Category Archives: SME

DWP’s advert for a £180k IT head – what it doesn’t say

By Tony Collins

Soon the Department for Work and Pensions will choose a Director General, Technology.  Interviewing has finished and an offer is due to go out to the chosen candidate any day now.

The appointee will not replace Howard Shiplee who runs Universal Credit but has been ill for some months. The DWP is looking for Shiplee’s successor as a separate exercise to the recruitment of the DG Technology.

In its job advert for a DG Technology the DWP seeks a “commercial CIO/CTO to become one of the most senior change agents in the UK government”.

The size of the salary – around £180k plus “attractive pension” – suggests that the DWP is looking for a powerful, inspiring and reforming figure. The DWP’s IT makes 730 million payments to a value of 166bn a year.

In practice it is not clear how much power and influence the DG will have, given that there will be a separate head of Universal Credit (Shiplee’s successor) and there is already in place a Director General for Digital Transformation Kevin Cunnington.

What’s a DG Technology to do then?

The job advert suggests the job is about bringing about “unprecedented” change.  It says:

“The department is undergoing major business change, which has at its heart a technology and digital transformation of the services it provides, which will radically improve how it interacts with citizens.”

The role, says the advert, involves:

  • “Designing, developing and delivering the technology strategy that will enable unprecedented business change.”
  • “… Reducing the time to taken to develop new services and cutting the cost of delivery.”

The chosen person needs “a clear record of success in enabling the delivery of service driven, user focused, digital business transformation,” says the advert.

What the DWP doesn’t say

If DWP officials took a truth pill when interviewing candidates they might have said:

  • “No department talks more about change than we do. We regularly commission reports on the need for transformation and how to achieve it. We issue press releases and give briefings on our plans for change.  We write  ministerial speeches on it. We employ talented people to whom innovation and productive change comes naturally. The only thing we don’t do is actually change. It remains an aspiration.
  • “We remain one of the biggest VME sites in the world (VME being a Fujitsu – formerly ICL – operating system that dates back to the 1970s). VME skills are in ever shorter supply and it’s increasingly costly to employ VME specialists but changing our core software is too risky; and there is no commercial imperative to change: it’s not private money we’re spending.  We’ve a £1bn a year IT budget – one of the biggest of any government department in the world.
  • DWP core VME systems run an old supplier-specific form of COBOL used on VME, not an industry standard form.
  • We’ve identified ways of moving away from VME: we have shown that VME-based IDMSX databases can be transitioned to commodity database systems, and that the COBOL code can be converted to Java and then run on open source application servers. Still we can’t move away from VME, not within the foreseeable future. Too risky.
  • We’d love the new DG Technology to work on change, transformation and innovation but he/she will be required for fire-fighting.
  • It’s a particularly difficult time for the DWP. We are alleged to have given what the Public Accounts Committee calls an unacceptable service to the disabled, the terminally ill and many others who have submitted claims for personal independence payments. We are also struggling to cope with Employment and Support Allowance claims. One claimant has told the BBC the DWP is “not fit for purpose”.
  •  The National Audit Office will publish an unhelpful report on Universal Credit this Autumn. We’ll regard the report as out-of-date, as we do all negative NAO reports. We will say publicly that we have already implemented its recommendations and we’ll pick out the one or two positive sentences in the report to summarise it. But nobody will believe our story, least of all us.
  • If we could, we’d appoint a representative of our major suppliers to be the head of IT.  HP, Fujitsu, Accenture, IBM and BT have a knowledge of how to run the DWP’s systems that goes back decades. The suppliers are happily entrenched, indispensable. That they know more about our IT than we do puts into context talk of SMEs taking over from the big players.
  • One reason we avoid major change is that we are not good at it: Universal Credit (known internally as Universal Challenge), the £2.6bn Operational Strategy benefit scheme that Parliament was told would cost no more than £713m, the £141m  (aborted) Benefit Processing Replacement Programme, Camelot which was the (aborted) Computerisation and Mechanisation of Local Office Tasks,  and the (aborted)) Debt Accounting and Management System. Not to mention the (aborted) £25m Analytical Services Statistical Information System.
  • They’re the failures we know about. We don’t have to account to Parliament on the progress or otherwise of our big projects, and we’re particularly secretive internally, so there may be project failures not even senior management know about.
  • We require cultural alignment of all the DWP’s most senior civil servants. This means the chosen candidate must – and without exception – defend the department against all poorly-informed critics who may include our own ministers.
  • The Cabinet Office has some well-meaning reformers we want nothing to do with. That said, our policy is to agree to change and then absorb the required actions, like the acoustic baffles on the walls of a soundproofed studio.



