Category Archives: collaboration

Francis Maude –“unacceptable” civil service practices

By Tony Collins

Francis Maude laments civil service inaction over a cabinet committee mandate for centralising procurement. It “corrodes trust in the system”.

Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service,  confronted Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister in charge of civil service reform, on BBC R4’s In Defence of Bureaucracy last week.

The irreconcilable differences between O’Donnell and Maude were obvious and may be a sign of how difficult it will be for the minister to make lasting and deep cuts in IT-based spending, simplify overly complex processes, and reduce duplication.

O’Donnell spoke of the virtues of the civil service that have served the country for more than a century, particularly its impartiality.  But Maude said the “value of impartiality can sometimes turn into indifference”.

O’Donnell said: “We need to be proud and passionate about the public sector ethos…” and confronted Maude for saying things about the civil service “that are not always totally positive”.

Indeed Maude said,

“Most of the civil servants I deal with are terrific, work hard and do really good work.  It is not universal.”

O’Donnell then confronted Maude for saying that ministers in this and previous government have too often found that decisions they have made don’t get implemented. Is that the fault of ministers or civil servants, asked O’Donnell.

“I’d be astonished if it’s ministers,” said Maude who added,

“ I had a meeting the other day around this table …  where a decision was made by a cabinet committee, more than a year ago, on the centralising of procurement. It had happened to a very minimal extent.

“If there is a problem with it, that can be flagged up and tell us. Just to go away and not do it is unacceptable … it is protection of the system. This is the speaking truth unto power thing. What is unacceptable is not to challenge a ministerial position but then not to implement it. That is what corrodes trust in the system.”

About £230bn a year – nearly a third of everything government spends – is on public sector procurement.  In 2010, Nigel Smith, then CEO of the Office of Government Commerce, spoke to the “Smartgov” conference about the need for major reform in the way government buys things.

He spoke of the need for re-useable software, open source if possible, and said that suppliers regularly use fragmentation within government to maximise profits. “This has got to change,” says Smith.

He said there were 44,000 buying organisations in the public sector which buy “roughly the same things, or similar things, in basic commodity categories” such as IT and office supplies.

Massive duplication

He spoke of “massive duplication”, high tendering costs on suppliers, and a loss of value due to a lack of true aggregation. He said suppliers had little forward look of opportunities to tender and offer innovative solutions for required outcomes.

“Contract management with supplier relationship management is inconsistent, with too little attention paid to continuous improvement and benefits capture within contract.

“The opportunity to improve outcomes and efficiency gains should not be constrained by contract terms and innovations should not stop at the point of contract signature.

“If we miss this opportunity [to reform] we need shooting.”

So it is clear procurement [and much else] needs reforming. But in the R4 broadcast last week (which unfortunately is no longer available) O’Donnell portrays a civil service that is almost as good as it gets.

He speaks of its permanence in contrast to transient ministers. His broadcast attacks the US system of government in which public service leaders change every time there is a new government.  The suggestion is that the US system is like a ship that veers crazily from side to side, as one set of idealogues take the captain’s wheel from another. O’Donnell implies that in the UK civil service stability lasts for decades, even centuries.

The virtues he most admires in the UK civil service are what he calls the 4 “Ps” – Pace, Passion, Professionalism and Pride.  His broadcast speaks of the UK civil service as a responsible, effective, continual and reliable form of administration.  

Comment

O’Donnell’s most striking criticism of Maude’s intended reforms of central government goes to the heart of what Maude is trying to do: change what is happening in departments.

When, in the broadcast, Maude suggested that civil servants were not challenging ministerial decisions and were not implementing them either, O’Donnell replied that Maude was “overstating the issue”. But O’Donnell went much further and added a comment that implied Maude should leave departments alone.

O’Donnell said

“These sorts of problems mainly arise when ministers at the centre of government want to impose their will on secretaries of state who want to be left alone to run their departments as they see fit.”

Is O’Donnell giving permanent secretaries and departmental ministers his support if they continue to snub Cabinet Office reforms?

It is hardly surprising Maude is a bundle of frustrations. Central government administration cannot be reformed if departments have the autonomy to refuse to implement decisions of a cabinet committee.

It is ironic that cabinet committee decisions are binding on the entire Cabinet – but not, it seems, on departments.

Perhaps the gap between political and civil service leaders at the centre, and senior civil servants in departments, is as irreconcilable as ever. Today’s UK civil service is more than ever “Yes Minister” without the jokes.  Should this be the dysfunctional basis for coalition reforms of central government?

Perhaps this explains why Maude is trying to implement open standards, make government procurement friendly to SMEs and encourage the use of G-Cloud while the Department for Work and Pensions and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are  agreeing new mega-contracts,  with the same handful of monolithic suppliers.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the current Cabinet Secretary,  is perhaps a little more Maude-friendly than O’Donnell when he says in the R4 broadcast,

“There are lots of things we need to do better. Too many projects that we undertake are delayed, are over budget and don’t deliver on all the benefits that were promised. We are not as digital as the most effective private sector organisations are. We have been slow to embrace the digital revolution.”

Fine words. But if a cabinet committee’s decision on centralising procurement has little effect, how is Sir Jeremy going to convert his words into action? Or Francis Maude’s?

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Shared services disaster: a gain for some officials and ERP suppliers?

By Tony Collins

Today an impressive report by the National Audit Office shows in detail how various shared services ventures in central government have, over time, cost rather than saved money.

Five shared services centres studied by the NAO have cost £1.4bn so far; they were supposed to have saved £159m by 2010-11 but the net cost has been £255m. Setting up the centres since 2004 has been good, though, for some suppliers (and officials who wanted to gain new skills in Oracle and SAP enterprise resource planning systems).

The Cabinet Office has now intervened and plans a new shared services strategy, based on the DWP [Oracle v11i ERP) and Department for Transport [SAP ERP] offering independent major shared service centres to departments and agencies.

One of the urgent drivers for the Cabinet Office’s publishing a new strategy in July 2011 was that three shared service centres face an investment of £47m to upgrade their Oracle ERP systems before November 2013, says the NAO.

“The current version of Oracle will not be supported by the manufacturer past this date,” says the NAO. “This means that if their core system fails, there is a high risk that they would not be able to re-instate it quickly. This gave the Cabinet Office an opportunity to see if it could derive better value-for-money options for shared services.”

Saving £32m on Oracle upgrade costs?

