude of the Civil Service as one of unyielding resistance to change. Many of the most substantive ideas in this paper have come out of the work led by Permanent Secretaries themselves.”

But Maude is also frustrated at the quiet recalcitrance of some officials.  To a Lords committee that was inquiring into the accountability of civil servants, he said

“The thing for me that is absolutely fundamental in civil servants is that they should feel wholly uninhibited in challenging, advising and pushing back and then when a decision is made they should be wholly clear about implementing it.

“For me the sin against the holy ghost is to not push back and then not do it – that is what really enrages ministers, certainly in talking to ministers in the last government and in the current government. It is by no mean universal, but it is far more widespread than is desirable.”

It’s likely that Maude will keep Gateway reports secret so long as he has the cooperation of officials on civil service reforms.

Why officials oppose publication

The reasons for opposing publication were set out in the OGC’s evidence to an Information Tribunal on the Information Commissioner’s ruling in 2006 that the OGC publish two Gateway reports on the ID Cards scheme.

Below are some of the OGC’s arguments (all of which the Tribunal rejected).  The OGC went to the High Court to stop two early ID Cards Gateway reports being published, at which time OGC lawyers cited the 1689 Bill of Rights. The ID Cards gateway reports were eventually published (and the world didn’t end).

The OGC had argued that publishing Gateway reports would mean that:

–  Interviewees in Gateway reviews gave their time voluntarily and may refuse to cooperate.  (The Information Commissioner did not accept that officials would cease to perform their duties on the grounds the information may be disclosed.)

– Interviewees would be guarded in what they said;  reviewers would be less inclined to cooperate; and disclosure would result in anodyne reports. These three arguments were given in evidence by Sir Peter Gershon, the first Chief Executive of the OGC.

– Civil servants would be reluctant to take on the role of senior responsible owner of a project.

– Critics of a project would have ammunition which could discourage other departments and agencies from participating in the scheme.

– Cabinet collective responsibility could be undermined if Ministers were interviewed for a review.

– Criticisms in the reviews could be “in the newspapers within a very short time”, and the media could misrepresent the review’s findings. (The Tribunal discovered that those involved in the reviews were generally more concerned with their programme than possible adverse publicity.)

– Reports would take longer to write.

– The public would not understand the complexities in the reports.

Why Gateway reports should be published

The Tribunal found that OGC fears about publishing were speculative and that disclosure would contribute to a public debate about the merits of ID Cards, and provide some insight into the decision-making which underlay the scheme. Disclosure would ensure that a complex and sensitive scheme was “properly scrutinised and implemented”, said the Tribunal.

Was OGC evidence to Tribunal fixed?

The Tribunal was also suspicious that the OGC had submitted several witness statements that used identical wording. The Tribunal said the witnesses should have expressed views in their own words.

It found that disclosure could make Gateway reviewers more candid because they would know that their recommendations and findings would be subject to public scrutiny; and criticisms in the reports, if made public, could strengthen the assurance process.

Importantly, the Tribunal said the disclosure would help people judge whether the Gateway process itself works.


Hundreds of Gateway reports are carried out by former civil servants who can earn more than £1,000 a day for doing a review (although note Peter Smith’s comment below). As the reports are to remain secret how will the reviewers be held properly accountable for their assessments? No wonder officials don’t want the reports published.

Any idea how many projects we have and what they’ll cost? – Cabinet Office.

Whitehall cost cutting saves £5.5bn

Lessons from an IT disaster

By Tony Collins

Only rarely is an independent report on an IT-related disaster published.  So North Bristol NHS Trust deserves credit for publishing a report  by Pricewaterhousecoopers into the problematic go-live of Cerner Millennium in December 2011.  PwC calls the Cerner system a “business-critical patient record system”.

The implementation, says PwC,  resulted in significant continuing  operational difficulty. PwC was asked to review the implementation, identify what went wrong and make recommendations.

What is clear from PWC’s report is that North Bristol NHS Trust repeated the known mistakes of other trusts that had gone live with Cerner Millennium:

–          A lack of independent challenge

–          Not enough testing of the system and new business processes

–          Inadequate contingency arrangements

–          Not enough time for data migration

–          Training systems not the same as those to be used

–          Preparations treated as an IT project, not a change programme.