Of mice and IT elephants – guest blog

By John Pearce

I heard your interview on BBC’s World at One today Tony. You were saying there may be potential for fleet-of-foot small IT firms to access government contracts. It was music to my ears.

You referred to the NHS and Universal Credit IT disasters and the way contracting has been dominated by a few big beasts and multi-nationals.  You killed the myth that “big is beautiful”  and praised “new rules”  to break up projects into smaller units.

Small can be perfectly formed and powerful. Businesses like ours are quick-reflex mice stuck behind the elephants blocking the doors. Why don’t they just sit out of the way, in the room, like other elephants?

We are an SME in IT.  We have great pedigree, an innovative product, a presence in education and are ready to break into the business world and government work more generally. But without the bulk and buying power to advertise, lobby and bid for the current huge projects we have not been able to do much, if anything. We are encountering elephant in the door syndrome.

So we continue doing what we do, scurrying like mad, working unreasonable but happily given hours. It is not in the country’s interest for us to be tired, blocked and trapped. We fear being swallowed up, of losing our identity. I suppose it might be quicker than being slowly squashed under an elephant’s backside.


Dan O’Brien, my business partner, is young, creative, dynamic and rushed off his feet.  I am three of those and old.  He has run a small successful software company for 15 years. I had a successful senior career in education and in business as consultant, evaluator, writer and publisher.  I created a deceptively simple, improvement model for individual, team and organisation. So, Dan and I created an on-line version.

We launched “The iAbacus” in 2012 and were finalists in the BETT2014Awards [hosted by Jo Brand] on 22 January 2014.  There were lots of mice competing with us and the usual elephants. But before we announce the winner let’s have a look at the iAbacus focusing on school governance. 

We dream of developing this and moving into business generally. We see a huge potential for this “empowering personnel” approach applied to NHS and civil service personnel. Up to now the elephants have blocked the way, or grinned through the windows while they ate ice buns. Can elephants grin?

We didn’t win the Bett2014 Big Cheese but it was a great show – it makes people like us feel good.  Yes, coming back to the office was disappointing but we are nibbling away, on-line, working in education but, even in this field I know so well, customers can be sniffy too – “small is ugly and simple is simplistic; let’s go for the big suppliers”. 

New rules

Will the Cabinet Office’s new rules work?

 Not unless there is support for small outfits like ours who, intent on the day to day business, will struggle writing the bids and attending the selections. We’ll keep running and swerving around elephant bottoms but we need muscle power and finance for the advertising and lobbying. We need to elbow past the elephants, get an audience with buyers.  Is there anyone out there?  Echo…echo….echo…

Or, are there friendly elephants out there who could help us, encourage and include us?  Could the regulations persuade them?  How about a clause like the one when planning new houses?  Every housing project has to include a percentage of affordable homes. How about every IT contract having to include a percentage of SMEs?  

I want to one of them. I want to be a Trojan Mouse!

John Pearce is a freelance consultant, working across education, business and community. After a successful career in teaching and headship, he became Deputy Chief Inspector for Nottinghamshire County Council. He was a BETT2014 finalist for The iAbacus which he created with Dan O’Brien.

BBC’s World at One focus on government IT.

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.  


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?

Campaign for electronic patient information centre

By Tony Collins

Shane Tickell, CEO of health IT supplier IMS Maxims, is leading a campaign for a national electronic patient information centre.