The Cabinet Office expects its new plans to save £32m on Oracle upgrade costs, says the NAO. Indeed the Cabinet Office has questioned whether departments need to use large ERP systems. It acknowledges that smaller, simpler software solutions may be appropriate, says the NAO.

Civil servants in search of new ERP skills rather than saving money?

The NAO report hints that civil servants at the five service centres might have wanted to implement new Oracle or SAP ERP software more than to save money.

Says the NAO: “The [shared service] Centres have prioritised increasing the number of customers or implementing new software, rather than working with existing customers to drive efficiency… There are other options to reduce costs in addition to increasing the number of customers or implementing a new ERP system.”

Indeed the NAO questions why the service centres bought big and expensive ERP systems that are now under-used, without looking at smaller and simpler accounting packages.

“These ERP systems [installed at five shared service centres studied by the NAO] are complex and it is not easy to modify them when needs change, such as when an organisation is restructured or processes are redesigned.

“We found the Centres are only using a small part of the capability their ERP systems provide. The systems are capable of handling larger volumes of transactions and more services and it is not clear why such expensive solutions were bought. Other smaller and simpler accounting packages were not looked at to see if they may have provided the required functionality.”

Concludes the NAO:

The shared services initiative has not so far delivered value for money for the taxpayer. Since the Gershon Review recommended the creation of shared services in 2004, the Government has spent £1.4 billion against a planned £0.9 billion on the five Centres we examined.

“By creating complex services that are overly tailored to individual departments, government has increased costs and reduced flexibility. In addition, it has failed to develop the necessary benchmarks against which it could measure performance. The Cabinet Office has issued an ambitious new shared services strategy to address these issues.”

Failing to standardise ways of working

Shared services are about standardising ways of working, not running separate services for every client but the NAO found that the five centres replicated old ways of working.

“The services provided are overly customised. We found shared services to be more complex than we expected. They are overly tailored to meet customer needs. This limits the ability for the Centres to make efficiencies as they have an overhead of running multiple systems and processes.”

Big cheques to big ERP suppliers?

The NAO said departments have wasted money on ERP systems – and now plan to spend more on DRP systems.:

“The software systems used in the Centres have added complexity and cost. All the Centres we visited use Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software systems. These are complex and have proven to be expensive. They are designed to manage all the information generated by an organisation by using standard processes. These systems work most effectively with large volumes of heavily automated transactions.

“With a lack of scale and usage in some Centres, limited standardisation and low levels of automation, the cost to establish, maintain and upgrade these systems is high. As a result two Centres intend to totally re-implement their existing systems with simpler, standard ERP software, despite the significant investment already made.

“All the Centres acknowledge they need to simplify and standardise their systems and reduce customisation.”

Cabinet Office took a back seat instead of driving sensible change

Says the NAO: “The Cabinet Office and Civil Service Steering Board could have done more to ensure shared services were implemented appropriately. While the Cabinet Office led by example in initiating their own shared service arrangements, more could have been done to challenge the performance achieved by customers and providers.

“They could have established reliable cost and performance benchmarks and done more to document best practice and lessons learned for customers. Also, they could have done more to remove the barriers to departments and agencies joining shared services.

“The Cabinet Office relied on a collaborative model of governance, which was consistent with the role of central government at the time. Under this model it was left to individual departments to implement shared services and eight shared services have been established. There has been little actual sharing of services between departments…”

Should officials have been forced to take part in shared services?

“Departments have struggled to fully roll-out shared services across all their business units and arm’s-length bodies,” says the NAO. “This is because participation has largely been voluntary. Of the five Centres we examined, three had not attracted the customers they had expected and two had potential spare capacity of 50 per cent.”

Cabinet Office is trying to repair the damage

Using DWP and DfT centres the Cabinet Office plans to have two independent shared service centres and a host of sub centres. But the NAO suggests the strategy may fail unless the Cabinet Office mandates the use of the centres. [But there’s no point in mandating change unless working practices are standardised.  If they cannot be standardised shared services may end up – again – costing more.]

Says the NAO  “The Cabinet Office did not have the powers to mandate shared services. Without a mandate, we do not think that coherent shared services are likely to be achieved. If there is an overall value-for-money case for the taxpayer, the Cabinet Office should seek appropriate authority to mandate the shared services strategy and its implementation.

“The Cabinet Office should also make sure that there is clear accountability for implementing its new shared services strategy.”

MPs ignored

“…the Committee of Public Accounts set out recommendations (on shared services) for the Cabinet Office in 2008,” says the NAO. “None of the recommendations have been fully implemented. All are relevant to shared services today.”

The five shared service centres under NAO scrutiny – and their ERP

• The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Centre provides services to 16,000 customer users (full-time equivalents)7 from the Department and 13 of its agencies. Enterprise Resource Planning System: Oracle 11i, upgrade to Oracle v12 in 2012-13.

• The Department for Transport (DfT) Centre provides services for 14,000 customer users from the Department and four of its agencies. SAP ERP.

• The DWP Centre provides services for 130,000 customer users from the Department, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Education. Main site Norcross. ERP system: Oracle 11i, upgrade to Oracle v12 planned in 2012-13.

• The Ministry of Justice Centre manages two separate systems – serving 47,000 customer users for its National Offender Management Service and 27,000 for the Home Office. Enterprise Resource Planning System: Oracle 11i, upgrade to Oracle v12 in 2012-13 and plans to completely re-implement its system to remove all customisation.

• Research Councils UK Centre provides services to 11,000 customer users from seven Research Councils. ERP is Oracle 12.

Three major shared service centres not under NAO scrutiny

• The Ministry of Defence’s Defence Business Services, which was established in July 2011. ERP is Oracle 11i. An upgrade to Oracle v12 in planned for 2012-13.

• The Department of Health NHS Shared Business Services Ltd (joint venture with Steria) which does not provide services to central government. (ERP is Oracle v12)

• HMRC which set up a shared service centre – but no other departments used it. ERP is SAP.

Comment:

Anyone reading the NAO report could be forgiven for thinking that civil servants setting up shared service centres have aimed to fail, perhaps to prove to ministers that major change within central government is a bad idea. We doubt this.

What is more likely is that civil servants, encouraged by some suppliers, thought it a good idea to buy big ERP systems from which they thought savings would naturally flow. But big has not proved to be better. When will this message get through? Isn’t it time for civil servants to stop throwing money at big suppliers?

[And there may be some substance in the NAO’s hint that some civil servants have preferred to work on big ERP systems rather than save money. Having strong ERP skills is an insurance against job loss.]

