Category Archives: reforms

UK GovIT often a barrier not enabler says Cabinet Office official

By Tony Collins

In an interview for Chris Chant, Executive Director at the Cabinet Office and head of the G-Cloud programme,  debunks the claims of some that GovIT doing a great job and should remain largely untouched.

Chant says: “IT is supposed to be an enabler. Quite often in my experience in government IT it is actually a barrier to getting things done. That’s no way to use IT. It is supposed to support what we do.”

His criticism puts into context claims by some in the civil service that GovIT is an unpublicised success because of the ease and success of online re-taxing of vehicles, the payment of benefits to millions of people and the collection of taxes.

Chant has made clear his concern that some departments are locked into major IT suppliers through costly, inflexible long-term contracts that, in some cases, are being signed anew.

“In the main we are not delivering good quality IT to government and public sector workers. We are not delivering good IT solutions to the citizen …”

He calls for internal change and describes SMEs as “front and centre to what we need”.

“It is with SMEs that agility and innovation lie, and it is that market we are really encouraging… Good IT is not developed by spending a long time trying to work out a definitive answer, and then taking ages over delivering it only to discover it is not what we needed in the first place. It is about iteration. I have said all along that we do not have all the answers. We will develop as we go and take SMEs with us.”

Asked whether the public sector is ready for the cloud Chant replies: “No we are not. We are quite a way from that… We are very well positioned to operate in a world where our IT is delivered by multinationals but now it is a different world.”

He says that the cloud has security limitations. “It is difficult to see the cloud in the short term handling some of the higher security aspects of what we do but for a lot of what government does it’s about commodity products and we need to get people in who know how to handle that.”

The focus he says must always be on the citizen – assumptions should not start from a departmental or systems standpoint. “We will need to change the way we do things; we will need some new people and I suspect a lot of retraining. I think we will need a lot fewer people working on the client side of government IT…

“We are in really tough times and the idea that we can operate with [current] cost levels is wrong…”

Government clouds take shape –

The unavoidable truths about GovIT – Chris Chant.

Vested interests will try to stop GovIT changing.

What exactly is HM Revenue and Customs paying Capgemini billions for?

DWP signs new large contracts with HP, Accenture, IBM and Capgemini.

SaaS or Cloud SME? – get in touch says Cabinet Office official

By Tony Collins

Chris Chant, Executive Director in the Cabinet Office working as Programme Director for the G-Cloud initiative, says in a blog post that “if you are an SME and you have a SaaS or other cloud service that government might use – we want to know about it”.

Chant says the government is changing the way it buys and uses IT. “We have trained our suppliers and ourselves to think that we need big, complex solutions to complicated problems; which has meant that all too often it’s only the big, complex suppliers that get a look in.

“We are changing all this. We are giving SMEs and ourselves a chance to work together by levelling the playing field for all IT suppliers.”

Chant says it won’t happen overnight and mistakes may be made.  “This is new territory for many departments and very few are experienced at handling this new way of working.

“I think it’s fair to say that many just can’t see how this can happen yet though
many know it must.” Government users are not so different to others.

“First off government has realised that it’s not that different. From now
on, if government wants some IT,  it needs to do what everyone else does and look  at what’s already available, not just what we can pay to have built for us and not just what we are used to doing.

“It will be uncomfortable, uncharted territory for many but it must be done. It is unacceptable for things to remain the same. So if you are a SME and you have a SaaS or other cloud service that government might use – we want to know about it.”

Chant says that government will use open standards wherever it can, and buy IT on pay-as-you-go or short term contracts.

“Some contracts may be longer but there must be a break option, in my view, at no later than 12 months.

“Of course organisations will offer lower prices for longer lock-ins but, as I’ve said before, the cost of being unable to exit will almost always outweigh the savings.”

Chant says that if you are an SME, any supplier that’s never worked with government, or an existing supplier that “gets” cloud “you are the type of people we need to work with the deliver the savings all of us need”.

Talk to us, he adds.

Chris Chant’s blog post.

Vested interests will try to stop GovIT changing.

Where is the Government CIO?

