By David Bicknell
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has launched a plan to implement the Government’s ICT strategy which it says will deliver around £1.4bn of savings within the next 4 years and help deliver better public services digitally.
In its foreword to the Strategic Implementation Plan, the Government says it is committed to reducing waste and delivering modern public services at lower cost:
“We have already saved hundreds of millions of pounds in 2010/11 by stopping or reducing spend on ‘low value’ ICT projects. These quick wins demonstrate what can be achieved by taking a whole of government approach and challenging the way we operate and provide services.
“The Government ICT Strategy, published in March 2011, described our longer term programmes of reform to improve Government ICT and deliver greater savings. This Strategic Implementation Plan provides a reference for central government and is designed to be read alongside the Government ICT Strategy.
“Our plans are focused on standardising government ICT. In the past, government departments worked to their own requirements and often procured expensive bespoke ICT systems and solutions to meet them. As a result, departments have been tied in to inflexible and costly ICT solutions which together have created a fragmented ICT estate that impedes the efficiencies created by sharing and re-use. It also prevents government from offering joined-up, modern, digitally-based public services that are suited to local requirements.
“Affordability in the current ‘age of austerity’ requires a different approach. The approach set out in this plan ensures that departments will now work in a collegiate way, underpinned by rigorous controls and mandates.
“This is not just a plan to reduce the cost and inefficiency of departmental ICT. Effective implementation of the Strategy has already begun in programmes that will radically reform front line public services. For example, the Universal Credit programme is one of the first ‘Digital by Default’ services, using an Agile approach to reduce delivery risk and improve business outcomes.
“Success or failure of government ICT depends on greater business preparedness, competency in change management and effective process re-engineering. That is why, although we focus on the common infrastructure as a way of significantly reducing costs, the ICT Strategy (and this plan) recognises the need for a change in our approach to ICT implementation. In particular, implementation will be driven through the centre, as a series of smaller, local ICT elements, rather than ‘big bang’ programmes that often fail to deliver the value required.”
Significantly, the government says it will continue to reduce waste by engaging SMEs:
“Building on the £300 million already saved (from May 2010 – March 2011) by applying greater scrutiny to ICT expenditure, government will continue to reduce waste by making it easier for departments to share and re-use solutions through the creation of an ICT Asset and Services Knowledgebase, applications store, using more open source, and improving the ICT capability of the workforce. At the same time, it will reduce the risk of project failure and stimulate economic growth by adopting agile programme and project management methods and reforming procurement approaches to make it easier for SMEs to bid for contracts.
“For all relevant software procurements across government, open source solutions will be considered fairly against proprietary solutions based on value for money (VFM) and total cost of ownership. Success will be measured initially by a survey of each department’s compliance with the existing open source policy. Longer term, open source usage will be measured annually by the use of a departmental maturity model. The ICT Asset and Services Knowledgebase will be used to record the reuse of existing open source solutions, and the deployment of new open source solutions.”
Specfically on procurement, the Government says it has the potential to leverage its huge buying power in the ICT marketplace. But it admits that government procurement of ICT “has in some cases failed to deliver economies of scale and failed to deliver value for money to the taxpayer.”
The government says its objective is to “reform government procurement through the centralisation of common goods and services spend by funding improvements in technology, processes and government wide procurement resources to better manage total procurement spend and government wide standards, such as those for green ICT.”
“Government is therefore committed to become a single and effective ICT customer, leveraging buying power whilst remaining flexible on how it procures. As part of this process government will create a more open, transparent and competitive ICT marketplace embracing open standards and open source that will remove barriers to SME participation in public sector procurement to create a fairer and more competitive marketplace.
Government Procurement has a number of strategic goals, including to:
- create an integrated Government Procurement (GP) to deliver and manage the Operating Model for Centralised Procurement for all common goods and services including ICT, delivering cost reductions in excess of 25% from the 2009/10 baseline of £13bn;
- transform Government Procurement Service (GPS) to be leaner, more efficient and to become the engine room of government procurement, delivering savings through sourcing, category, data and customer management across all categories of common spend including ICT;
- formalise agreements between GPS and all departments to deliver centralised procurement and to improve capability, including within the ICT spend category;
- deliver policy and capability improvements covering EU procurement regulations; transparency in procurement and contracting; removing barriers to SMEs; and
- mandate open standards and a level playing field for open source; streamline the procurement process using ‘lean’ plus supporting programme to develop the capability of civil servants who lead government procurements.
The government says its key procurement metrics will be
- Total spend under management on ICT common goods and services
- Savings on ICT common goods and services
- Number of ICT contracts with a lifetime value greater than £100m
- Time to deliver ICT procurements
- Number of active ICT procurements
On Agile, the government says many large government ICT projects have been slow to implement and technology requirements have not always been considered early on in the policy making process, resulting in an increased risk of project failure. Agile project methods, it argues, can improve the capability to deliver successful projects, allowing projects to respond to changing business requirements and releasing benefits earlier.
Its Agile objective is to improve the way in which the central government delivers business change by introducing Agile project management and delivery techniques.
By 2014, it says, Agile will reduce the average departmental ICT enabled change delivery timescales by 20%.
In delivering this, the government says it will be measured by:
- Number of departments who have used the online Agile facility
- Number of projects using “agile” techniques, by department
- Total number of instances where the virtual centre of excellence has been utilised
Why is Agile suddenly flavour of the month? I’m not against it at all, I am slightly concerned that it is going to be peddled out as the next great hope to save Government from a legacy of poor project success. I’d always believed that most of the causes of previous issues had very little to do with the methodology (or perhaps even the final software) and much more to do with the decisions that were made by the key people in involved. We will see.