NAO report  

School report on Govt ICT Strategy – a good start

By Tony Collins

In a review of progress on the Government’s ICT Strategy after six months, the National Audit Office says that the Cabinet Office has made a “positive and productive start to implementing the Strategy”.

The NAO says that at least 70 people from the public sector have worked on the Strategy in the first six months though the public sector will need “at least another 84 people to deliver projects in the Plan”.

The UK Government’s ICT Strategy is more ambitious than the strategies in the US, Australia, Netherlands and Denmark, because it sets out three main aims:

– reducing waste and project failure

– building a common ICT infrastructure

– using ICT to enable and deliver change

The US Government’s ICT Strategy, in contrast, encompasses plans for a common infrastructure only – and these plans have not produced the expected savings, says the NAO.

In a paragraph that may be little noticed in the report, the NAO says that senior managers in central government have plans to award new ICT contracts (perhaps along the pre-coalition lines) in case the common solutions developed for the ICT Strategy are “not available in time”.

The NAO report also says that “suppliers were cautious about investing in new products and services because of government’s poor progress in implementing previous strategies”.

Of 17 actions in the Strategy that were due by September 2011, seven were delivered on time. Work on most of the other actions is underway and a “small number” are still behind schedule says the NAO.

The NAO calls on government to “broaden the focus to driving business change”.

Some successes of the UK’s ICT Strategy as identified by the NAO:

* The Cabinet Office has set up a small CIO Delivery Board led by the Government CIO Joe Harley to implement the ICT Strategy. The Board’s members include the Corporate IT Director at the DWP, CIOs at the Home Office, MoD, HMRC, Ministry of Justice and Department for Health, together with key officials at the Cabinet Office. The departmental CIOs on the Board are responsible directly to Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, for implementing the ICT Strategy in their departments and are accountable to their own minister. No conflicts have arisen

* Senior managers in central government and the ICT industry are willing to align their strategies for ICT with new cross-government solutions and standards but need more detail.

*  Some suppliers have offered help to government to develop its thinking and help accelerate the pace of change in ICT in government.

* The Cabinet Office intended that delivering the Strategy would be resourced from existing budgets. Staff have been redirected from other tasks to work on implementing the Strategy. “We have found collaborative working across departmental boundaries. For example HMRC and the MoD have combined resources to develop a strategy for greener ICT. Teams producing the strategies for cloud computing and common desktops and mobile devices have worked together to reduce the risk of overlap and gaps.

* The BBC has shown the way in managing dozens of suppliers rather than relying on one big company. For BBC’s digital media initiative, the Corporation manages 47 separate suppliers, says the NAO.

* The Cabinet Office intends that departments will buy components of ICT infrastructure from a range of suppliers rather than signing a small number of long-term contracts; and to make sure different systems share data the Cabinet Office is agreeing a set of open technical standards.

* Some of the larger departments have already started to consolidate data centres, though the NAO said that the programme as a whole is moving slowly and no robust business case is yet in place.

* The Cabinet Office is starting to involve SMEs. It has established a baseline of current procurement spending with SMEs – 6.5% of total government spend – and hopes that the amount of work awarded to SMEs will increase to 25%. Government has started talking “directly to SMEs”, says the NAO.

Some problems identified in the NAO report:

* Cloud computing and agile skills are lacking. “Government also lacks key business skills. Although it has ouitsourced ICT systems development and services for many years, our reports have often stated that government is not good at managing commercial relationships and contracts or procurement.”

* Suppliers doubt real change will happen. The NAO says that suppliers doubted whether “government had the appropriate skills to move from using one major supplier to deliver ICT solutions and services, to managing many suppliers of different sizes providing different services”.

* The Government CIO Joe Harley, who promoted collaboration, is leaving in early 2012, as is his deputy Bill McCluggage. The NAO suggests their departures may “adversely affect” new ways of working.

* The NAO interviewed people from departments, agencies and ICT suppliers whose concern was that “short-term financial pressure conflicted with the need for the longer-term reform of public services”.

* The culture change required to implement the Strategy “may be a significant barrier”.

* The Cabinet Office acknowledges that the government does not have a definitive record of ICT spend in central government (which would make it difficult to have a baseline against which cuts could be shown).

* The Cabinet Office has not yet defined how reform and improved efficiency in public services will be measured across central government, as business outcomes against an agreed baseline.

**

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today: ” ICT is going to play an increasingly important role in changing how government works and how services are provided.

“The Government’s ICT Strategy is in its early days and initial signs are good. However, new ways of working are as dependent on developing the skills of people in the public sector as they are on changes to technology and processes; the big challenge is to ensure that the Strategy delivers value in each of these areas.”

NAO report:  Implementing the Government ICT Strategy: six-month review of progress.

Praise for departing Deputy government CIO

By Tony Collins

Bill McCluggage, the departing Deputy government CIO, has been praised by friends and colleagues for his strength of purpose as a change advocate, and for steering through the government ICT Strategy.

He is also admired by friends for “telling it like it is” despite the Cabinet Office’s restrictive communications policy.

Said one friend: “To get the ICT strategy out and into delivery underlines Bill’s credentials as a deliverer not just a strategist; and he regularly held his ground with those who sought to maintain the status quo.”

McCluggage announced this week he is leaving government to join storage supplier EMC. He said on Twitter that it’s “sad to leave excellent team that have delivered real change but time to move on and address new challenge”.  He said he counted himself “lucky to have been part of the vanguard of new GovtIT”.

Mike Bracken, Executive Director of Digital, Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office, said that Whitehall will be poorer in McCluggage’s absence.

McCluggage joined the Cabinet Office as Deputy Government CIO in September 2009. He has been Director of ICT Strategy & Policy and Senior Information Risk Owner with overall responsibility for the formulation, development and communication of cross-Government ICT strategies and policies.

He was IT Director at Harland & Wolff Heavy Industries in Belfast and was an engineering officer in the RAF. He is a chartered engineer and member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

As Deputy government CIO McCluggage has been a firm advocate of agile techniques, cloud computing, open source, cutting out waste and duplication, and bringing many more SMEs into GovIT.

Deputy Government CIO to join EMC.

Deputy government quits.

Cabinet Office loses another top ICT man.

Government’s new ICT plan – the good, bad and what’s needed

By Tony Collins

There is much to commend the 102-page Government’s ICT Strategy – Strategic Implementation Plan”.  Its chief assets are the touches of realism.