–          Differences between legacy and Cerner systems not fully understood before go live

–          Staff did not always understand new or changed business processes

In 2007 the National Audit Office reported in detail on the lessons from the go-live of Cerner Millennium at Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Oxford in December 2005.

One of those lessons was that the Trust did not learn lessons from earlier NPfIT Cerner Millennium go-lives. This happened again at North Bristol, suggests the PwC report:

“There were not dissimilar Cerner implementations within the Greenfield [other ex-Fujitsu and now BT-managed Cerner Millennium implementations under the NPfIT] systems running a few months before NBT’s [North Bristol Trust] implementation. Similar difficulties were experienced there, but they were more successfully addressed.”

Below are extracts from PwC’s report “Independent review of Cerner Millennium implementation North Bristol NHS Trust”.

“The success of an implementation of this scale, complexity and timing depends on substantial, robust and enduring programme management focusing on:

–          The IT implementation. Incorporating configuration of Cerner Millennium, infrastructure, security, interfaces and testing;

–          The migration of data from the two legacy PAS systems into Cerner Millennium;

–          Change management to engage and train stakeholders, embed change in the organisation and ensure that processes and procedures are aligned to the new system;

–          Continuous communication with users about changes to business processes as a result of the implementation; and

–          Quality control criteria and the association governance to ensure that go-live went ahead in a safe and sustainable manner.

–          The Trust needed stringent programme management with programme and project managers of the highest quality, to ensure that effective governance and project planning procedures were followed.

–          The go-live decision and assurances needed to pass strict criteria with sufficient evidence to provide assurance to the board that all necessary activities were completed prior to go-live.

The implementation in both the wards and the Emergency Department (ED) went well. Staff in ED were well engaged in the project and as a result were fully aware of the changes to their business processes at go live. There were some minor system issues initially but these were resolved quickly and ED was fully operational with Cerner Millennium soon after go live. One of the underlying factors in the success of the deployment to ED was that there was no data migration required as the historical data remains in the old system.

The launch in the wards went as expected; the functionality was tested well and the data was loaded manually, although there now appear to be issues with staff engaging and using the system as intended.

The majority of problems encountered at go live related to the theatre and outpatient clinic builds.

Outpatients had the most disruption immediately after go live. The Trust’s back office team had not finished building the outpatient clinics in Cerner Millennium, so the new and old systems did not mirror each other and data could not successfully migrate. Changes continued to be made to clinics in the old PAS systems, and these were not all reflected in Cerner Millennium.

Ad hoc clinics were used in the old PAS system to allow overbooking to maximise activity. These were not separated from real clinics at go live and migrated to Cerner Millennium as real clinics. The ad hoc clinics in PAS had deliberately abnormal timings so they could be excluded from time-based reports, for example 12:30am and 5:30am. The system generated letters for these ad hoc out- of-hours clinics, and many were sent to patients.

In the old system, clinics for a number of consultants could be pooled to facilitate patients seeing the next available consultant.  All clinics in Cerner Millennium are specific to a consultant and this caused significant confusion to administration staff using the new system.

PAS [the legacy patient administration system] treats “weeks” differently to Cerner Millennium. On migration, weeks were misaligned and the dates for clinics and theatres was incorrect. This created huge confusion as patient notes did not agree with Cerner Millennium , despite exhaustive work before go live to ensure that all patient notes were ready for the clinics that should have been on the system.  This also affected information in letters, with patients advised to attend their appointment on the wrong date.

There was a further issue in theatres relating to theatre procedure codes. The Trust did not map the old procedure codes to the new to ensure that all the required procedures would be available in Cerner Millennium for the data to migrate successfully. The Trust identified this issue soon after go live and has run a parallel manual process to ensure patients received the correct procedures.

The training provided to staff by the Trust did not equip them to be able to use Cerner Millennium at go live. The training environment did not mirror the system the Trust implemented as certain elements of the system were not complete when the training domain was created. Theatre staff and outpatient appointments could not train on a system with theatre schedules and outpatient clinics built in.