It would enable NHS staff, healthcare organisations and government suppliers to share details of, or learn about, innovative practices that work.

In a guest blog, Tickell argues that there are many examples of innovation in the NHS but information on the successes is scarce or not available in one place.

He advocates a physical and a virtual centre. Information, case studies, best practice and ideas from the NHS would be shared online. There are some websites that do this, but in isolation. The virtual site he proposes would be interactive and a way of collating information that exists in silos.

The physical centre, Tickell says, could be anywhere on the UK, potentially using some of the 2,000 acres of unused NHS estate. It would be a forum for education and sharing, where suppliers could showcase their systems, and NHS staff could speak openly about what they need from suppliers.

It would also be a place for policy to be explained by government officials, where quangos define their requirements, and NHS trusts share what they are doing and the lessons they have learned.

Shane Tickell writes:

“As an acceptance grows across the NHS that there is a crucial need for integration across health and social care, the extent to which our National Health Service is disjointed is becoming increasingly clear.

In many areas, although of course not all, there are so many examples of different approaches, poor collaboration and lack of joined thinking between organisations despite their attempts to achieve the same goals. On many occasions, I’ve seen examples where an NHS organisation has shared the results of a successful pilot with another organisation hundreds of miles away and yet the trust just a few miles down the road has no idea the initiative even exists.

In recent years, healthcare IT events such as EHI Live have helped suppliers of all sizes showcase their solutions, albeit just once a year.

However, despite best efforts, most often suppliers with the biggest marketing budgets often take the centre stage, while the smaller, more innovative companies huddle around the edges trying to grab the attention of the odd delegate who is less wowed by the exciting gizmos and freebies on the bigger stands.

Equally, these events have been valuable in enabling the NHS to share their experiences by allowing them to participate in best practice showcases. But while these shows are valuable in providing those once-a-year opportunities to network and see what is available, ideas and information gathered can soon be forgotten once back in the busy NHS setting, until the next time an event comes around.

There are more than 400 pilots across the NHS and 300 ‘examples of innovation’ alone, according to the BCS. On top of all of that, my team recently mapped more than 40 NHS organisations and bodies, who work virtually disparately to attempt to provide the NHS with direction, standards and protocols.

So where does this leave the NHS – confused? Disjointed? Not a clue where to start when they are told that they need to collaborate and innovate to improve patient safety and care while saving vast sums of money?

The NHS needs a place that provides an educational and innovation forum covering everything related to electronic health and wellbeing that is available all year round – an electronic patient information centre.

At present there are pockets of innovation across the country. Initiatives set up by the National Innovation Centre and its associated ‘innovation hubs’ are providing a useful mechanism to support and adopt healthcare technology across the regions.

But an all year round centre would provide a central location for healthcare organisations, bodies, government and suppliers to meet, discuss and understand policy. Equally important, the centre would provide a valuable place to educate on future challenges and where they are being driven from and an opportunity to work together to help to address them as soon as they start to emerge.

Although it would require investment, such a centre would provide trusts, CCGs, private and independent organisations and just about anyone with an interest in health and social care regardless of their budget, size, location or IT savviness with the opportunity to attend at a time that is convenient for them.

Meanwhile, suppliers of any shape or size would have a level playing field from which to be represented and educate their current and potential customers, rather than trawling up and down the country trying to find inroads to speak to those on the frontline. In addition, it would ensure that all is not lost from the National Programme for IT and that lessons learned are shared.

For too long the NHS has had to rely on word of mouth and second-guessing how surrounding organisations are achieving success. Now is the time to really work together to ensure true innovation is shared and for everyone to have a chance to be part of it.”

LinkedIn group – Electronic Patient Information Centre

Francis Maude talks open govt – and Whitehall does the opposite

By Tony Collins

“If people do not know what you’re doing, they don’t know what you’re doing wrong.” – Sir Arnold Robinson, Cabinet Secretary in a discussion on open government in Yes Minister.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said all the right things at the Intellect World Class Public Services conference 2012.