In the past Cabinet Office documents have referred to the billions that can be cut from the annual government IT spend of £15bn-£20bn. This document is different.

In promising a saving of just £460m – and not until 2014/15 – Cabinet Office officials are not being ambitious, but neither are they making impossibly unrealistic claims. [The press release refers to £1.4bn of savings but there’s no mention of that figure in the document itself.]

The Implementation Plan also points out that the oft-quoted annual government IT spend of £16bn-£17bn is not spending in central government IT alone but includes the wider public sector: local government, devolved administrations and the NHS. The Implementation Plan concedes that there is “no definitive or audited record of ICT spending in central government for 2009/10”, but it adds, “the best estimates suggest this to be around £6.5bn in central government…”

Now at last we have a figure for the cost of central government IT. But we’re also told that the Cabinet Office has no control or strong influence over most of the ICT-related spending in the public sector. The document says:

“Though implementation is not mandatory outside central government, Government will work with the wider public sector to identify and exploit further opportunities for savings through greater innovation, and sharing and re-use of solutions and services.”

That said the document has some laudable objectives for reducing ICT spending in central government. Some examples:

–         50% of central departments’ new ICT spending will be on public cloud computing services – by December 2015. [Note the word “new”. Most departmental IT spending is on old IT: support, maintenance and renewal of existing contracts.]

–         First annual timetable and plans from central government departments detailing how they will shift to public cloud computing services – by December 2011.

–         Cost of data centres reduced by 35% from 2011 baseline – by October 2016. [What is the baseline, how will the objective be measured, audited and reported?]

Drawbacks:

It is a pity the document to a large extent separates IT from the rest of government. If simplification and innovation is to be pervasive and long-lasting senior officials need to look first at ways-of-working and plan new IT in parallel with changes in working practices, or let the IT plans follow planned changes.

Not that this is a black-and-white rule. Universal Credit is an essentially IT-led change in working practices. The technology will cost hundreds of millions to develop – an up-front cost – but the simplification in benefit systems and payment regimes could save billions.

Another problem with the Implementation Plan is that it is in essence a public relations document. It is written for public consumption. It has little in common with a pragmatic set of instructions by a private sector board to line managers. Too much of the Cabinet Office’s Implementation Plan is given over to what has been achieved, such as the boast that “an informal consultation to crowd source feedback on Open Standards has taken place…” [who cares?] and much of the document is given over to what the civil service does best: the arty production of linked geometric shapes that present existing and future plans in an ostensibly professional and difficult-to-digest way.

And many of the targets in the Implementation Plan parody the civil service’s archetypal response to political initiatives; the Plan promises more documents and more targets. These are two of the many documents promised:

“Publication of cross-government information strategy principles – December 2011” …

“First draft of reference architecture published – December 2011.”

Platitudes abound: “Both goals are underpinned by the need to ensure that government maintains and builds the trust of citizens to assure them that the integrity and security of data will be appropriately safeguarded.”

There is also a lack of openness on the progress or otherwise of major projects. There is no mention in the Implementation Plan of the promise made by the Conservatives in opposition to publish “Gateway review” reports.

What’s needed

More is needed on specific measures to be taken by the Cabinet Office when departmental officials resist major reform. The promise below is an example of what is particularly welcome because it amounts to a Cabinet Office threat to withhold funding for non-compliant projects and programmes.

“Projects that have not demonstrated use of the Asset and Services Knowledgebase before proposing new spend will be declined.

“Departments, in order to obtain spend approval, will need to move to adopt mandatory common ICT infrastructure solutions and standards, and spending applications will be assessed for their synergy with the Strategy.”

But these threats stand out as unusually unambiguous. In much of the Implementation Plan the Cabinet Office is in danger of sounding and acting like PITO, the now-disbanded central police IT organisation that had good intentions but could not get autonomous police forces to do its will.

Unless Cabinet Office officials take on more power and control of largely autonomous departments – and overcome the uncertainties over who would take responsibility if all goes wrong – the Implementation Plan could turn out to be another government document that states good intentions and not the means to carry them through.

It’s as if the Cabinet Office has told departmental officials to drive at a maximum speed of 50mph when on official business to cut fuel costs. Will anyone take notice unless the speed limit is monitored? It’s the policing, monitoring and open objective reporting of the Implementation Plan’s intentions that will count.

Otherwise who cares about nameless officials making 100 pages of boasts and promises, even if the proof-reading is impressive and the diagrams look good if you don’t try to follow their meaning?

SMEs and agile to play key role as Government launches ICT plan.

Cabinet Office’s Government ICT Strategy – Strategic Implementation Plan.

Puffbox analysis of Implementation Plan.

Is there a useful job for the Cabinet Office?

Fiddling savings on shared services? Officialdom in need of reform

 By TonyCollins

An NAO report today suggests that some officials are fiddling projected savings figures from a shared services deal involving seven research councils.

It all began so well. A Fujitsu press release in 2008 said:

“UK Research Councils to implement shared services with Fujitsu. £40 million project will generate cost and efficiency savings across the organisations.”

An executive who representedFujitsu Services’ was quoted in the press release as saying at the time:

“Fujitsu is consistently proving that it can deliver effective shared services infrastructures and is playing a vital role in driving forward the transformational government agenda through shared services.

“Organisations that adopt a shared services approach can experience genuine economies of scale and reduction in costs which can be essential in their drive for continuous improvement.

Twenty-one months later Fujitsu and Research Councils UK parted company. The 10-year shared services contract began in August 2007. It was terminated by mutual consent in November 2009.

A revealing report, which is published today by the National Audit Office, shows how, despite the best intentions by the Cabinet Office to improve the management of IT-related projects and programmes, and decades of mistakes to learn from, some officials in departments are still making it up as they go along.

The worrying thing in the NAO report is not only what happened in the past – few will be surprised that the NAO report characterises the shared services deal as lacking professionalism. What’s worrying is officialdom’s more recent disregard for the truth when claiming savings for its shared services arrangements.

The NAO’s report”Shared Services in the Research Councils” suggests that officials manipulated – some could say fiddled – projected savings figures.

The NAO also found that officials awarded a £46m shared services contract to Fujitsu which came second in the bid evaluation. Exactly how the contract came to be awarded will be investigated soon by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

Origins of shared services contract  

In 2004 a review led by the Government adviser Peter Gershon suggested that the public sector should save money by sharing support services such as IT, HR and finance. In 2006 officials at the Department of Trade and Industry (now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) encouraged their colleagues at seven research councils to set up a shared service centre, which they did.

