Vested interests will try to stop GovIT changing – Cabinet Office official

Image courtesy of Paul Clarke

“There will be many on the sidelines who criticise what we’re trying to do and who will say that it can’t be done. Some of their criticisms will hold true, at least at the beginning,” says G-Cloud director Chris Chant. “They’ll use what goes wrong as a chance to reinforce their view that it can’t ever be done. And our job is to prove them wrong.”

By Tony Collins

Chris Chant, Executive Director in the Cabinet Office, who is working as Programme Director for the G-Cloud initiative,  has added to the “unavoidable truths”  talk he  gave to the Institute for Government.

He writes on the Government Digital Service website that the “last 20 years of government IT say that we’ve been doing it wrong all along”.  He adds that the “change we are going to make now is a chance to shift that approach massively, to make a 180 degree turn, and start to get it right”.

He warns that there will be:

“many vested interests who try to stop the change both overtly and covertly”.

Chant suggested that the usual suppliers to government have a history of preferring complicated solutions to simple problems.

 “Government, like all of us, wants IT that works. For too long, though, we thought we were special in government and that we needed special IT. We trained our suppliers to think the same and, in return, they proposed ever more complicated solutions to simple problems; our suppliers failed to convince us that we needed something else and continued to make the same mistakes in trying to deliver what they’d promised. After decades of stimulus / response and countless billions spent, it’s time to make a change.”

This is what he said:

“The change we are already making is a big one. It will affect the way government buys IT, who we buy it from, how we handle security, how we focus relentlessly on our customers and how all our employees work, not just those in IT.

“Every aspect of government and the public sector will be affected, thankfully, things will never be the same.

“Cloud computing – the ability to buy proven solutions on a pay-as-you-go basis – is what lets government make this change. Once we recognise that we’re not different and that we don’t need special IT, then we can buy what everyone else is already buying and using.

“After all, at home you probably let Google handle your e-mail, you might be using iCloud for your contacts and calendar, you stream your music from Spotify and so on. There are business equivalents of those services that mean government, too, can move its e-mail, collaboration, customer management, payments and accounts – to name a few services – to the cloud.

“Everything changes when we do this. We will pay less, get more and get it sooner. If a supplier fails to do what they’ve promised, we will find another supplier – with no tears.

“There won’t be contracts running for decades; smaller businesses will be able to enter the market, engage directly with Government and compete with far larger companies; UK businesses will get a chance to out-deliver foreign ones; government will be more efficient and our customers will get the service they need.

“This change isn’t easy of course. A lot of things have to be different. And there will be many vested interests who try to stop the change both overtly and covertly.

“Over the last few months with the G-Cloud initiative, we have developed a small number of pilots that prove that this model can work. We have overcome some of the issues, and have confronted others that still need work. With the recent launch of the procurement, we are signalling that we think we’re ready to do some more.

“We won’t get it all right this time round and we will certainly encounter some more problems, and we will all work hard and fast to overcome those.

“There will be many on the sidelines who criticise what we’re trying to do and who will say that it can’t be done. Some of their criticisms will hold true, at least at the beginning.

“And they’ll use what goes wrong as a chance to reinforce their view that it can’t ever be done. And our job is to prove them wrong.

“The last 20 years of government IT say that we’ve been doing it wrong all along. The change we are going to make now is a chance to shift that approach massively, to make a 180 degree turn, and start to get it right.

“Over the coming weeks I will set out how I see this working, looking at each of the issues in turn and also seeing how the change will affect different people from permanent secretary through to front line staff and from big systems integrators to niche suppliers. A new and exciting journey is about to begin.”

Chris Chant talking about G-Cloud – audio

The Unacceptable – Government Digital Service.

The unavoidable truths about GovIT.

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3 responses to “Vested interests will try to stop GovIT changing – Cabinet Office official

  1. The following is my post on the Government Digital Service website
    “I run a SME software technology company that has created a new paradigm for business software we have seen off patents from Microsoft, IBM and SAP not because of patents (difficult to get in EU) but because of our prior art of over 8 years! (even Bill Gates calls our capability the holy grail of software!).

    We have battled for 10 years to be recognised ever since OGC closed their R&D unit and transferred responsibility to suppliers to do the best for taxpayers. So Chris Chant being straight forward and blunt is quite refreshing.

    BUT is this the same Chris who when asked last month about being the intelligent buyer responded yes we need to be but we do not have the resource yet. Despite offering to show this new software he has failed to respond. So he remains the unintelligent buyer as he makes plans for the future? Sorry Chris it is easy to spout the words but action is louder and as a UK SME tech we get ignored? How many home grown Business Software Technology Platform companies have we got…..we are it!