He said that:

– smaller, innovative and efficient suppliers were finding themselves locked out of the supply of services to Government because of what was described by Parliament as a powerful “oligopoly” of large suppliers

– for the first time in Government “we are using agile, iterative processes, open source technology platforms and world-class in-house development teams alongside the best digital innovation the market can offer”

– “We must eliminate failure waste. At the moment, a large proportion of our service delivery costs are incurred through incomplete or failed digital transactions. And these transactions create cross-channel duplication, which burdens the user and costs Government a huge amount in repeated costs. For HMRC alone, they estimate that 35% of calls to its contact centres are avoidable, which would save £75m.”

– “Transparency is a defining passion for this Government …”


How much influence does Maude really have? Can he persuade permanent secretaries to effect major change? The evidence so far is that departmental officials and Maude have different ideas on what reform means.

In “Yes Minister” civil servants were proud of a new hospital that was the best run and most hygienic in the country, with no medical staff, 500 administrators and no patients.

Maude may also recall that Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, the acclaimed writers of Yes Minister, spoke of the Whitehall law of inverse relevance – “the less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it”.

Open government? 

Perhaps civil servants are letting Maude get on with talking the talk while they find every way to keep things much as they are. A good example: The Guardian reported yesterday that a key part of the Government’s transparency drive has stalled amid reports of ministry opposition.

The paper’s political editor Patrick Wintour reported that plans to publish regular ‘traffic-light’ progress reports on large, costly and risky IT projects “appear to have been shelved”.

When it comes to IT this could have been the coalition’s most important single reform. It would have given MPs and the public a way of knowing when mega projects such as Universal Credit are failing. Usually we don’t know about a failed IT-related project unless there is a leak to the media, or the National Audit Office finds out and decides, with its limited budget, to do a study.

Sir Bob Kerslake, who is head of the civil service,  had indicated to MP Richard Bacon that “Gateway” review reports on large and risky IT and construction projects may be published in the civil service reform plan which is expected to be released this month.

Gateway reports to go unpublished?

Now it seems that departmental civil servants  have persuaded the Sir Bob not to publish “Gateway” reports. So the secrecy over the progress or otherwise of government mega projects is set to continue.

Yes, civil servants will allow the Cabinet Office to have its way on the publication of data about, say, some government spending. But it’s becoming clear that the civil service will not allow any publication of its reports on the progress or otherwise of major projects. It has been that way since Gateway reviews were introduced in 2001.

Some senior officials – by no means all – say they want a confidential “safe space” to discuss the progress of projects. The reality is that they do not want outsiders – MPs, the media and NAO auditors – meddling in their failing schemes – schemes such as Firecontrol and e-filing at the Ministry of Justice.

Unlike Maude, senior civil servants have what Jay and Lynn call a “flexible approach to open government”. This means in practice that Whitehall will happily release data – but not project reports on which the civil servants themselves can be judged.

Activity is not achievement

Maude’s speeches will give the impression of activity. But activity is the civil service’s substitute for achievement. I quote Jay and Lynn again, in part because their depiction of Whitehall seems to have been taken as serious wisdom by those officials who think Sir Humphrey a character worth living up to.

It’s time Maude and his team got a grip on departments. Until they do, permanent secretaries and their senior officials will regard Maude as trying to get out of situations that don’t need getting out of.

Whitehall to relent on secrecy over mega projects?

The empty hospital – Yes Minister

Government’s transparency drive stalls.

Government publishes data on £70 billion of future contracts

By David Bicknell

The Government has published data on £70 billion of potential future government contracts, with Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude arguing that the move marks a new era in openness about its long-term business needs.

“We have published details of £70 billion of potential Government business. Publishing data on what we plan to buy – whether it’s tunnels or computers – means we can identify skills gaps sooner and give industry a heads up so UK businesses are in a better position to compete,” he said.

The data published of potential future contracts over the next five years, covers 13 different sectors including construction, property, medical and police equipment. The publication of the data increases the potential opportunities for SMEs to bid for government business.