The UK Research Councils is an important organisation. In 2009/10 it spent £3.7bn, mostly on giving research grants to universities, the European Space Agency and other organisations. Its biggest recipient of grants is the Medical Research Council.

Fujitsu contract

Public servants appointed Fujitsu in August 2007 to put in place the ICT systems to underpin the shared service centre in a ten-year contract worth £46m. Fujitsu came second in the initial bid evaluations.

The NAO said that the bidding process produced a shortlist of three companies including Fujitsu. Said the NAO:

“The initial weightings applied by the [bid] panel had placed Fujitsu second: although the bid had scored well on quality, it was 19 per cent more expensive than the cheapest bid.”

An independent review commissioned by the project board backed the evaluations which put Fujitsu second. But the bid panel and the project board had concerns about the evaluation. The supplier chosen in the evaluation – which the NAO refuses to name – did not score well on quality requirements.

It appears that the bid panel and the project board preferred Fujitsu.

Mathematical error

Then officials happened to spot a mathematical error in the bid scoring. The corrected scoring left Fujitsu on top, as the new preferred bidder.

Said the NAO:

“… a mathematical error was identified by a member of the project team that changed the order of the preferred suppliers, leaving Fujitsu as the front runner

“The [bid] panel reconvened to discuss this but, rather than re-performing in full the quantitative and qualitative analysis and submitting this to independent review, it decided to appoint Fujitsu on the basis of a vote.

“In September 2007 the gateway review team concluded that the incident had weakened the value of the overall process and had left the project at risk of challenge.”

User requirements unclear

Full delivery was due in September 2008 but the project team and Fujitsu “quickly encountered difficulties, resulting in contract termination by mutual consent in November 2009”.

The NAO said there was “miscommunication between the parties about expectations and deliverables, primarily because design requirements had not been sufficiently defined before the contract started”.

Fujitsu consequently missed agreed milestones. “Fujitsu and the Centre told us that the fixed-rate contract awarded by the project proved to be unsuitable when the customers’ requirements were still unclear.”

Officials paid Fujitsu a total of £31.9 million, of which £546,000 related to termination costs. Despite the payments to Fujitsu, parts of the system were withdrawn and rebuilt in-house.

Overspend on Fujitsu contract

The NAO found there were “significant overspends on design and build activities and the contract with Fujitsu.”

At least £13m wasted on Fujitsu deal

Said the NAO:

“Had the Fujitsu contract worked as planned, we estimate that the additional £13.2m design and build costs … would not have been needed. In addition the project management overspend of £9.1m would have been lower, as, after termination of the Fujitsu contract, a significant overhead in managing contractors was incurred by the project.”

Fujitsu out – Oracle in

The breakdown in relations with Fujitsu led to the appointment of Oracle as supplier of the grants element of the project. “The contract with Oracle suggested that lessons had been learnt by the project following its experience with Fujitsu, with greater effort given to specifying the design upfront,” said the NAO.

Did officials know what they were doing?

In deciding how to share services the research councils came up with six options including setting up a centre run jointly by the councils or joining with another public sector agency such as one supplying the NHS.

But two of the options including the NHS one were dropped without proper analysis, said the NAO. The remaining four options were each given a score of one to three, against seven criteria. “The scores appear to be purely judgemental with no quantified analysis,” said the NAO.

Even if the six options had been properly appraised, the evaluation would have failed because it did not include a “do-minimum” option as recommended by HM Treasury.

“Overall, the quality of options appraisal was poor,” said the NAO.

Fiddling the figures?

 The NAO found that:

–         Initial estimates were of zero projected procurement savings from shared services. But by the time the first draft of the business case had been written the projected savings had soared to £693.9m.

–         When this project board queried this figure the research councils’ internal audit service scaled down the figure to £403.7m – but this included £159.3m of savings that internal audit had concluded were not soundly based.

–         Since the shared services centre began officials have recorded procurement savings of £35.2m against the business case and while of these are valid savings some are not. The NAO investigated 19 high-value savings that represented 40% of savings recorded to the end of 2010 and found that 35% “should not be claimed against the project investment”.

–         The research councils have been “unable to provide paperwork to substantiate the claimed saving”.

–         Savings claimed were indistinguishable from normal business practice such as disputing costs claimed by a supplier.

–         Clear evidence exists that the budget holder had no intention or need to pay the higher price against which the saving was calculated

–         Last month the research councils claimed that savings were £28m higher than they had reported previously owing to errors in the original numbers. But the NAO found that the councils were unable to reconcile fully the two sets of numbers; had not used a single method for calculating benefits or tracked these effectively; and had not included £7m of spending incurred by the councils. “Overall, this review has highlighted that Councils have not put in place proper processes to track benefits and forecast future operational savings,” said the NAO.

–         Further, investments needed to deliver projected savings have not been included in calculations.

–         Double counting. A revised target for projected procurement savings procurement “includes elements of double counting …”

Other NAO findings:

–        Four Gateway review reports of progress on setting up the shared services centre, including a review which put the project at “red – immediate action needed”, were not fully followed up. 

–         There was no evidence of intervention by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills when it became clear the shared services project was likely to overspend.

–         The shared services centre has begun to match the pre-shared services payment performance of the research councils but a high number of invoices was on hold at the end of July 2011 because of problems with the end-to-end processes. About 5,900 invoices were on hold, awaiting payment, in July 2011, which was 21 per cent of all invoices due to be paid in that month. The reason for the delay was being investigated.

–         Despite the shared services arrangements, some research council staff were at times running parallel systems, or managing their businesses without adequate data.

–         In July 2011 the shared services centre had 53 key performance targets to meet but was only able to measure activity against 37 of them and of these met only 13..

–         Five of the seven research councils did not file annual accounts on time in 2011 in part because functions in the finance ICT system were not delivered by the project.

Some good news

Said the NAO:

“The grants function and its associated ICT system developed by the project has allowed the Councils to replace older systems that were increasingly at risk of failing. This is of critical importance, given that the processing of research grant applications lies at the heart of what the Councils do. The single grants system has the potential to make it easier for the Councils to collectively modify their processes in the future…”

Comment

The commendably thorough NAO investigation has shown once again how badly departments and their satellites are in need of independent Cabinet Office oversight when it comes to major IT-related projects. In that respect thank goodness for the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority. But how much influence can it really have? How much influence is it having?

