By Tony Collins
Government Computing reports that HM Revenue and Customs is seeking a partner for a two-year contract, worth £5m to £20m, to help the department replace the Aspire deal which expires in 2017.
HMRC is leading the way for central government by seeking to move away from a 13-year monopolistic IT supply contract, Aspire, which is expected to cost £10.4bn up to 2017.
Aspire’s main supplier is Capgemini. Fujitsu and Accenture are the main subcontractors.
HMRC says it wants its IT services to be designed around taxpayers rather than its own operations. Its plan is to give every UK taxpayer a personalised digital tax account – built on agile principles – that allows interactions in real-time.
This will require major changes in its IT, new organisational skills and changes to existing jobs.
HMRC’s officials want to comply with the government’s policy of ending large technology contracts in favour of smaller and shorter ones.
Now the department is advertising for a partner to help prepare for the end of the Aspire contract. The partner will need to help bring about a “culture and people transformation”.
The contract will be worth £5m to £20m, the closing date for bids is 6 July, and the contract start date is 1 September. A “supplier event” will be held next week.
But is £5m to £20m enough for HMRC to spend on help to replace a £10.4bn contract?
This is the HMRC advert:
“HMRC/CDIO [Chief Digital Information Officer, Mark Dearnley] needs an injection of strategic-level experience and capacity to support people and culture transformation.
“The successful Partner must have experience of managing large post-merger work force integrations, and the significant people and cultural issues that arise. HMRC will require the supplier to provide strategic input to the planning of this activity and for support for senior line managers in delivering it.
“HMRC/CDIO needs an injection of strategic level experience and capacity to help manage the exit from a large scale outsourced arrangement that has been in place for 20+ years.
“HMRC is dependent on its IT services to collect £505bn in tax and to administer £43bn in benefits each year. The successful supplier must have proven experience of working in a multi-supplier environment, working with internal and external legal teams and suppliers and must have a proven track record of understanding large IT business operations.
“HMRC/CDIO needs an injection of strategic level experience and capacity to help HMRC Process Re-engineer and ‘Lean’ its IT operation. HMRC/CDIO requires a Programme Management Office (PMO) to undertake the management aspects of the programme.
“It is envisaged that the Lead Transformation Partner will provide leadership of the PMO and work alongside HMRC employees. The leadership must have significant experience of working in large, dynamic, multi-faceted programmes working in organisations that are of national/international scale and importance including major transformation…”
Replacing Aspire with smaller short-term contracts will require a transfer of more than 2,000 Capgemini staff to possibly a variety of SMEs or other companies, as well as big changes in HMRC’s ageing technologies.
It would be much easier for HMRC’s executives to replace Aspire with another long-term costly contract with a major supplier but officials are committed to fundamental change.
The need for change was set out by the National Audit Office in a report “Managing and replacing the Aspire contract” in 2014. The NAO found that Capgemini has, in general, kept the tax systems running fairly well and successfully delivered a plethora of projects. But at a cost.
The NAO report said Aspire was “holding back innovation” in HMRC’s business operations”.
Aspire had made it difficult for HMRC to “get direction or control of its ICT; there was little flexibility to get things done with the right supplier quickly or make greater use of cross-government shared infrastructure and services”. And exclusivity clauses “prevented competition and stifled new ideas”.
Capgemini and Fujitsu made a combined profit of £1.2bn, more than double the £500m envisaged in the original business plan. Profit margins averaged 16 per cent to March 2014, also higher than the original 2004 plan.
HMRC was “overly dependent on the technical capability of the Aspire suppliers”. The NAO also found that HMRC competed only 14 contracts outside Aspire, worth £22m, or 3 per cent of Aspire’s cost.
Although generally pleased with Capgemini, HMRC raised with Capgemini, during a contract renegotiation, several claimed contract breaches for the supplier’s performance and overall responsiveness.
When benchmarking the price of Aspire services and projects on several occasions, HMRC has found that it has often “paid above-market rates”.
HMRC did not consider that its Fujitsu-run data centres were value for money.
HMRC deserves credit for seeking to replace Aspire with smaller, short-term contracts. But is it possible that HMRC is spending far too little on help with making the switch?
HMRC doesn’t have a reputation for caution when it comes to IT-related spending. The total cost of Aspire is expected to rise to £10.4bn by 2017 from an original expected spend of £4.1bn. [The £10.4bn includes an extra £2.3bn for a 3-year contract extension.]
Therefore a spend of £5m to £20m for help to replace Aspire seems ridiculously low given the risks of getting it wrong, the complexities, the number of staff changes involved, the changes in IT architecture, and the legal, commercial and technical capabilities required.
The risks are worth taking, for HMRC to regain full control over ICT and performance of its operations.
If all goes wrong with the replacement of Aspire, costs will continue to spiral. The Aspire contract lets both parties extend it by agreement for up to eight years. HMRC says it does not intend to extend Aspire further. But an overrun could force HMRC to negotiate an extension.
As the NAO has said, an extension would not be value for money, since there would continue to be no competitive pressure.
Campaign4Change has never before accused a government department of allocating too little for IT-related change. There’s always a first time.