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.”
– 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.”
Too early to claim success on GovIT – Institute for Government