This NAO report suggests that some officials are fiddling the figures without a care for professional accounting practices. Double counting, not including full costs in projected savings calculations, not having paperwork to support figures and other such administrative misdemeanours indicates that some officials are making up savings figures as they go along.

What is to be done when some departments and their agencies are not to be trusted in managing major projects?

NAO report on shared services at seven research councils

Summary Care Record – an NPfIT success?

By Tony Collins

Last month the Department of Health briefed the Daily Mail on plans to dismantle the National Programme for IT.  The result was a front page  lead article in the Mail, under the headline:

£12bn NHS computer system is scrapped… and it’s all YOUR money that Labour poured down the drain.

The article said:

The Coalition will today announce it is putting a halt to years of scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money on a system that never worked.  It will cut its losses and ‘urgently’ dismantle the National Programme for IT…”

Now the DH has briefed the Telegraph on the success of  Summary Care Records, the national database run by BT under its NPfIT Spine contract.

So the Telegraph has given good coverage to the summary care records scheme.

By its selective briefings the DH has achieved prominent coverage in the national press for dismantling a failing £12bn NHS IT programme, and for modernising the NHS by successfully creating summary care records (under an IT programme that is being dismantled).

The DH’s officials know that the national press will usually give priority to off-the-record briefings by representatives of departments, especially if the briefing is in advance of the issuing of a press release. The Telegraph’s article was in advance of the DH’s publication of this press release.

Prominent in the Telegraph’s coverage was Simon Burns, the NPfIT minister, who in May 2011 spoke on BBC R4’s Today programme of the “fantastic” NPfIT systems [which are based on Cerner Millennium] at the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust.

Last week in his praise of summary care records in the Telegraph Burns quoted various medical organisations as supporting the scheme. Taken together the Telegraph articles depict the Summary Care Records scheme as a success – an important part of patient care and treatment.  Said Burns :

“Patient charities have seized on the Summary Care Record; a new type of national, electronic record containing key medical information, as a way of making sure the NHS knows what it needs to about their condition.

“Some of these groups have told us how this can sometimes be a real struggle. Asthma patients being asked to repeat their medical history when they are struggling to breathe. The patient with lung disease carrying around a wash bag with ‘Please make sure I take this medication’ written on it when they are admitted to hospital. Or even the terminally ill patient who ends up dying in hospital because their wish to die at home wasn’t shared with an out–of–hours doctor.

“Patient groups are recognising that one of the easiest and most effective ways of giving these patients a stronger voice is to use the record to tell the NHS the most crucial information about their condition.

“The record contains information about medications, allergies and bad reactions to drugs and is mainly being used by outof–hours GPs to provide safer care where no other information is available…

“Patients can speak to their GP about adding extra information that they want the NHS to know about them in an emergency to their record. The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign has urged their patients to do just this as the first group to recognise the potential of the Summary Care Record. Mencap, AsthmaUK, DiabetesUKand the British Lung Foundation are also raising awareness among patients about how the Summary Care Record can be used to improve and personalise the care they receive.

“Some seriously ill patients have added information about their end of life wishes to their record, helping to ensure that their wishes, typically to die at home, are respected.

“This is because information about their wishes can be shared with everyone, including, most critically, outof–hours doctors and paramedics, involved in their care.

“Some patients have voluntarily added ‘do not resuscitate’ requests to their records, which would be cross–checked against other sources of information at the point of care. Families and carers report that this has saved them and their loved ones much needless distress…”

The Telegraph noted that about 8.8 million people – a fifth of the total number of patients in England – have summary care electronic records. All 33.5 million NHS patients in England are being offered the opportunity of having the service, said the newspaper which added that only a “few” people have opted out. [About 1.2% have opted out, which is about double the rate of opt-outs in the early stages of the SCR programme.]

Comment:

When he meets his Parliamentary colleagues Simon Burns does not like to hear criticism of the NPfIT. He is earning a reputation as the NPfIT’s most senior press officer, which may seem odd given that the programme is supposedly being dismantled.

But Burns’ enthusiasm for the NPfIT is not odd.  He is reflecting the views of his officials, as have all Labour NPfIT ministers:  Caroline Flint, Ben Bradshaw and Mike O’Brien were in the line of Labour NPfIT ministers who gave similar speeches in praise of the national programme.

That Burns is following suit raises the question of why he is drawing a minister’s salary when he is being simply the public face of officialdom, not an independent voice, not a sceptical challenge for the department.

Burns and his Labour predecessors make the mistake of praising an NPfIT project because it is a good idea in principle. Their statements ignore how the scheme is working in practice.

The NPfIT’s projects are based on good ideas: it is a good idea having an accurate, regularly-updated electronic health record that any clinician treating you can view. But the evidence so far is that the SCR has inaccuracies and important omissions. Researchers from UCL found that the SCR  could not be relied on by clinicians as a single source of truth; and it was unclear who was responsible or accountable for errors and omissions, or keeping the records up to date .

Should an impractical scheme be justified on the basis that it would be a good thing if it worked?

The organisations Burns cites as supporting the summary care record scheme are actually supporting the underlying reasons for the scheme. They are neutral or silent, and perhaps unaware, of how the scheme is working, and not working, in practice.

That has always been the way. The NPfIT has been repeatedly justified on the basis of what it could do. Since they launched it in 2002, ministers and officials at the DH and NHS Connecting for Health have spoken about the programme’s benefits in the future tense. The SCR “will” be able to …

Hence, six years into the SCR,  the headline of the DH’s latest press release on the scheme is still in the future tense:

Summary Care Record to benefit millions of patients with long term conditions, say patient groups

Burns says in the press release that the SCR has the “potential” to transform the experience of healthcare for millions of patients with long term conditions and for their families and carers.

Caroline Stevens, Interim Chief Operating Officer at the British Lung Foundation says in the same press release that the SCR “will” bring many benefits for patients.

And Nic Bungay, Director of Campaigns, Care and Support at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign says in the press release that his organisation sees the great “potential” for Summary Care Records…”

Summary Care Records – the underlying problems 

Shouldn’t the SCR, hundreds of millions of pounds having been spent, be transforming healthcare now? The evidence so far is that the SCR scheme is of limited use and might have problems that run too deep to overcome.

Trisha Greenhalgh and a team of researchers at UCL carried out an in-depth study of the SCR with funding from NHS Connecting for Health though CfH did not always  extend the hand of friendship to the team.

Greenhalgh showed a conference of Graphnet healthcare users at Bletchley Park code-breaking centre last year how the SCR scheme was entangled in a web of political, clinical, technical, commercial and personal considerations.