Information Age magazine has reported that the £70bn includes £2.5bn worth of IT projects.

Data on the contracts can be found at Contracts Finder

£70 billion of potential government business published to boost UK growth

Cash-strapped council IT teams to get backing for innovation projects

By David Bicknell

IT teams in cash-strapped councils are being given a helping hand to drive new IT projects where teams believe technology innovation could drive positive change in local communities.

It follows the launch of a Future Fund created by mobile telecomms company O2 to help forward-thinking councils get to grips with new methods of engaging their staff, citizens and communities.

Successful local authorities applying for the scheme will be awarded access to O2 consultancy time, services and technology to help them turn their project ideas into reality.

The Future Fund open for applications on 25th April with three grant funding packages available to the value of £125,000, £75,000 and £50,000.

60 councils attended the launch event with the scheme focused on authorities developing ideas and services against three broad themes: reducing cost and improving efficiencies; finding new ways of engaging with citizens; and empowering the community to do more for itself.

Each of the topics points to more effective service delivery, by empowering staff or by expanding the concept of ‘self-service’.

To support the Fund’s launch, O2 plans to showcase 17 different parts of its business, each with their own unique slant on the digital age, from established technologies such as wi-fi to ‘people’ skills, social media expertise, mobile advertising and location-based services, as well as business engagement and apps development. Councils will be able to pick which selection of services to use to build their idea and weave into their bid.

O2 says it has created the Future Fund through its Local Government Futures Forum, which aims to understand what the role of IT should be in modernising councils in challenging times.

It argues that as technology advances at a rapid pace, with people creating and consuming data in more diverse and immediate ways, councils face a challenge to use these channels to demonstrate communications nous and find new ways to engage with their communities.

A recent consultation exercise found that budget cuts across the public sector have resulted in an expected automatic squeeze on resources, with mounting pressure across all departments to operate more efficiently and do more with less. 

With ongoing pressure to reduce spending, council decision-makers are opting for solutions that make an immediate impact – cutting services, and in turn cost – rather than looking at ways of adapting them, with IT departments facing an uphill struggle to retain and control their destinies, often competing for de-centralised budgets across multiple teams with no place or input at a board level.

Ben Dowd, Director of Business at O2 says: “O2 believes that the right application of technology has the potential to drive real change. Our findings through our work with local government IT departments support this belief. What is different is that the Future Fund will give a glimpse of what is possible with a bit of imagination and we will support the winning bids by providing investment in their IT infrastructure coupled with resource and expertise.

“So it is up to the councils to determine how it can be applied to their own council, citizens or community, ultimately giving local government the ability to shape their own destiny in a project they are passionate about.”

Applications for the Fund will be judged by a panel of experts from O2 and independent parties. Councils will then have eight weeks to develop and deliver their ideas, before selection takes place later this year.

Home Office’s IT Director McDonagh to take over Chant role at G-Cloud

By David Bicknell

Denise McDonagh, currently director of IT at the Home Office, is to take over responsibility for G-Cloud from Chris Chant who leaves at the end of the month.

In this announcement, as well as discussing McDonagh’s role as Chant’s replacement on G-Cloud, the government said that it is on track to launch the next iteration of the G-Cloud framework in late or early May.  It will incorporate a new approach that incorporates the ability to add new suppliers and services on a quarterly (or possibly more frequent) basis.  It suggests that this will be a procurement first in the UK, and possibly even in the world.  Existing G-Cloud suppliers should be able to move to the new framework with just a small amount of effort, it says. A series of new deals on the framework is also set  to be to announced.

Prior to the announcement of his departure, Chant had written a blog post that argued that unnacceptable IT is pervasive.

He suggested that:

“Real progress has been blocked by many things including an absence of capability in both departments and their suppliers, by a strong resistance to change, by the perverse incentives of contracts that mean its cheaper to pay service credits than to fix the problem and by an unwillingness to embrace the potential of newer and smaller players to offer status quo-busting ideas.