By Tony Collins

Joe Harley, Government CIO

Joe Harley, the government CIO, is much respected inside and outside of government.

Amiable, straight-talking and influential, he could be the Government’s civil service ambassador for change.  Like his predecessor John Suffolk he could use conferences and public events to talk inspirationally about the dystopian costs of government IT and what to do about them. He could jolt the complacent into an awareness of their self-deceptions.

Why hasn’t he? If the Government CIO has much to say  is not for the public ear.  While there has been talk in recent weeks of how five corporations control GovIT, and how it can cost up to £50,000 to change a line of code, Harley has been silent.

Where does the Government CIO stand on the need for major reform of the machinery of government, on the sensible risks that could save billions?

Is the top man in Government IT inspiring his colleagues and officials in other departments to do things differently?

It’s true that Joe Harley has enough to do – perhaps too much – in his “other” day job as CIO and Director General of Corporate IT,  Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He is a leader of the programme that is helping to deliver Universal Credit. He chairs the public sector-wide CIO Council; and his trying to do more with a smaller budget will require all the skill and the experience he acquired as global CIO for ICI Paints and before that as BP’s IT Vice President for global applications, hosting and consultancy.

These responsibilities give Harley a chance to point to a new way, to confront unequivocally the costs of GovIT, to lead by example: by replacing gradually the long-term contracts and monolithlic suppliers of old; by listening to SMEs and employing them directly, and in more than a token capacity.

What has happened is the opposite. HP, Accenture, IBM and CapGemini are safe in his hands.

The DWP has recently awarded those suppliers new and conventionally-large, long-term contracts. Headlines in the past two months hint at how the DWP will, for years to come, dance to the tune of its large IT suppliers:

“DWP signs fifth large deal with HP”

“DWP awards Accenture seven year application services deal”

“DWP awards IT deals to IBM and Capgemini”

These deals could be seen as a protest against all that Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, stands for.

In March Maude spoke of a need for big contracts to be broken down into “smaller, more flexible projects” which would “open up the market to SMEs and new providers”. Maude wants to end the oligopoly of big GovIT suppliers – but does he have an influence at the DWP?

Nobody is suggesting that Harley shows a hard fist at the negotiating table. But he should assert himself sufficiently in public to make us believe that his appointment as Government CIO was more than the filling of a vacuum.

He doesn’t need to lead by radiating charisma; but can you inspire from the shadows?  Billions is spent unnecessarily each year on not changing the government administration. So it’s time Harley advocated change.  He could be a standing reproach to the myth that senior civil servants do all in their power to obstruct change.

Deposing the muscular monoliths in the supplier community will require a consuming interest in innovation, courage (risk-taking) and a passion to cut costs. Harley has many strengths and qualities. Surely these are among them. But if they’re not manifest soon, some in government will wonder if the Government CIO has gone missing.


DWP awards 7-year deal worth up to £350m to Accenture

DWP signs fifth large deal with HP

DWP awards deals to IBM and Capgemini

DWP signs big contracts with IBM and Capgemini

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.

The unavoidable truths about GovIT – by Cabinet Office official

The vast majority of GovIT is “outrageously expensive” says Chris Chant. “Things have changed and we haven’t.”

By Tony Collins

Chris Chant is one of the most experienced IT officials in central government. He was CIO at Defra where he led IT service improvement programmes with strategic outsourcing partners  including IBM. His reforms helped to change the way people worked.

He was also CIO at the Government Olympic Executive, part of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Now he is an Executive Director in the Cabinet Office working as Programme Director for the G-Cloud initiative.

In a cloud computing event hosted by the Institute for Government in London, Chant told it like it is. The points he make indicate that major change is less of a risk to public finances than keeping the machinery of government as it is.

He began his talk by thanking those in government IT who have been“working their socks off”. He had been talking positively to his teams in the last week and now “it is time to recognise some of the less positive aspects about what we do”.

He added: “We need to face some unavoidable truths head on about government IT as it has been done.”

These were his main points:

“The vast majority of government IT in my view is outrageously expensive, is ridiculously slow, or agile-less, is poor quality in the main and, most unforgivably I think, is rarely user-centric in any meaningful way at all.”

