Government ICT Strategy – industry reactions

By Tony Collins

The Government ICT Strategy, which was published yesterday, has, in general, been welcomed.

Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Public Administration Select Committee, which is investigating Government IT,  said the ICT Strategy “doesn’t contain any  surprises, dramatic new truths, or revolutionary concepts that weren’t already in the public domain”.

But Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister who is responsible for reforming central government, said that the report is “incredibly readable” and a “lapidary formulation of some  important concepts for the future”. Lapidary he defined as “precisely crafted”.

Martyn Hart, chairman of the National Outsourcing Association welcomed the strategy document’s promise to end the “oligopoly of large suppliers that monopolise its ICT provision”.

Hart told Channel Pro that the Government is tied into contracts with large suppliers, which could mean that it struggles to get the best possible service.

Simon Pamplin, director, pre-sales, UK and Ireland of networks specialist Brocade, said the Government’s ICT Strategy should be broadly welcomed by the UK IT industry.

He told Channel Pro it signals a push by government to consolidate its datacentre, network, software and assets as well as migrate to the cloud.

The Guardian newspaper said the ICT Strategy sets a fast pace.

Bill McCluggage, the government deputy chief information officer is quoted in The Guardian as saying:  “It’s the first time that we have a strategy with defined action points and delivery times from six to 24 months.

“We believe that it can all be delivered in two years, while for previous ones it has usually been four to five years.”

Public Service has anonymous quotes from Intellect member companies.  These are some:

“The strategy is much better written than past ones. The theory is great, but at the end of the day it’s about how you make this stuff work.”

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“Overall the document takes re-use as a central theme and practices what it preaches; much of the content is re-used from past strategies and announcements.”

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“The strategy is really aspirational, which is good to see. What I want to know is – where will the penalties lie if they don’t deliver?”

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“Who owns the key actions in the action plan?”

Intellect’s Director General John Higgins said the ICT Strategy “marks a milestone in the government’s reform agenda, with a fresh look at ICT as an enabler of better services for the public”.

He added that the strong leadership in place at the Cabinet Office “ticks one crucial box” and “now it’s time to get down to business”.

Some of the strategy’s intentions will be mandated and standards, contracts and opportunities will be more ‘open’.

“Intellect is pleased to see that the strategy reflects a number of ideas that technology businesses have long seen as vital to delivering successful IT projects. These include:

  • the acknowledgment of the potential savings that can be achieved by consolidating data centres, moving to cloud computing and implementing a government apps store. This has the potential to save more than £2bn and radically change how government does IT
  • plans for a streamlined procurement process that focuses on outcomes – this should lead to better project results and open up opportunities to a host of suppliers, especially SMEs
  • the plans to keep Senior Responsible Owners at the helm of projects until an “appropriate break point” – ensuring continuity and a clearer focus on the end game

Mark Taylor, CEO of open source system integrator, Sirius IT, told ComputerworldUK:  “They’ve made some cosmetic changes but it’s still not really an action plan. It’s a policy that needs teeth.”

The Institute for Government, which recently published a report System Error – fixing the flaws in government IT – said the ICT  Strategy is welcome but the decision not to have an independent overall CIO is “still a concern”.

It said that the Institute’s suggestions on ‘agile’and ‘platform’ feature in the new ICT strategy, which promises that Government will “apply agile methods to procurement and delivery to reduce the risk of project failure” and introduce a “common ICT platform”.

Ian Magee, senior fellow at the Institute for Government and co-author of System Error, said the government had made welcome commitments but said in time it should reconsider not having an independent CIO. He said:

“Too many IT projects are locked in too early, which often wasted time and money when requirements and political priorities changed.

“The new strategy supports our view for a far more flexible approach to IT procurement and delivery, while also ensuring the benefits of commoditisation and standardisation are captured across government.

“The new ICT strategy also emphasises the importance of adopting a stronger, central platform approach, which we support. However, to make this work we believe that it is vital that the Government CIO operates independently of departmental interests and is seen to do so. This strategy will eventually demand a truly independent Government CIO, which we currently do not have”

Challenge for the civil service

He  also emphasised the challenges of turning the strategy into reality.

“Our research showed that implementing many of these changes will be extremely challenging. For example, the transition from a traditional method of project management to an agile approach requires a change of organisational culture and the acquisition of new skills as well as totally rethinking many of the traditional, linear procurement processes.

“This will take time, and require a concerted effort from the government CIO and CIO Council.”

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