The Trust is now beginning to move out of the crisis and return to normal operations.

Lack of effective quality controls

There was insufficient rigour over the controls criteria and sign off of the gateway reviews.

There was inadequate operational control over the go live process, such as clinic freeze and updates pre-, during, and post go-live. Evidence from the interviews suggests that:

  • There was little challenge to confirm that the gateway criteria had in fact been met.
  • There was no evidence presented to the Cerner Programme Board or the Trust Board to demonstrate that the gateway criteria had been met.
  • There was not enough focus on or monitoring of risks and issues and their impact on go live.
  • The cleansing of old and out-of-date data from the legacy PAS systems was inadequate; as a result, erroneous data became live data in the Cerner system.
  • Data Migration issues were not all resolved and their impact on go live was not considered.
  • The outpatient and theatre builds were neither complete nor accurate, and there were no controls which could have detected this before go live.
  • There were inadequate controls over clinic freeze and clinic changes prior to go live.

Lack of effective programme planning

Programme plans were not rigorously updated as the programme progressed and planning around training, testing and data migration and build was not robust. The Trust failed to recognise this programme as a change programme and did not effectively manage the engagement and feedback from their stakeholders. Evidence from the interviews suggests that:

  • The Trust did not factor contingency into its programme plan to account for changes to the go live date.
  • The Cerner Programme Management Office was not effective because of inadequate resource and programme tools.
  • The Trust had a lack of sufficiently skilled resources for a project on this scale.
  • The Trust’s operational staff were not fully engaged in the Cerner project.
  • The Cerner project was treated as an IT project and not a business change programme.
  • The training was inadequate and did not provide users with the skills they needed to be able to use the system at go live.
  • The testing focused on the functionality of the system and not end-user testing of the outpatient and theatre builds.
  • There was no end-user testing of the final outpatient clinic and theatre builds prior to go live.
  • There was lack of understanding of roles within the wider programme team.
  • External parties offered NBT help and advice. They felt that the advice was not taken and the help was refused.

Lack of effective programme governance

Programme governance processes were not reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that they were adequate and there was inappropriate accountability for key decision making. During the implementation, the Trust established new overarching change management arrangements for the Building our Future programme. Evidence from the interviews suggests that:

  • The Cerner Project team failed to comply with the Trust’s Building our Future governance processes
  • The information presented to the Cerner Programme Board and the Trust board by the Cerner Project team was inadequate for them to make informed decisions;
  • The Cerner Programme Board was not effective; and
  • Significant issues relating to the theatre and outpatient clinic build were not escalated to the Cerner Programme Board or the Trust board.

PwC’s Conclusions

For a programme of this scale and complexity, the management arrangements were not sufficiently extensive or robust. There were many issues with the software and data migration, the training of users and operational go live planning. The Trust Board and the Cerner Programme Board did not plan to have, and did not receive, independent assurance that the state of the programme supported a decision to go-live.

Complex IT implementations are never without risks and issues that need to be managed, even at the point of go live. The scale of the issues in this implementation was not properly understood by those with responsibility, and as a result they were not in a position to make sound decisions.

Many of the problems are associated with poor data and process migration. Staff found that a significant proportion of migrated data was incorrect in the new system, and this had rapid and substantial operational impact which has taken a considerable time to rectify with manual processes. Staff needed to be more directly involved in migration and process testing.

The implementation was manifestly a complex change programme. But IT took the lead, and there was no intelligent customer with sufficient distance from IT to ensure products and progress were properly challenged.

There were not dissimilar Cerner implementations within the Greenfield running a few months before NBT implementation. Similar difficulties were experienced there, but they were more successfully addressed.”

PwC recommends that:

-  the Trust “stop and take stock”. It says  “The Trust needs to take stock of its position and develop a coherent and detailed plan for the remainder of the recovery stage. The Trust then needs to ensure that effective cross programme planning and governance arrangements are enforced for all current projects, especially those under the Building Our Future programme.”

