Category Archives: Uncategorized

IDS not quite as bullish on Universal Credit programme?

By Tony Collins

Iain Duncan Smith told the House of Commons in January 2013:

“Universal Credit is on track and on budget. The systems are not new or complex. After all, more than 60% of the total developed system is based on reusing existing IT. New developments will use tried and tested technology.

“The key difference between how this Government are doing things and how they were done before is that we have adopted commercial “agile” design principles to build the IT service for universal credit in four stages, each four months long.”

No longer does IDS say the Universal Credit programme is on time or on budget. Indeed in the House of Commons yesterday he was asked by Labour if the Treasury has approved the full business case for Universal Credit. His replies to MPs were not quite as bullish as they sometimes have been.

He spoke about the programme almost entirely in the future tense, and when he mentioned the present state of the programme he quoted someone else –  John Manzoni, the chief executive of the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority.

Labour’s Nicholas Brown asked IDS when he expects the business case for Universal Credit to be fully signed off.

IDS: “I announced in December that Her Majesty’s Treasury has approved funding for the universal credit programme in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The final stage in Treasury approvals is sign-off of the full business case, which covers the full lifetime of the programme. We expect to agree that very shortly.”

Brown: The answer to a similar question two months ago was “very shortly”, but it is taking rather longer than the Secretary of State intended. What are the major outstanding issues between his Department and the Treasury, and where does universal credit now stand in the Cabinet Office’s traffic light system?

IDS: “… the reality is that we have agreed all the spending that is relevant to the plan that we set out at the end of last year. The final point relates to the full lifetime of that programme, which will take it all the way through, probably beyond all the years that anybody present will be in government. [MPs: ‘Certainly you!’] …  That is now being agreed and the reality is that it has to be done very carefully. I genuinely believe, from my discussions, that it will be signed off very shortly. The result will be that the programme will be seen for what it is: a programme that will deliver hugely to those who have the toughest lives and need the most support and help.”

Labour’s Andrew Gwynne asked when the government is going to get a grip on a “chaotic shambles”.

IDS: “It is always nice to live in the past, but the reality is that if the hon. Gentleman waits he will see that this programme is running well and will be delivering, that this programme of universal credit will benefit everybody who needs the support they most need, and all the nonsense he is talking about will all go away.

Chris Bryant, Labour, said that IDS keeps telling MPs that the UC business case will be approved very shortly.  “What has gone wrong?” he asked IDS.

IDS: “There are no sticking points, but these matters need to be agreed carefully. This test-first-and-then-implement process is the way all future programmes will be implemented.

“I just want to quote Mr Manzoni, the new chief executive of the Major Projects Authority, who made it clear to the Public Accounts Committee in June that universal credit is stable and on track with the reset plan.”


The National Audit Office is re-investigating the UC programme and is expected to publish its second “progress” report on the state of the programme by December.

If IDS says anything unjustifiably positive about the programme now, MPs and the media will compare his comments today with what the NAO says in its new report. Is that why he refers to the programme only in the future tense? And who can say with certainty what will or will not happen in the future?

It may be worth mentioning that ministers and officials, some years into the NPfIT, referred to the state of the programme almost entirely in the future tense.

DWP wastes money on another Universal Credit FOI appeal

By Tony Collins

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions are to pay external lawyers to attend another FOI hearing as part of the department’s efforts to stop four old reports on the Universal Credit programme being published.

A hearing will take place in London on 3 December for the DWP to put its case for a third time that it should be allowed to appeal a ruling of the first tier information tribunal that the four reports be published.

Although the DWP’s lawyers have lost every tribunal decision they have contested in the case, there is no sign the department’s officials will restrict the amount of public money they allocate to stopping publication of the reports.

If lawyers for the DWP continue to lose every judicial decision, officials will always have the option of a ministerial veto.

The DWP’s multiple appeals are arguably a pointless plundering of the public purse for legal costs, because officials have known from the initial FOI requests in 2012 that they would never publish the reports in question.

