Tag Archives: Government CIO

The US approach to increasing innovation in government

By David Bicknell

I liked a recent blog written in the US by a ‘federal coach’ – I guess they could only get away with that title in the US!- about US government efforts to increase innovation in departments.

The piece makes the point that the White House recently launched an innovation scheme grandly titled the Presidential Innovation Fellows program that will bring in 15 ‘innovators’ from outside government to provide expertise on five technology projects.  

According to the article, within 24 hours of the announcement, more than 600 people had applied to go to Washington for at least six months to work with federal employees on projects aimed at making government more effective and more accountable.

The projects, which will be led by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Government Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, include creating an electronic payment system for government transactions involving foreign aid and U.S. operations overseas; and streamlining an online system for citizens in need of federal services.

It sounds impressive. The “Presidential Innovation Fellows program is based in part on the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence  programme that allows agencies to recruit world-class, private-sector innovators for limited periods of time and pair them with public-sector innovators to solve big problems.”

For the US, its scheme of government and the strength of its technology sector, it will probably work. Could such a programme work here? What would be the equivalent of a Presidential Innovation Fellows programme? And how many offers of help would it achieve within 24 hours of its launch?

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G-Cloud – it’s starting to happen

By Tony Collins

Anti-cloud CIOs should “move on” says Cabinet Office official, “before they have caused too much harm to their business”.

For years Chris Chant, who’s programme director for G Cloud at the Cabinet Office, has campaigned earnestly for lower costs of government IT. Now his work is beginning to pay off.

In a blog post he says that nearly 300 suppliers have submitted offers for about 2,000 separate services, and he is “amazed” at the prices. Departments with conventionally-good rates from suppliers pay about £700-£1,000 a month per server in the IL3 environment, a standard which operates at the “restricted” security level. Average costs to departments are about £1,500-a-month per server, says Chant.

“Cloud prices are coming in 25-50% of that price depending on the capabilities needed.”  He adds:

“IT need no longer be delivered under huge contracts dominated by massive, often foreign-owned, suppliers.  Sure, some of what government does is huge, complicated and unique to government.  But much is available elsewhere, already deployed, already used by thousands of companies and that ought to be the new normal.

“Rather than wait six weeks for a server to be commissioned and ready for use, departments will wait maybe a day – and that’s if they haven’t bought from that supplier before (if they have it will be minutes).  When they’re done using the server, they’ll be done – that’s it.  No more spend, no asset write down, no cost of decommissioning.”

Chant says that some CIOs in post have yet to accept that things need to change; and “even fewer suppliers have got their heads around the magnitude of the change that is starting to unfold”.

“In the first 5 years of this century, we had a massive shift to web-enabled computing; in the next 5 the level of change will be even greater.  CIOs in government need to recognise that, plan for it and make it happen.

“Or move on before they have caused too much harm to their business.”

He adds: “Not long from now, I expect at least one CIO to adopt an entirely cloud-based model.  I expect almost all CIOs to at least try out a cloud service in part of their portfolio.

“Some CIOs across government are already tackling the cloud and figuring out how to harness it to deliver real saves – along with real IT.  Some are yet to start.

“Those that have started need to double their efforts; those that haven’t need to get out of the way.”

Cloud will cut government IT costs by 75% says Chris Chant

Chris Chant’s blog post

Met Office has IBM secondee as CIO

By Tony Collins

The Met Office gained ministerial approval to appoint an IBM employee for a year as secondee CIO, until the end of October 2011, according to information released under the FOI Act.

It appears that the salary of the IBM executive David Young is being paid, at least in part, by the Met Office. In documents released under the FOI Act the Met Office has redacted [edited out] details of Young’s proposed remuneration and performance bonus.

As a trading fund within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Met Office is required to operate on a commercial basis. It was part of the Ministry of Defence at the time of Young’s appointment. His recruitment was approved by the Secretary of State.

Internal emails show that the Met Office apparently overcame a recruitment ban and constraints on secondments.

Having your CIO seconded from your biggest IT supplier may be novel but it could be controversial because of the perception of a potential conflict of interest.