PwC also recommends that the Trust carry out a:

–  Governance review

– Capability/capacity review

– Cross programme plan review

– Operational assessment

– Review of process and controls

– Review of information requirement

– Technical resilience/infrastructure review

– Review of access controls


To me the PwC report throws up at least six points:

1) Are NPfIT go-lives more political than pragmatic?

In the 1990s Barclays Bank went live with new systems for all its branches. During the night (I was invited to watch the go-live at head office) the most striking element was a check list that asked questions on progress so far. The answers determined whether the go-live would happen. The check-list was completed repeatedly – seemingly endlessly – during the night.

Many  different types of mishaps could have stopped the go-live.  None did.  Go-lives of Cerner Millennium are different. They seem unstoppable, whatever the circumstances, whatever the problems.  There was nothing political about the Barclays go-live. But NPfIT go-lives are intensely political.

Would North Bristol’s board have accepted with equanimity a last-minute cancellation, especially after go-lives had been postponed at least twice before?

2)  Are NHS boards too focused on “good news” to oversee an NPfIT go live?

North Bristol NHS Trust deserves praise for publishing the PwC report.  But it’s not the whole story.  The report says little about any potentially serious impact on patients. Also it mentions (almost in passing) that the Trust board discussed in November 2011 the readiness of Cerner Millennium to go live. That discussion was probably positive because Millennium went live a month later. But there is no mention of that discussion in the Trust’s board papers for November 2011.

Why did the Trust discuss its readiness to go live in secret? And why did it keep secret its November 2011 report on its readiness to go live?

If North Bristol, like so many NHS trusts, is congenitally beset with a good news culture at board level, can the full truth ever be properly discussed?

3) Isn’t it time Cerner lessons were learnt?

After seven years of Cerner implementations in the NHS, several of them notorious failures, isn’t it time Trusts learnt the lessons?

4)  What’s the current position?

PwC’s report is succinct and professional. It’s also diplomatically-worded. There is little in the report that points to how the Trust is coping with the operational difficulties. Indeed it suggests the Trust is returning to normal. “The Trust is now beginning to move out of the crisis and return to normal operations,” says the PwC report. But that is, in essence, what the Trust has been saying publicly since January 2012.  PwC says nothing about whether the safety of patients has been jeopardized by the go-live.

5) Where were the Trust’s Audit Committee – and internal auditors?

Every NHS Trust has an audit committee and internal auditors to warn about things that are going wrong, or may go wrong. It appears that they were out to lunch when it came to North Bristol’s Cerner Millennium project and its consequences.  The Audit Committee seems hardly to have mentioned the project. Should North Bristol’s board hold the Audit Committee and internal auditors to account?

6) Is the Trust board to blame?

Perhaps rightly PwC does not seek to apportion blame. But did the Trust board ask the right questions often enough?  The tacit criticism in the PwC report is of the IT department and layers of management below board level. But is that criticism misdirected? If the board’s culture of encouraging good news – of “bring me solutions not problems” –  has not changed, perhaps little or nothing will have been learned from North Bristol’s IT-related disaster.

PWC report Independent review of Cerner Millennium implementation North Bristol NHS Trust.

Lessons from Nuffield Orthopaedic’s Cerner Millennium implementation in 2005.

North Bristol apologises over Cerner go-live.

New hospital system caused chaos.

MP asks why two Cerner systems cost vastly different prices.

IBM won bid without lowest-price – council gives detail under FOI

By Tony Collins

Excessive secrecy has characterised a deal between IBM and Somerset County Council which was signed in 2007.

Indeed I once went to the council’s offices in Taunton, on behalf of Computer Weekly, for a pre-arranged meeting to ask questions about the IBM contract. A council lawyer refused to answer most of my questions because I did not live locally.

Now (five years later) Somerset’s Corporate Information Governance Officer Peter Grogan at County Hall, Taunton, has shown that the council can be surprisingly open.