Despite the efforts of Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude to introduce open government, no central department has agreed to issue reports on the progress or otherwise of its big IT-dependent projects and programmes.

This is the chronology so far in the DWP’s attempts to stop the four Universal Credit reports being published:

March 2012 – I make a freedom of information request for a Project Assessment Review of the Universal Credit programme, as carried out by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority.  The PAR would have given early indications of the problems the IT teams faced while the DWP’s ministers and press office were issuing public statements that the programme was on time and on budget.

April 2012 – John Slater, a programme and project management professional, makes an FOI request for the Universal Credit programme Risk Register, which gives a traffic light status of the risks most likely to occur and who should take ownership of them. He also requests an Issues Register which details the problems and failures that have occurred and why, how they can be managed, and how their effect on the programme can be minimised or eliminated. The Milestone Schedule he requests would show whether milestones have been met or changed.

May 2012 – DWP minister Lord Freud personally signs refusals to release any of the four reports. John Slater and I request internal reviews of the refusals. The DWP rejects our appeals so we complain to the Information Commissioner.

June 2013 – The Information Commissioner orders that the DWP publish three of the reports but not the Risk Register. The DWP appeals the ruling.  John Slater appeals the Commissioner’s decision to keep the Risk Register confidential.

Jan 2014 – A two-day appeal hearing is held in Leicester, before the First-Tier Information Tribunal. Slater appears at the hearing, as do representatives of the Information Commissioner and the DWP.

March 2014 –  Judge David Farrer and his First-Tier tribunal members rule that the DWP publish all four reports.  The DWP discovers that the version of the PAR [Project Assessment Review] it supplied to the Tribunal is not the final version that has been requested. It is evidently a draft. “How the mistake occurred is not entirely clear to us,” says Judge Farrer. He suggests that the DWP might not have read the PAR closely and has refused to publish it on principle. Under the FOI every request is supposed to be considered on its merits.

“Whilst the differences [between the draft and final versions] related almost entirely to the format, it did raise questions as to how far the DWP had scrutinised the particular PAR requested, as distinct from forming a generic judgement as to whether PARs should be disclosed,” says the judge.

He also comes close to saying the DWP had not been telling the truth about the state of Universal Credit programme. He and his tribunal members have read the four reports in question. He says the Tribunal had been “struck by the sharp contrast” between “the unfailing confidence and optimism of a series of press releases by the DWP or ministerial statements as to the progress of the Universal Credit programme” and some of the criticisms and controversy the programme was attracting at the time of the public statements.

April 2014 – The DWP seeks Judge’s Farrer’s permission to appeal his ruling. Unexpectedly the judge refuses the DWP permission.  The DWP’s lawyers had argued that the Tribunal had “wholly misunderstood the nature and/or manifestation of any chilling effect”. [The chilling effect suggests that public servants will not tell the whole truth in project reviews if they know the reports will be published.] The DWP said the Tribunal’s misunderstanding about the chilling effect “amounted to an error in law” and was “perverse”. Judge Farrer said he had not misunderstood the DWP’s claims of a chilling effect.

May 2014 –  The DWP’s lawyers ask the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal the ruling of the First Tier Tribunal that the four reports be published. The DWP’s arguments are long and complex – but they are, arguably, useful only to the bank account of lawyers because the DWP will not publish the four reports whatever the outcome of its appeals.

June 2014 – The judge of the Upper Tribunal (Nicholas Wikeley)  refuses to give the DWP permission to appeal the ruling of the First-Tier Tribunal.  On the DWP’s claim that the First-Tier Tribunal has misunderstood the chilling effect, the Upper Tribunal’s ruling says,

“This [the chilling effect] is a well known concept, and I can see no support for the argument that the Tribunal misunderstood its meaning …”

Having lost the case, the DWP requests permission from the Upper Tribunal for another appeal hearing so it can put its arguments in person, not just in writing. The Tribunal agrees.

August 2014 – The Upper Tribunal sets a date of 3 December 2014 in London for a hearing to decide whether the DWP can appeal the First-Tier Tribunal’s ruling that the four reports be published. The DWP’s lawyers have had the case open now for more than a year.