It would not the first time a public authority has been involved in a controversy after seconding an IBM employee as head of IT.

In 1993 a report of the district auditor criticised the then Wessex Regional Health Authority after it transpired that a member of the health authority was a director of IBM. The IBM director at Wessex promoted a controversial and successful bid for core systems to be supplied to the health authority by IBM and Andersen Consulting (later Accenture). The director later asked that his letter lobbying for the contract be destroyed.

The auditor also found that the Wessex authority bought an IBM mainframe without proper legal authority, the members of the authority having not been informed. The authority paid an unnecessarily high sum for the mainframe and there were doubts the machine was needed. A decision to proceed with the purchase of the mainframe at Wessex was made on the advice of the regional health authority’s new regional information systems manager who was an IBM secondee.

The Met Office, however, has given full consideration to the potential for a conflict of interest in appointing Young as its CIO. It said in a statement this week:

“Full consideration of any potential conflicts of interest regarding David Young’s appointment were fully considered prior to his appointment and his terms of engagement specifically cover these.

“The Met Office complies with specific rules set by the government with regard to procurement and purchases of IT equipment must be agreed by the Met Office Executive.”

The Met Office is one of IBM’s biggest customers. It says on its website: “We are now using an IBM supercomputer which can do more than 100 trillion calculations a second. Its power allows it to take in hundreds of thousands of weather observations from all over the world which it then takes as a starting point for running an atmospheric model containing more than a million lines of code.”

The Met Office reports that Young is responsible for the organisation’s IT strategy and ensuring that it adapts to support the business strategy.

Its website says that Young worked for IBM but does not make it clear he is still employed by the company while on secondment to the Met Office. It says that before joining the Met Office he “held a number of executive position within the IT industry, working for IBM, CSC and Siemens”.

Young’s Linked In profile says he is CIO at the Met Office and Director, System zStack and Mainframe Platform, Central Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa at IBM.

In response to an FOI request by Dave Orr, the Met Office has released internal emails relating to Young’s recruitment and later appointment. Young is described in the Met Office’s Register of Interests 2010/11 as an “Executive, IBM UK Ltd (non-active)”.

The email exchanges show that the Met Office was keen and anxious to employ Young. Talks over Young’s recruitment, initially as Chief Technology Officer, began in July last year and took several months to conclude.

In August 2010 John Hirst, Chief Executive at the Met Office, wrote to Young mentioning, among other things, a ban on recruitment.

“It was good to talk to you on the phone this afternoon. This is to confirm that you are interested in joining us at the Met Office and we are interested in offering you a post.

“As we discussed there are issues of the recruitment ban, terms of secondment and security clearances amongst others but we have both declared an intent to try and get something organised between us.”

Also in August 2010 Diana Chaloner, the Met Office’s Director of Human Resources, emailed IBM on the costs and restrictions relating to the “possible secondment of David Young”.

Her email said: “I will need to get confirmation from John Hirst (our CE) before committing to the costs as outlined below. Whilst I don’t see it as a problem, I do also need to seek a way to overcome external secondee restrictions placed on us by central government recently. I will attempt to get this moving as quickly as possible at this end.”

In another email to IBM in August 2010, Chaloner referred again to the costs of seconding Young. She said:

“Following John’s earlier meeting with David (in his garden!) Alan Dickinson [then the Met Office’s Director of Science and Technology] and I met him last week. John has now spoken to David and is keen to try to progress a secondment. I know David is very keen too, but inevitably, with all the various restrictions placed on us, cost may be an issue, as will enabling the secondment contract to be approved.

“Whilst this might be quite challenging , I think there are usually ways to manage these things, so would really like to understand cost and timing…”

The following month, September 2010, Chaloner emailed Hirst on the need for Young’s appointment to be approved.

Her email has in the subject heading: “IBM Confidential: Secondment of David Young to the Met Office”.  Says the email: “At the moment we cannot give a precise date for David to start his secondment. I did mention in an earlier email that there are some added constraints across Government, and one of those is around recruitment and secondments…”

In October 2011 Hirst emailed IBM about a possible delay in appointing Young. “I am sorry this has taken so long and been more complex than anticipated but the rules of engagement have changed at least twice over the last couple of months and therefore keeping things moving forward steadily has been more difficult. I am still confident we can conclude this although I have suggested to David we might need a weeks (sic) delay in starting … the contracts are signed and sitting in my draw awaiting final clearance of the admin hurdles so there is no decrease in my intent to make this happen.”