He said it is unacceptable:

–  That “80% of Government IT is controlled by five corporations”.

–  That “some organisations outsource their IT strategy in Government”.

–  That “to change one line of code in one application can cost up to £50,000”.

–  To wait 12 weeks to get a server commissioned for use.  He said: “That’s pretty commonplace. When you think in terms of using a service like Amazon the most problematic thing on the critical path is the time it takes you to get your
credit card out of your wallet and enter the details on screen”.

–  That the civil service does not know the true cost of a service and the real exit costs from those services – the costs commercially, technically and from a business de-integration standpoint. “So  how do we untangle our way out of a particular product or service. I cannot tell you how many times I have had the discussion that says: we need to get away from that but we cannot because of the complexity of getting out from where we are: all the things hanging on to that particular service that we cannot disentangle ourself from.”

– To enter into any contracts for more than 12  months. “I cannot see how we can sit in a world of IT and acknowledge the arrival of the iPad in the last two years and yet somehow imagine we can predict what we are going to need to be doing in two or three, or five or seven or ten years time.”

–  Not to know in government “how many staff we have on the client side of IT”. He said: “I have not yet met anybody who knows what that figure is. People know about small areas but overall we don’t know what that figure is.

– Not to know what IT people do. “So we don’t have any idea of the breakdown of that number that we don’t know either, surprisingly. I think that is outrageous in this climate, and in any climate.”

–  Not to know “what systems we own how much they cost; and how much or even if they’re used”. He said: “I know there are organisations that have turned off tens of thousands of desktop services merely to discover if they are used anymore; and when they do that they discover maybe one per cent are still being used. That’s completely unacceptable.”

– Not to know when users give up on an online service; “and it’s unacceptable not to know why they give up”. He said: “Of course it is unacceptable that they have to give up because the service does not fulfil their needs.”

– to have a successful online service that sends out reminders to use that service through the post.

–  Not to be able to communicate with customers securely and electronically when technology clearly allows that to happen.

– Not to be able to “do our work from any device we choose”. He said: “That is possible and has been for some time. It’s outrageous we cannot do that.”

– To pay up to £3,500 per person per year for a desktop service.

–  That “your corporate desktop to take 10 minutes to boot and the same amount of time to close down”. He said: “But that is the truth of what goes on everyday in Government IT and I suspect the public sector too.”

–  For staff to be unable to access Twitter or YouTube, when they use those services for what they do.

– For call centre staff not to be able to access the very service they are supporting at the call centre. “It sounds funny but  when you think of the consequences of that it is truly dreadful.”

–  To ensure people are working by restricting their access to the Internet. “If we cannot measure people by outputs where on  earth are we?”

Above all, said Chant, “it is unacceptable not to engage  directly with the most agile forward-thinking suppliers that are in the SME  market today and are not among the suppliers we have been using”.

Chris Chant’s talk

This is much of what Chris Chant said:

“A bunch of people have worked their socks off [but], through no  fault of their own, on the wrong thing for some time too… And it’s quite tough being in IT because, a bit like  electricity, it’s one of the rare things people seem to use almost all of the time…but we need to face some unavoidable truths head on about government IT as it has been done.

The vast majority of government IT in my view is outrageously expensive, is ridiculously slow, or agile-less, is poor quality in  the main and, most unforgivably I think, is rarely user centric in any  meaningful way at all…

I’ll give you my personal view of the unacceptable. I have spent a lot of time with teams in the last week talking positively about things and I think it is time to recognise some of the less positive aspects of what we do.

I think it is unacceptable at this point in time to not know the true cost of a service and the real exit costs from those services; the costs commercially, technically and from a business de-integration standpoint – so how do we untangle our way out of a particular product or service? I cannot tell you how many times I have had the discussion that says: we need to get away from that but we cannot because of the complexity of getting out from where we are: all the things hanging on to that particular service that we cannot disentangle ourself from.