    This software has been running at UK Sport and BOA for 10 years and despite numerous invites to Cabinet “Directors” no one has visited. At the beginning of the year a report was produced http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/fundraising/news/content/8404/dcms_publishes_comparative_admin_costs_of_statutory_and_sector_funders UK Sport comes out significantly more efficient than other funder yet nobody investigates. The intelligent buyer would be on to this and use as example. This ignorance is not a supplier issue it is a Government one.

    On the same theme I am certainly not saying that the big SIs are not without fault but my experiences suggest Government has internal issue to address. For example the way projects are specified using “systems architects” working on the theory that we must use what we have results in specifications that are doomed from the start but SIs do what the customer wants so complex and expensive procurement takes place for huge contracts almost certainly destined for failure. One in particular resulted in a contract for £50m sent to India but thinking people and process just like UK Sport (it is what government is about?) should have been less than £5m yet no one investigated when I raised via my local MP? The winners are not always the SIs who have to bear the consequences it is the dominant vendors who sell their complex disjointed software which is long overdue for a step change but there are strong “vested” interests – this where the real problems lie?

    I recently circulated a one pager on the intelligent buyer http://www.procession.com/resources/becoming_the_intelligent_buyer.pdf I await a reply? Clearly they are not yet there as the Cabinet’s “Open Source Options” fails to reflect the art of the now possible in application build. – yet another battle ahead of me……! “

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  2. I have written two position papers that are relevant to this discussion.

    The first is “Revamping Public Sector IT Procurement to Favor Success and Small Business.” In this paper I describe a different approach to IT procurement called partitioned procurement. This style of procurement has two main advantages. First, it reduces the overall failure rates by reducing the size of the projects. Second, it nurtures the economy by funneling a greater share of the contracts to small and mid-sized businesses. This paper is available at http://www.objectwatch.com/white_papers.htm#ITProcurement.

    The second position paper is “Cloud Optimized Architectures for the Public Sector.” In this paper I describe the architectural challenges that are specific to the public sector with respect to the Cloud. It is my position that the public sector can make highly effective use of the Cloud, but only if it understands the architectural constraints and how to work around them. This paper is available at http://www.objectwatch.com/white_papers.htm#cloud.

    Both of these papers are written from the perspective of the U.S. Public Sector, but the issues are identical for the U.K.

    I would be delighted to discuss either of these papers in other forums. I can be contacted at (userID: roger; domain: objectwatch.com)

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  3. I could not agree more with the comment regarding overt / covert influences attempting to maintain the status quo.

    An argument that I am constantly confronted with goes along the lines of ‘but you a small company with a limited revenue stream and we are so much bigger than you and have the ability to put more into a project than you’ all on the face of it true, however throwing more ill equipped recourse at a problem does nothing other than raise the cost to the customer. No account seems to be made of track record and capability and the cost to end customer of that success. Small companies get along on smaller turnovers because they have smaller costs. Slight increases in turnover mean that smaller companies can actually make more appropriate profits which invariably get reinvested in the small companies. Such investment leads to better product and service delivery.

    Note I have made no mention of technology or delivery platform. I agree completely with Chris in the benefits of cloud based deployment platforms but they are just that, deployment platforms in and of themselves they are not solutions to real world public sector information problems. Again I would agree that generic back office type support provided by email, calendars, scheduling and document repositories are sector independent and can be easily and cost effectively delivered. Why for example did NPfIT spend £90million (I think that was the figure) on tying to develop an email service for the NHS as part of the program? Who in their right mind would consider ground up email solution building as a good idea when, before the program, the NHS seemed to be quite happy using Exchange version X with outlook as a client and the rest of the business word to (I know there are other systems but you get the point). As soon as one looks at the consumer end of the market we have Gmail, Yahoo MSN etc who are supporting 10’s of millions of users on mac, pc and mobile platforms of all sorts of flavours sending 100’s of millions of emails for zero cost to the consumer.

    When it comes to domain public sector specific solutions to waters muddy somewhat, I don’t see a future where its quite as easy for a Mental Health Trust to buy on demand mental health act support from a cloud based service. The reason are too many to go into as part of a response, but that does not detract from Chris’s main point regarding the way IT is sold to the public sector and how the public sector allows itself to be sold to.

    It beggars belief that such truths are not self evident.

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