“CIOs across government, including me in various roles at the centre of government, have been guilty for too long of taking the easy path.  We have done the unacceptable and thought we were doing a great job.  We have:

  • Signed contracts with single suppliers that have led to both poor service and high costs, because that is the way government did things
  • Failed to let in innovative suppliers because of the constraints of those large contracts, because new suppliers, we figured, brought risk and uncertainty
  • Designed and delivered solutions that look, in today’s world, ridiculously expensive and over-engineered because we thought that was the right thing to do
  • Allowed our users to suffer with IT that is a decade – or more – behind what they are using at home because the security considerations for government are different and stricter from those for everyone else”

But, over the last 18 months, working on G-Cloud as well as the immediate forerunner of the Government Digital Service, Chant said he had seen the real signs of change, with some in the public sector no longer willing to put up with the poor service and delivery that they have experienced and they are actively looking for new ways of working. Notably, he suggested, big departments openly talk about wanting to get away from the traditional model of big, cumbersome IT and are serious.

Now, he went on, things get harder, notably:

Managing Multiple Suppliers

  • Departments are no longer going to have an easy ride as they seek to extend an existing contract or renew what they have now (a large single supplier monopoly over their IT).   They’re going to be pushed to break up contracts into smaller pieces, contract with or involve more SMEs and reuse what is already in place elsewhere.    There is no better place to start than by getting something you already have, or something that you need to have, from the G-Cloud framework. CIOs will need to increase the capability of their teams – and their own capability too – otherwise they will find that they are no longer playing a part in this new approach.  Some CIOs and some teams will not be able to make that transition.

Apples With Apples

  • For years, obtaining data about what government pays for IT and, worse, what it gets for that money has been mission impossible.  With transparency, increasing use of frameworks and smaller contracts, it will be easier than it has ever been to compare like for like costs across departments. CIOs will want to get ahead of that curve now and find out what their IT is truly costing them so that they can compare what new market offers really provide and whether it is worth making an early switch – and the pressure to make that switch before the end of the contract is only likely to increase as the true size of cost reductions becomes evident.

Digital By Default

  • The need to design services around the customer will become pervasive -whether that customer is a citizen in front of a web browser at home or one of our own staff working in an office.  The shift to “digital by default” (rather than “digital as well”) is fundamental and will cause a wholesale upheaval in organisations across government.   People who thought they were in charge of delivering transactions probably won’t be. People who are on the inside of government might find themselves moved to the outside and entirely new product offers will come about as a result.

IT in government has certainly come a long way, he insisted, but added that “ just hasn’t come far enough.  It remains unacceptable.  The trends of the last couple of years – transparency, open data, open services, SMEs – aren’t going away; if anything, they will go stronger and bed in deeper.”

What needs to happen next, Chant said, is that:

  • CIOs across government need to recognise what has changed and stop hiding behind the comfort blanket of what has always been done before. That blanket is on fire.
  • Big suppliers should see the smoke from that comfort blanket and recognise that the world of government IT has changed.  They can no longer rely on delivering poor service for big money and get away with it.  The customer approach is changing and they will need to change too, or be consumed by the flames.
  • SMEs should embrace the opportunity they now have and bring their capabilities – speed, flexibility and low prices – to the government market.  For the first time, government is ready.

(My Campaign4Change colleague Tony Collins is currently away, but will be back shortly)

G-Cloud chief Chris Chant to retire

HMRC picks an SME – and saves itself £50m

By David Bicknell

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) cut the cost of an Internet Explorer upgrade by up to £50m by awarding a contract to an SME, instead of a major systems integrator.

According to an article by Bill Goodwin on Computer Weekly, HMRC chose a small US company to upgrade from Internet Explorer 6 to IE9, after it found that large IT suppliers were unable to offer a cost-effective solution.

The Redmond-based company, Browsium, managed to complete the work for £1.28m, against quotes of £35m to £50m from much bigger companies.

Goodwin reports that HMRC CIO Phil Pavitt believes the contract will act as a proof of concept for other government departments facing similar IE6 upgrade problems.