Quite how political the scheme had become and how defensive officials at the DH had been over Greenhalgh’s study can be seen in her presentation to Graphnet users which included her comment that:

“All stakeholders [in the UCL report] except Connecting for Health wrote and congratulated us on the final report.”

CfH had sent Greenhalgh 94 pages of queries on her team’s draft report, to which they replied with 100 pages of point-by-point answers. The final report, “The Devil’s in the Detail“, was accepted by peer review – though it later transpired, as a result of UCL investigations, that one of the anonymous peer reviewers was in fact working for Connecting for Health.

These were some of the Greenhalgh team’s findings:

– There was low take-up of the SCR by hospital clinicians for various reasons: the database was not always available for technical reasons, such as a loss of N3 broadband connection; and clinicians did not always have a smartcard, were worried about triggering an alert on the system, were not motivated to use it, or might have been unable to find a patient on the “spine”.  The  SCR was used more widely by out-of-hours doctors and walk-in centres.

– GP practices had systems that were never likely to be compliant with the Summary Care Record central system.

– The SCR helped when a record existed and the patient had trouble communicating.

– The SCR helped when a record existed and the patient was unable to say what multiple medications they were using.

–  There were tensions between setting a high standard for GPs to upload records or lowering standards of data quality to encourage more GP practices to join the scheme.

–  Front-line staff didn’t like asking patients for consent to view the SCR at the point of care. This consent model was unworkable, inappropriate or stressful.

–  There was no direct evidence of safer care but the SCR may reduce some rare medication errors.

– There was no clear evidence that consultations were quicker.

– Costly changes to supplier contracts were needed to take in requirements that were not fully appreciated at the outset of the programme.

– The scheme was far more complex than had been debated in public. Its success depended on radical changes to systems, protocols, budget allocations, organisational culture and ways of working. And these could not be simply standardised because nearly every health site was different.

So what’s the answer?

The SCR is an excellent idea in principle. Every out-of-hours doctor should know each patient’s most recent medical history, current medications and any adverse drug reactions.

But this could be provided locally – by local schemes that have local buy-in and for which there is accountability and responsibility locally. It can be argued that the Summary Care Record, as a national database, was never going to work. Who is responsible for the mistakes in records? Who cares if it is never widely used? Who cares if records are regularly updated or not? Why should GPs care about a national database? They care about their own systems.

It appears therefore that the SCR has benefited, in the main, the central bureaucracy and its largest IT supplier BT.  The SCR national database has kept power, influence and spending control at the centre, emasculating to some extent the control of GPs over their patient records.

The central bureaucracy continues to justify the scheme with statistics on how many records have been created without mentioning how little the records are looked at, how little the information is trusted, and how pervasive are the errors and omissions.

BT and DH officials will be delighted to read Simon Burns’ commentary in the Telegraph on the SCR. But isn’t it time IT-based schemes were unshackled from politics? DH press releases on the success of local IT schemes would be few and far between. But why should £235m – the last estimated cost of the SCR – be spent so that ministers can make speeches and be quoted in press releases?

.

Delivering the agility to bring the corporate network to life

By David Bicknell 

A recent blog  asked whether businesses need the IT department when it comes to purchasing cloud services for business units. After all, the piece suggested, the Internet is all about eliminating the middleman from the transaction. https://www.infosecisland.com/blogview/15280-Informal-Cloud-Buyers-A-Growing-IT-Problem.html

The same argument could apply to non–Cloud apps where SMEs are increasingly providing turn-on-a-sixpence like agility to deliver apps and end-to-end solutions to business units, by-passing internally-focused IT departments that look cautious, defensive and too eager to pull up their ‘it’s not strategic’ comfort blanket.

In fact, ‘informal buyers’ make five times as many software buying decisions as the IT people who are supposed to be in charge, according to Forrester. According to a Q4 2010 Forrester survey, 69 percent of 3,000 business managers reserved part of their operations budgets to buy tech services directly, rather than through IT.

Faced with IT’s frequent intransigence in embracing new innovative solutions provided by SMEs, and citing their need to move quickly and with agility, business units are insisting that they want end-to-end solutions that truly understand business problems and solve them, meeting immediate business needs today, not in six months’ time once IT has a done another strategic review.

Buyers want to take advantage of the rich innovation offered by specialist SMEs who probably understand the business’s needs – and what’s more, relate to it – far better than the internal IT department, which too often understands technology, but not often enough, its own business.

Those specialist SMEs include Mvine, which gives business people all the tools they need to work in partnership across corporate boundaries, productively and securely. Indeed, Mvine is  finding that increasingly the business is not looking for IT-driven point solutions with a technology-led tag, such as collaboration, but a flexible, end-to-end platform that understands and speaks the business’s language, while delivering on the business’s multiple requirements, from document management to business intelligence. This approach facilitates effective communication and collaboration with customers and enables closer engagement with both partners and employees, outside the corporate silos, but still inside a secure, trusting environment. In the insurance world Exvine is attracting interest amongst business executives who quickly grasp the flexible, end-to-end capabilities of the platform and are impressed by the speed of deployment, usually only 4-6 weeks from concept to full production system. The rapid implementation, thanks to Cloud delivery, and flexible design features are proving to offer a refreshing alternative to traditional IT delivery approaches, which have often been slow and costly. 

Mvine’s latest innovation, 6.0, available to both Mvine and Exvine customers, provides a number of feature enhancements including compatibility with new technology such as tablets, improved search capabilities, data exports to Outlook, the creation of sales reports, security switches, multi-chapter video enablement, improved image quality and digital assets and event functionality.

What Mvine is now offering is a vision for the future of social business, creating a rich data store on companies and people, complete with email, videoconferencing, telephony and links to social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter that weaves a tapestry of relevant corporate communications including recent events, conversations, video, company updates and pictures: an interactive database of information and communication to replace the static spreadsheet. Mvine enables employees to get to know each other better, without exposing the organisation to the risks of social networks. It’s local , not social networking.

And because business intelligence is now so important to companies, customers can create reports of what their users are doing with the site in real-time. Information created, detailing data such as age, gender, frequency to the site, downloads, location, job function, can then be used to produce reports and help target marketing campaigns and generate sales leads, providing a bespoke service to customers and intelligent approach to understanding your user base.