He has overturned a refusal of the council to give the bid prices. Suppliers sometimes complain that the public sector awards contracts to the lowest-price bidder. But …

Supplier / Bid Total cost over 10 years
BT Standard bid £220.552M
BT Variant Bid £248.055M
Capita Standard Bid £256.671M
Capita Variant Bid £267.687M
IBM Standard Bid £253.820M
IBM Variant Bid £253.820M

The FOI request was made by former council employee Dave Orr who has, more than anyone, sought to hold Somerset and IBM to account for what has turned out to be a questionable deal.

Under the FOI Act, Orr asked Somerset County Council for the bid totals. It refused saying the suppliers had given the information  in confidence. Orr appealed. In granting the appeal Grogan said:

“I would also consider that the passage of time has a significant impact here as the figures included under the exemption are now some 5 years old and their commercial sensitivity is somewhat eroded.

“Whilst, at the time those companies tendering for the contract would justifiably expect the information to be confidential and that they could rely upon confidentiality clauses, I am not able to support the non-disclosure due the fact that the FOI Act creates a significant argument for disclosure that outweighs the confidentiality agreement once the tender exercise is complete and a reasonable amount of time has passed.

“I therefore do not consider this exemption [section 41] to be engaged. Please find the information you requested below…”

[In my FOI experience – making requests to central government departments – the internal review process has always proved pointless. So all credit to Peter Grogan for not taking the easy route, in this case at least.]

MP Ian Liddell-Grainger ‘s website on the “Southwest One” IBM deal.

IBM struggles with SAP two years on – a shared services warning.

Council accepts IBM deal as failing.

Was Audit Commission Somerset and IBM’s unofficial PR agents?

How CIOs and IT suppliers view GovIT change

By Tony Collins

CIOs and IT suppliers give their views on Government ICT in an authoritative report published today by the Institute for Government

Inside the wrapper of generally positive words, a report published today on government ICT by the Institute for Government suggests that major change is unlikely to happen, despite the best efforts of  CIOs and the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

The report “System upgrade? The first year of the Government’s ICT strategy”  says progress has been made. But its messages suggest that reforms are unlikely to  amount to more than tweaks.

These are some of the key messages in the report:

If the minister and CIOs cannot direct change who can?

–          “… while the Minister for the Cabinet Office and government CIO are viewed as being responsible for delivering the ICT strategy (for example by the Public Accounts Committee) they currently lack the full authority to direct change.”

Not so agile

–           “While just over half of government departments may be running an agile project, there were concerns that these were often very minor projects running on the fringe of the departments.”

–          “We heard concerns from the supplier community and those inside government that in some areas projects may be being labelled as ‘agile’ without having really changed the way in which they were run.”

–          “CIOs should question whether they are genuinely improving the ways that they are working in areas such as agile, or whether they are just attaching a label to projects to get a tick in the box,” says the Institute for Government.

Savings not real?

–          “There was also an element of challenge to the savings figures provided by government. For example, some from government and the supplier community questioned whether the numbers represented genuine savings or just cuts in the services provided or deferred expenditure. “

–          “Others … cautioned that project scope creep or change requests could reduce actual savings in time. It was pointed out that the NAO [National Audit Office] will scrutinise whether savings have been achieved in future, which was seen as a clear incentive for accuracy – but there were, nonetheless, concerns that pressure to provide large savings figures meant that inadequate attention might be paid to verifying the savings …”

CIOs want faster ICT progress

–          “Among the CIOs we interviewed, there was a clear recognition that government ICT needed to improve.  ‘You expect an Amazon experience from a government department…’ ”

Lack of money good for change

–          “As one ICT lead noted, a lack of money was ‘always helpful’ in driving change as it promoted cross-government solution-sharing and led to more rigour in approving new spend.”

–          “Both ICT leaders and suppliers felt that the ICT moratorium had been a helpful stimulus for increased focus on value for money.”

–          “Though some of the larger suppliers felt bruised by the ‘smash and grab’ of initial interactions with the Coalition government, there was a recognition that the moratorium had been about ‘stopping things which were inappropriate’”.

GDS challenges norms

–          “New ways of working in the new Government Digital Service and the opening up of government through the Transparency agenda were also seen as providing a challenge to existing norms.”