If the DWP’s ministers and officials were spending their own money on legal costs, doubtless the four reports would have been published within days of our FOI requests; and their publication would have made no difference except to make officials a little less confident that they could, in future, cover up serious problems on their big IT-dependent projects and programmes.

The irony of the whole case is that the DWP argues that it needs to keep the reports confidential because candid assessments of a programme’s problems are essential tools for good project management. But the DWP has presided over a succession of failed IT-dependent programmes.

Clearly the routine suppression of reports on its problems has not helped the DWP’s project management. The National Audit Office’s report on Universal Credit could hardly have been more negative about the DWP’s management of the Universal Credit programme.

Isn’t it time the DWP did things differently and published reports on the progress or otherwise of its biggest programmes? With improved public scrutiny the department may then start to have a succession of successes. What a surprise that would be, to the department’s officials at least.


Making the case for “tilting the table” for mutuals

By David Bicknell

A recent get-together organised by Stepping Out discussed the landscape for mutuals and asked what needs to happen to get the mutuals show on the road.

The discussions are summed up in this well argued blog by Craig Dearden-Phillips.

A few paragraphs caught my eye:

“The general view in the room is that financial weakness – in the form of small balance sheets – is a disadvantage facing spin-outs tendering for contracts. There appears to be a truth that when tenders come up, this sector struggles to show the financial ‘leg’ necessary to get nervous public sector commissioners into bed. Instead they bee-line for safer-looking super-providers. Some would argue that social enterprises should be ‘gifted’ public assets in the form of property to address the balance sheet issue.

“Therefore, to what extent Government should ’tilt the table’ and if so how was one of the talking-points. There is a natural reluctance in many quarters of too much government intervention in markets of any sort. ‘Best is best’ is a common watchword in the world of public procurement. How to behave in markets is also a big question for spin-out organisations. Are they best, in the longer term, to partner up or even fold-in larger healthcare groups in order to gain efficiencies and achieve long-term stability? Or is this too much of a compromise that would water down their raison d’etre as socially focused organisations?

“This one of the unresolved questions facing spin-outs in this sector, particularly as they come up head to head with organisations whose chief competencies lie not in actual service delivery but the winning and fulfilment of contracts, often with third party deliverers.”

The blog makes some good points and appears to sum up the key issues facing mutuals.  To deliver any sense of a future for spin-out mutuals, the question is not whether to tilt the table, but how and when.

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.

Praise for departing Deputy government CIO

By Tony Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deputy Government CIO to join EMC.

Deputy government quits.

Cabinet Office loses another top ICT man.

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.

Jobs on offer – Government in need of “digital” talent

By Tony Collins

Some parts of government may be shrinking but there’s jobs on offer in the Government Digital Service.

Mike Bracken, the Cabinet Office’s Executive Director for Digital, says the Government is “badly in need of the talent to engineer ourselves out of our torpor”.

“We are hiring”, he says. His team have jobs in development, product management, interaction design, web ops, technology architecture and digital engagement.  Salaries are between £59k and £90k.

Says Bracken: “Over the last 15 years or more, across Government we have engineered digital products and services using risk aversion and long-term programme management as our guiding principles.

“Now that it is clear that rapid, user-led development using open source technologies, agile approaches to delivery and cloud-based infrastructure is the order of the day, we find ourselves badly in need of the talent to engineer ourselves out of our torpor.

“In short, with long-term contracts giving programme managers and departments only one lever to pull in order to change or create digital services, it’s never been more important that there is a choice within Government.

“While there have been a few raised eyebrows at hiring in these straitened times, let me be clear that we need digital talent all across Government. In policy, legal, procurement and service delivery, deep digital experience in Government is scarce.

“So I would recommend that we see this drive not just a one-off recruitment campaign for GDS, but the start of the digital transformation of all Government services. As well as hiring, I spend large amounts of my time looking to help transform existing people and processes.

Bracken was appointed the Government’s new Executive Director for Digital on 5 July 2011.

Government Digital Service