On 29 November 2011 Chaloner wrote to Hirst saying that Young’s appointment needed the approval of the Secretary of State. “… The situation is looking very positive but we require final approval from Secretary of State. I was told that there seemed no reason for the secondment not to be approved, but it has to go through the appropriate channels. I can only apologise in the delay in David starting, and continue to nudge it from this end, almost on a daily basis.”

Young was appointed by the end of December 2010. The business case for a new Chief Technology Officer (which became a CIO role) says the secondment from IBM would finish on 31 October 2011. It says there is a “need to bring a professional IT expert into the organisation, to reshape the function in order to achieve greater efficiency in delivery of information technology, as well as ensure it is fit for purpose in the future, hence the need, at this time, to manage this as a short term secondment.”

The Job Description, which is headed “Management in Confidence”, says the IBM secondee will “lead the IT function in the effective delivery of 24/7 IT services and enhance our world leading supercomputing and infrastructure capabilities to secure achievement of future corporate objectives.” The main responsibilities will include directing and co-ordinating 300 information technology, programme/project management professionals, and support staff…”

The job also involves overseeing the “selection, acquisition, development and installation of major information systems”. It further includes the need to “determine and manage all outsourced  external IT service provision as appropriate to meet service level agreements.”

Comment:

There is nothing wrong with the Met Office’s decision to hire an IBM secondee except perhaps that it underlines the reliance of the public sector on its major suppliers.

It’s clear that the Met Office has struggled hard to employ David Young because of his expertise. Nobody would understand the Met Office’s IBM systems better than IBM.

But we have seen evidence from the National Audit Office that suppliers all too often understand customer installations in the public sector better than the civil servants know their own systems. In the case of the NPfIT, auditors had to rely on suppliers to explain what they had been paid and why.

It’s time for the civil service to build up its expertise so that it ceases to rely on suppliers that dominate government IT.

Excerpts from report on GovIT: Recipe for rip-offs – time for a new approach

By Tony Collins

Today’s comprehensive report on the government’s use of IT is replete with strong and important messages, particularly on the domination of government IT by a small number of large suppliers, so-called systems integrators.

That said, Techmarketview, which tracks developments in the IT supplier market, has today attacked the report of the Public Administration Select Committee.  Techmarketview’s analyst Georgina O’Toole concedes she has not looked carefully at the full report but says she is irritated by the summary’s sensationalism.

It may be worth remembering that Parliamentary committees compete with each other for media attention. A bland report will be pointless: it won’t be read. Today’s report of the PASC, though, seeks more often than not to give the balacing view whenever it says something tendentious.  

For ease of explanation the Committee’s report “Recipe for rip-offs – time for a new approach” refers to government as if it were a single entity.

But government is, to some extent, at war with itself. The Cabinet Office is trying to have more influence over departments, in encouraging them to use SMEs,  adopt agile methods, simplify working practices and cut costs; and while the Cabinet Office has a mandate from David Cameron to enforce its wishes, in practice departments are giving strong reasons for not acting:

-long-term contracts are already in force

– EC procurement rules mean that SMEs cannot be preferred over other suppliers

– SMEs give insufficient financial assurances and could go bust at any time

– there are not enough internal staff and skills to manage a plethora of smaller companies

– existing (large) suppliers employ hundreds of SME as subcontractors.

There’s a particularly telling passage in the PASC report. It gave details of an exchange between the Department of Work and Pensions and Erudine, an SME. The Committee was given details of the exchange during a private session.

Erudine had given the department a way of migrating a legacy system onto a more modern, cheaper platform, which could generate potential savings of around £4m a year.