I think it is completely unacceptable at this point in time to enter into any contracts for more than 12 months. I cannot see how we can sit in a world of IT and acknowledge the arrival of the iPad in the last two years and yet somehow imagine we can predict what we are going to need to be doing in two to three, or five or seven or 10 years time. It is a complete nonsense.

And to those who say ‘what about a supplier upfront infrastructure: surely you have to fund that somehow?’ I would say: ‘why do we have to treat IT and particularly commodity IT any differently from any other commodity

Marks and Spencer does not come knocking on the door asking me to guarantee to buy three suits and two shirts a year for the next five years and then they will put a store at the bottom of the road… if you look at a small local garage that has to fund its hydraulic ramps and the computer equipment they now need. They do not ask people to fund that upfront. They go into the market confident of their products and confident of their pricing so they will get people back again and arrange for how that gets funding…

I think it is unacceptable not to know in government how many staff we have on the client side of IT. I have not yet met anybody who knows what that figure is. People know about small areas but overall we don’t know what that figure is. It is also unacceptable that we don’t know what those people do. So we don’t have any idea of the breakdown of that number that we don’t know either,  surprisingly. I think that is outrageous in this climate, and in any climate.

It is completely unacceptable we don’t know what systems we own and how much they cost; and how much or even if they’re used. I know there are organisations that have turned off tens of thousands of desktop services merely to discover if they are used anymore; and when they do that they discover maybe one per cent are still being used…

It is unacceptable not to know when users give up on an online service; and it’s unacceptable not to know why they give up. Of course it is unacceptable that they have to give up because the service does not fulfil their needs.

It unacceptable to have a successful online service that sends out reminders to use that service through the post…. Linked to that, it’s completely unacceptable not to be able to communicate with customers securely electronically when technology clearly allows that to happen.

It is unacceptable not to be able to do our work from any device we choose. That is possible and has been for some time.  It’s outrageous we cannot do that.

It is unacceptable to pay – and these figures are Public Accounts Committee figures – up to £3,500 per person per year for a desktop service.

It is unacceptable for your corporate desktop to take 10 minutes to boot and the same amount of time to close down. But that is the truth of what goes on everyday in Government IT and I suspect the public sector too.

It is unacceptable for staff to be unable to access Twitter or YouTube, when they use those services for what they do.

It is unacceptable for call centre staff not to be able to access the very service they are supporting at the call centre. It sounds funny but when you think of the consequences of that it is truly dreadful.

I think it is unacceptable in this day and age to ensure people are working by restricting their access to the Internet. If we cannot measure people by outputs where on earth are we?

It is unacceptable that 80% of Government IT is controlled  by five corporations.

It is unacceptable that some organisations outsource their IT strategy in Government.

It is unacceptable that to change one line of code in one application can cost up to £50,000.

It is unacceptable to wait 12 weeks to get a server commissioned for use. That’s pretty commonplace. When you think in terms of using a service like Amazon the most problematic thing on the critical path is the time it takes you to get your credit card out of your wallet and enter the details on screen.

Above all – and at the heart of a lot of this – it is unacceptable not to engage directly with the most agile forward-thinking suppliers that are in the SME market today and are not among the suppliers we have been using.

So things have changed and we haven’t is what has happened.

A lot of these things could have been explained away five or 10 years ago but I
don’t think they could have been explained away adequately in the last three years, probably at least.

So how does G-cloud help in all of this? I think G-Cloud is about a fundamental change in the way Government and I believe the public sector too does technology. It is not just about cloud computing. It requires a complete change of approach. A cultural change of approach. A change in the way we look at security; a change in the way we look at service management and above all change in the way we procure services we use. So cloud will be cheaper…

Using cloud solutions that have already been secured and accredited
will be cheaper almost always.  We will only pay for what we use. People will only use DR when they use DR.

Over time through the G-Cloud programme, products will be pre-procured and security accredited. They won’t be accredited by the programme itself but by the first users of this, so we don’t have to replicate that work time and time again because that is what a lot of our staff are doing. A lot of the tens of thousands of staff that are working on the client side of government and public sector IT are procuring the same things, accrediting the same things from a security perspective; and it is a complete and utter waste of time and huge money.