–          The new Government Digital Service (GDS) is providing an example of a new way of doing things, and was pointed to by those inside and outside of government as embodying mould-breaking attitudes, using innovative techniques and … delivering results on very short timescales. Several interviews mentioned being invigorated by the positive approach of the GDS and their focus on delivering services to meet end-user needs.

ICT so poor staff circumvent it

–          “Public servants are increasingly frustrated that the ICT they use in their private lives appears to be far more advanced than the tools available to them at work. Indeed, there are already examples of employees circumventing the ICT that government provides them as they attempt to perform their job more effectively: creating what is known as a system of ‘shadow ICT’ that creates significant challenges for maintaining government security, collaborative working and government knowledge management.”

Joined-up Govt impossible?

–          “The possibility that departmental incentives continue to trump corporate contributions is further suggested by our survey results. Individuals do not yet feel that corporate contributions are valued or rewarded … elements of the [ICT] strategy call for departments to give up an element of autonomy and choice for the ‘greater good’. Several CIOs expressed concerns that by adopting elements of the strategy that were being developed or delivered by another department, they would end up having to accept a service that had been designed  around the needs of a different department.”

–          “Similarly, there were concerns that the host department would be at the top priority in the event of any problems or opportunities to develop services further. This speaks to a strongly department-centric culture. Suppliers noted, for example, that certain parts of government were still happy to ‘pay a premium for their autonomy’.”

–          “… the vast majority of those we spoke to suggested that departmental interests would almost always ultimately trump cross-government interests in the current government culture and context.”

–          “CIOs felt that they would be rewarded for delivery of departmental priorities – not pan-government work …”

CIO Council frustrations

“CIOs noted that there could be a discrepancy between what got agreed at the old CIO Council meetings and what people actually went away and did. Larger department CIOs also expressed frustration that – despite holding the largest budgets and carrying the largest delivery risks – their voices could easily be outweighed by the multitude of other people round the table.”

“The delivery board model [which has superseded CIO Council] has been recognised by both big and small departments as pragmatically dealing with both sides of this issue. Larger departments now form part of an inner-leadership circle, but with this recognition of their clout comes additional responsibility to own and drive through parts of the strategy… the challenge will now be to ensure that the ICT strategy doesn’t become a ‘large department-only’ affair and that other ICT leads can be effectively engaged.”

Canny suppliers?

–          The majority of ICT leads …stated that they believed the ICT strategy would benefit their department and government as a whole. This confidence was less apparent in the attitudes of suppliers who were, on the whole, more sceptical of government’s ability to drive change, though again generally supportive of the direction of travel.

A toothless ICT Strategy is of little value?

–          “…There was also a lack of clarity on how different elements of the [ICT] strategy would be enforced. As one ICT leader commented … ‘Is this a mandatable strategy or a reference document?’ ”

–          … “there are risks that the strategy could be delivered in a way that still doesn’t transform ICT performance.”

Francis Maude an asset

–          “Government ICT has also been a priority of the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude – giving the [change] agenda unprecedented ministerial impetus. He has been a visible face of ICT to many inside and outside of government, from demanding departmental data on ICT to being heavily involved in negotiations with ICT suppliers. Though few of his ministerial colleagues appear as passionate about improving government ICT, the CIOs we interviewed overwhelmingly expressed confidence that they would receive the support they needed to implement the changes in ICT.”

Smaller-budget CIOs out of the loop?

–          “With the CIO Council in hiatus for most of the last year, the CIOs of smaller departments felt out of the loop …”

Most ICT spending is outside SW1

–          “Suppliers and other ICT leaders pointed out, rightly, that the vast majority of ICT expenditure happens outside SW1 – with agencies, local government and organisations like primary care trusts and police forces still determining much of the citizen and workforce experience of ICT.”

SMEs still left out?

–          “Smaller suppliers … were generally encouraged that government was trying to use more contractual vehicles which would be open to them – but noted that it was ‘still extremely difficult to get close to government as an SME’.”

Who knows if use of ICT is improving?

–          “Government still lacks the information it needs to judge whether use of ICT across government is improving.”

System upgrade? The first year of the Government’s ICT Strategy.

Too early to claim success on GovIT – Institute for Government