How the Government plans to ensure IT projects have a lifetime cost of under £100m

By David Bicknell

The Government has issued a Procurement Policy Note that sets out its thinking behind the policy that individual ICT contracts or projects should have a lifetime cost of less than £100m.

It says the £100m limit will apply to all future ICT projects, “unless a strong case can be made that doing so increases the overall cost to the taxpayer, notably increases the risk of failure or increases the security threat to the public body or Government as a whole.”

It adds that in future, “government IT contracts will be more flexible, starting with two areas (application software and infrastructure IT). The Government is introducing set breakpoints in IT contracts so there is less money locked into large lengthy contracts. The Government will look to disaggregate future contracts and deliver more flexible, cheaper solutions. This opens up opportunities for SMEs and reduces the cost to taxpayers.”

Its guidance, which takes effect from 1st April, applies to all central government departments, their agencies and non departmental public bodies and is particularly intended for those with a purchasing role.

In background notes, the briefing says:

  • The £100m threshold relates to all ICT contracts or projects where the total value over the life of the contract exceeds £100m regardless of how the contract is funded. It includes frameworks as well as individual call offs from frameworks. A case may be made for exemption from this policy on the grounds of national security or continuity of a critical Government service.

Based on this, the policy aims are as follows:

  • To reduce the risk of single supplier failure within a large project;
  • To increase competition and innovation by enabling more suppliers to bid and take part in projects, thereby increasing value to the taxpayer;
  • To procure contracts in a way which ensures maximum possible benefit to the maximum number of parties – for example, ensuring that infrastructure/services which are procured can be used by more than one department.

In a foreword, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude says:

“The Government believes that business is the driver of economic growth and innovation, and that we need to take urgent action to boost enterprise and build a new and more responsible economic model. We want to create a fairer and more balanced economy, where we are not so dependent on a narrow range of economic sectors, and where new businesses and economic opportunities are more evenly shared between regions and industries. This guidance is founded on a desire to minimise the risk around high value contracts and ensure that Government always seeks the best possible value for money when procuring large ICT contracts.

“In the Coalition Programme the Government made a commitment to promote small business procurement in particular by introducing an aspiration that 25% of government contracts should be awarded to small and medium sized businesses. To deliver this aspiration the Prime Minister and The Minister for the Cabinet Office announced, on the 11th February 2011, a far reaching package of measures to open up public procurement to small and medium sized enterprises. The Government ICT Strategy, published at the end of March 2011 outlined a new approach to ICT procurement that improves contract delivery timelines and reduces the risk of project failure, enables greater use of SMEs, a much shorter timescale and lower costs to all parties.

“We will end the practice of attempting to cover every requirement in great detail and cover every legal eventuality in every project and contract, thereby increasing the procurement cost and timescales to all parties to unacceptable levels. We will do this by focusing on the 80/20 rule, simplifying to the core components of the requirements at every level and at every stage of a project.

On SMEs, G-Cloud and Open Systems, the policy note says procurement will:

  • Ensure value for money, competition and innovation by ensuring that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are freely able to bid. Ensuring that any procurement process we use does not unnecessarily exclude them due to price, risk or resource associated with bidding activity. This includes reviewing our criteria and evidence required as part of the contract award process for items that might be relevant to a large company only. However, SMEs will be treated no differently in evaluation of capability, financial stability, or their ability to provide ongoing support, etc.
  • Ensure visibility of innovation and encourage mass purchasing of solutions available from both within the public sector and the private sector by creating a quality assured Government Cloud based procurement vehicle for Government, which enables all sizes of organisations to showcase their products, services, solutions etc. This service would also enable government to market and sell any unwanted assets it might own.
  • Encourage and maximise the use of Open Source/Open Standards whenever possible and where it represents a value for money solution, allowing department to re-use code, designs, templates etc. ensuring that work is not duplicated.


The Government’s aspiration to have individual ICT contracts or projects with a lifetime cost of less than £100m is a worthy one. But the proof of the pudding, as always, is in the eating. And we haven’t seen the pudding yet.