You’ll know from the outset the cost of the product and most importantly we will know the cost of exit. Nuclear power looked really cheap all the time somebody chose to ignore de-commissioning of nuclear power stations, and then it became a very different model.

Contracts will be under a year I believe… I don’t believe aggregated demand and long-term contracts bring value for money. Quite the reverse…  why anybody would offer somebody a contract  which meant we could carry on paying them money almost regardless of the service we got, with no meaningful incentive for better performance? That can all change. When we have the ability, through understanding exit and understanding the cost and performance of things, to move out of one product and into another in short order, I guarantee that the price will come down …

… Costs [of streaming] used to be outrageous and the quality was poor until the BBC put together standards on the way it’s done and the BBC can now buy services on daily basis and the cost has dropped by an order of magnitude and the quality is much improved. They know –  the service providers – that tomorrow somebody can go somewhere else. If Marks and Spencer does not provide clothes at the right price and quality people will go down the road and buy somewhere else. It is that, that drives quality and price, not a long-term contract.

[When people see that] products have clear pricing, clear details of what they do, clear details of what exiting that product is going to be like, and it says: ‘Andy Nelson at the Ministry of Justice has used this product over the last year and this is what he says about of it’, that starts to transform what happens on price and quality far and away above anything that any SLA can or ever has given us. So we won’t get ourselves locked in in any way. Not from a commercial or technical perspective. Many products nowadays are designed to get their little feelers locked into every part of your system….

Our staff over time will become skilled system integrators. That’s what will happen in the short term…

We will see people setting up services in minutes instead of years. How?

We have Foundation Delivery Partners – they are departments, local authorities, organisations that come together with others that are looking
to buy cloud products. The FDPs work with a bunch of people from the government procurement service who handle the commercial aspects; they work with staff from CESG to work out security implications and product by product they have begun to break down what it is they need to do, so subsequently that work does not need to be redone.

Over time we will have a model that describes lots of different circumstances of use of products so we will know – the senior risk information officer – will know what has been covered off already and will see the accreditation that has gone on and will know they will only have to fine tune that for the last bit of use in their department. That will dramatically reduce over time the amount of effort that goes into that security.

Large-scale IL3 email is coming soon; and large-scale IL3 collaboration

[The Government Digital Service is off] corporate systems to a solution that is IL0 and IL1 and 2, with IL3 on a few machines to one side. [There are] savings of 82% over adopting the corporate systems. People don’t wait 10 minutes for machines to boot up and shut down.

We don’t have all the answers… Great quality IT centres around an iterative process that gets stuff out and we learn quickly from what users do with it and is improved and improved.  I don’t recall a press release saying Google will update its apps products on 8 May next year. What happens is you notice a little banner saying we have done it differently: do you want to try it? How many times have you seen improvements on eBay and just experienced them as they arrived?

They are intuitive and what people want and they just happen… [Published in last few minutes] is a new cloud framework that is designed specifically to get SMEs across the threshold and working directly with departments, agencies, local authorities, police and health. There is a user guide. It is a key product.

We will watch very carefully how this gets used, and the impact on SMEs. I don’t anticipate any large organisations having difficulty with this. But the target is to get us engaged with SMEs.

We will watch what their problems are and we will correct that as we go. We are already working on the second version of this which will be due out, hopefully, early in the new year. With brilliant support from John Collington in the Government Procurement Service we will be adding new suppliers on a month by month basis which will dramatically change things and really gives us the flexibility we need.

The second manifestation of how serious we are in the cloud is a document to be published tomorrow which will give a very serious indication of intent around the use of cloud…”

Chris Chant’s talk – audio file Government Digital Service

Why GovIT reform is so slow?

By Tony Collins

An NAO report “A snapshot of the Government’s ICT Profession in 2011”  depicts government CIOs not as business leaders who are passionate for change but as middle-managers who are more or less dispensable.

The impression given in the report is that CIOs are, in general, necessary but not of strategic importance,  not necessarily party to key business decisions.