The Mvine platform also has the capability to pull in and harness a wealth of data from physical appliances and fixtures, such as light fittings and plug sockets, entering this information ‘from the Internet of things’ into the platform’s BI tool for a widening list of uses, from environmental purposes through to practical maintenance enquiries. Such pure data, duly tuned or distilled so that extraneous ‘noise’ is filtered out, is the currency that enables organisations to make better business decisions.

Why is all this so important? Because in future instead of pockets of knowledge, companies will have one central nervous system that unifies every piece of corporate information and fundamentally changes how companies do business, unlocking the vast amount of information generated by everyday operations and making it instantly available. These ‘Activity Streams’, as Gartner calls them,  humanise every business process inside a company, adding a social layer to data and opening up real-time collaboration.

Why Activity Streams and Social Analytics promise to be the future of enterprise collaboration

By David Bicknell

One of the most eagerly anticipated reports each year is Gartner’s Hype Cycle, which assesses more than 1,900 technologies on their maturity, business benefit and future direction.

It provides a cross-industry perspective on the trends that IT managers should consider adopting within their ‘must-watch this technology’ portfolios.

Throughout 2011, two of the most-watched technologies have been ‘Social Analytics’ and ‘Activity Streams’ which are in Gartner’s “Peak of Inflated Expectations” where typically a frenzy of publicity generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations of the technology, and which often means that although there may be some successful applications of a technology, there are likely to be more failures than fanfares.

These two, however, may be different. Activity Streams has been described as the future of enterprise collaboration, uniting people, data, and applications in real-time in a central, accessible, virtual interface. Take the idea of a company social network where every employee, system, and business process exchanges up-to-the-minute information about their activities and outcomes. Now, instead of pockets of knowledge, the company will have one central nervous system that unifies every piece of corporate information.

Activity Streams can fundamentally change how companies do business, unlocking and releasing the vast amount of information generated by everyday operations and making it instantly available, humanising every business process inside a company, while adding a social layer to data and opening up real-time collaboration.

As the Cisco Communities blog pointed out earlier this year, the overall concept of Activity Streams is compelling because streams allow applications to publish events that are captured by aggregators that serialise the items into a sequence of posts. Often items include options for people to “like”, comment, or react to the item in some manner through a rating. Aggregating events into a common stream also enables people to easily subscribe (“follow”) a collective set of events from one or more publishers.

Cisco Communities suggests potential benefits are not just accrued by people-centric activity streams. Indeed, applications of all types can also generate activities into a stream to keep people aware of system events (e.g., a new sales win, an urgent alert of some sort). As the enterprise considers how Activity Streams can be leveraged, interest in role-based and process-related streams is also likely to emerge. The idea is that both productivity and collaboration needs can be improved by making events more visible and allowing people to take action more effectively (sometimes collectively) based on that level of event transparency (especially when compared to how people rely on their e-mail inbox for much of this type of group notification and work coordination).

There are some riders, however. As more people and applications create events published into a common stream, the resulting volume and velocity by which events “stream by” can cause people to miss something relevant, which means they end up spending time scrolling up and down searching for things they might have missed. Depending on the way activities are aggregated, there may be limits as to how much information is actually kept around to enable historical review. The risk is that Activity Streams can become just as messy and burdensome as an email inbox. Better filtering may help – but this is still a developing area.

Where does Social Analytics come in, you might ask?  Social Analytics is closely related to Activity Streams because from the vast amount of real-time and dynamic information available, actionable insights need to be extracted so that the organisation can efficiently and effectively focus itself.

The Mvine platform has already developed this capability so that customers can create reports of what their users are doing with the site in real-time. Information created, detailing data such as age, gender, frequency to the site, downloads, location, job function, can then be used to produce reports and help target marketing campaigns and generate sales leads; providing a bespoke service to customers and an intelligent approach to understanding your user base.

It is important to be aware that when it comes to Social Analytics, one size never fits all. That is why there is a need for ‘Adaptive’ Social Analytics because the analytics will always depend on the context in which they’re being used, on which explicit application you’re using, and on the people and content you’re interested in.

For example, if you’re using an Mvine portal to communicate with a consumer-based client base, then you’ll want to know more about them as individuals, in particular their demographics. Are they ABC1, for example? However, if you’re using it to manage the content and communications in your supply chain, then the analytics required will need to cover roles and relevance i.e. Is the right department receiving and acting on your communications? Who there is receiving it? Is it the right information for their role? If your alerts are targeting Finance Directors, but your event attendees seem to be from HR, why is that? Are your alerts going to the right people, with the right demographics in terms of gender, age, responsibility and location? For example, why are you targeting an event at geographically-spread project managers in the South who never have time to meet, when better targets would be those in closer-knit locations in the North? And are your user group chapter and product discussion groups full of a silent majority of followers, or voluble – and valuable – opinion formers?  

If the company is a business-to-business organisation where regulation is critical, then the analytics information delivered will necessarily be concerned with proof that processes have been appropriately followed and that required review and sign-off complies with the organisation’s designated policies and procedures. Your analytics information will therefore comprise time-stamping information that details who did what, where and when.

Why is this important? Well, it’s all about people, context and content.  Just because we are talking about the Internet does not change the requirement for the basics to be right when it comes to the delivery of effective and usable information. We need the right information to be delivered to the right people, with the right context, in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way. Anything less, then we’re dealing with ineffective information, which is likely to herald an equally ineffective, or worse, a wrong business decision.

Agile – a series of London Tea Parties

By Tony Collins

Anyone interested in agile techniques  – users and suppliers, public and private sectors – is invited to share ideas at a London Tea Party on 22 September at the Cafe Zest, 2nd Floor of the House of Fraser on Victoria Street, from 4pm – 6pm.

It is arranged by Abby Peel who has recently joined Mark O’Neill in the Innovation and Delivery team within the Government Digital Service. Peel is Head of Community.

Peel says that “AgileTea”  is an informal get-together for those who work with agile methods, are interested in it, or who know nothing about it but want to know more.

An example of agile in government is the Government e-petitions website which was launched recently to much public interest after being developed by the Innovation team in six weeks.

AgileTea will be the first of a regular series of informal, BarCamp style events that will bring together like-minded people to hear, contribute and engage in discussion of agile methods.

Each meeting will have guest speakers. Anyone can ask to give a short presentation of up to 10 minutes.  At the first AgileTea speakers will be Richard Pawson  from Naked Objects who’ll talk on “Experience of very large scale agile development at the Irish Department of Social Protection” and Mark Foden of Foden Grealy who’ll speak on “Where agile fits”.