The NAO reports concludes that there is “more Government and departments could do” to:

– raise the influence of CIOs in departments;

– move the ICT profession from a support service or overhead to taking an active or lead role on business decisions; and

– develop people to a level so that they become leaders and bring ICT into the heart of the business.

Of 17 departments the NAO investigated a CIO sat on the main boards of only two. One department abolished the role of CIO in April 2011. The NAO quoted a CIO as describing his department’s perception of ICT as “at best an overhead”.

What CIOs told the NAO

CIO comments to the NAO on the impact of cost reduction measures were generally negative:

“We are having to re-prioritise and delay IT service enhancement projects.”

“A significant headcount reduction… and consequently a new operating model and a new strategic approach which will affect the roles of all IT professionals significantly.”

“Continual focus on cost-out and scrutiny of spend – in some ways this has helped engender a positive culture of efficiency but the constant demand for information/data is distracting. Skills shortage owing to recruitment freeze on external candidates and reduction in contractors. Requirement to broker cross-network relationships to drive out costs/savings.”

“Pressure to reduce costs/headcount to the Iowest levels means desirable things such as career development opportunity planning, implementing SFIA etc are left on the shelf whilst we divert resource to focus on significant projects to deliver running cost savings to the dept. … The consequences for the lCT function are not yet fully known.”

“The situation has been uncertain and reviews have caused some loss of momentum, but the set of future projects is now clear and we are progressing. Austerity measures have limited our ability to obtain the level of IT skills required for our portfolio.”

“As part of our change programme, the Central Department is reducing cost by approximately 30%. IT is included within this envelope. No money and everybody having to re-apply for jobs.”

[Source National Audit Office survey of central government CIOs 2011]

Skills most needed

It’s a shortage of IT people with business skills that appears to be one of the biggest barriers to change. Demand is greatest, says the NAO, for programme and project managers, procurement specialists and business analysts.

In particular CIOs perceive the need for good people who have contract and supplier management skills, and the ability to manage stakeholders.

On the technical side the skills most needed, as perceived by CIOs, are architecture, analysis and design, and information management/security. The biggest barriers to recruitment, as perceived by CIOs, are public sector pay constraints and inflexible civil service recruitment processes. [On pay some departments are still able to pay large bonuses – see near end of this article.]

NAO recommendations

The highest immediate priority for Government is to continue to motivate and reinforce the value of its ICT profession, says the NAO.

“ICT leaders need to dig deep to manage their teams whether in development projects, service management or operations. CIOs themselves need to continue to reinforce their standing in departments ideally by sitting on departmental boards or, if this is not appropriate, finding other ways to develop their influence so that ICT is properly included in strategic and business decisions.”

ICT leaders will have to find innovative ways to develop skills to fill roles.

“… government cannot ignore the capability gaps because it is so reliant on ICT to conduct its future business.”

The NAO said that CIOs described the same business and technical skills as being in short supply. It advised “structured on-the-job experience and mentoring”.

Greater collaboration across departments and with suppliers may “help to make optimum use of the skills that the profession already has to offer”.  Where
necessary, government must “find practical ways to recover lost skills”.

It added: “With more services being delivered through technology channels, there is a real need to ensure that service delivery is being driven by a skilled and capable ICT workforce.”

The Government Digital Service has at least made a good start – it has begun recruiting innovators.

And when it comes to paying bonuses to keep valued staff, departments still have scope. The Financial Times reported yesterday that the Department for Work and Pensions was the most generous employer in the civil service: it paid more than £45m to its staff in bonuses in the year ending April 2011.


Thank you to for spotting this report which was not distributed by the NAO to the media.

NAO report “A snapshot of the Government’s ICT profession in 2011”

Government CIOs are undervalued, official audit report finds.

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?]


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…”


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.]


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?


What will institutions look like post-financial crisis? A role for mutuals and social enterprises?

By David Bicknell

There are growing discussions and debate over what institutions will look like in the future, post financial-crisis.

This piece in the latest edition of Dissent Magazine refers to the role of co-operatives in providing innovation in institution reform. It’s a very US-centric piece, but does refer to the Mondragon co-operative model in Spain. Worth a read.