A senior DWP IT official rejected the proposal and suggested that the department was maintaining an interest in SMEs for political reasons – the government’s wish for 25% of contracts to be given to SMEs. This was part of what the DWP official said to Erudine:

“.. we have as you know an ‘interest’ in having SMEs present and working in the department for good political reasons. So you have other value to us … purely political.

“You guys need to be realistic. I will be very candid with you […] it is a huge amount of bother to deal with smaller organisations. Huge. And we wouldn’t necessarily do that because it doesn’t make our lives simpler.”

The Department declined to comment on the exchange and said the views expressed did not represent its own. It told the Committee that in 2009/10 SMEs made up 29.3% of their supplier base, either as a prime contractor or a subcontractor.

The Committee welcomed this assurance from the Department but added:

“… this account does suggest that attitudes at official level risk undermining ministers’ ambitions to increase the number of SMEs Government contracts with directly”.

These are other extracts from the PASC report:

Overcharging by large suppliers – an obscene waste of public money?

They [SMEs] also alleged that a lack of benchmarking data enabled large systems integrators (SIs) to charge between seven  to ten  times more than their standard commercial costs.

**

Having described the situation as an “oligopoly” it is clear the Government is not happy with the current arrangements. Whether or not this constitutes a cartel in legal terms, it has led to the perverse situation in which the governments have wasted an obscene amount of public money.

The Government should urgently commission an independent, external investigation to determine whether there is substance to these serious allegations of anti-competitive behaviour and collusion. The Government should also provide a trusted and independent escalation route to enable SMEs confidentially to raise allegations of malpractice.

Vested interests suppress innovation?

We received suggestions from some SMEs that the major systems integrators used legacy systems as leverage to maintain their dominance. Some SMEs reported that there were solutions that could easily transfer data from old platforms, but that a combination of risk aversion and vested interests prevented these solutions being adopted

Large IT contractors are “not performing well”

The Government’s analysis has shown that its large IT contractors are not performing well. A Cabinet Office review in September 2010 of the performance of the 14 largest IT suppliers found that none of them were performing to a “good” or “excellent” level, with average performance being a middling “satisfactory with some strengths”. Some were performing significantly worse.

Openness would help to cut costs

Making detailed information on IT expenditure publicly available for scrutiny would enhance the Government’s ability to generate savings, by allowing external challenge of its spending decisions.

The Government has already taken steps to provide more information about IT projects and expenditure in general, especially through the work of the Transparency Board and its publication of contracts on Contract Finder. To realise the full benefits of transparency, this is not sufficient. More information should be made public by default.

It should publish as much information as possible about how it runs its IT to enable effective benchmarking and to allow external experts to suggest different and more economical and effective ways of running its systems

Will government objectives be achieved?

We received numerous reports from SMEs about poor treatment by both Government departments and large companies who sub-contract government work to SMEs. There is a strong suspicion that the Government will be diverted from its stated policy and that its objective will not be achieved.

The drawbacks of using SMEs as subcontractors to large suppliers

“… subcontracting could lead to the Government paying a high price as it had to cover the margin of both the sub and prime contractor.

**

SMEs approached us informally to express concerns based on their own experiences of subcontracting. We heard of cases where systems integrators [large IT suppliers] had involved SMEs in the bidding process so they could demonstrate innovation, only for the SME to be dropped after award of contract.

In some of these cases SMEs felt that they have provided innovative ideas which had then been exploited by the larger systems integrators. We were also told by SMEs that by subcontracting with an SI they were barred from approaching government directly with ideas that might allow it to radically transform its services and reduce costs. This was because systems integrators did not want the Government to be provided with ideas that could result in them losing business, or having to reduce costs.

“… When we put these [SME] concerns to the Government we were told that their contracting arrangements did not stop subcontractors speaking directly to Departments…However, during our private seminar with SMEs, we were told that this did not reflect their experiences. SMEs reported that they were instructed to approach the systems integrator first in order to obtain permission to talk to a Department and that some Departments refused to deal with them directly.

**

We take seriously the concerns expressed by many SMEs that by speaking openly to the Government about innovative ideas they risk losing future business particularly if they are already in a sub-contracting relationship with a systems integator.

Government should deal directly with SMEs

The Government should reiterate its willingness to speak to SMEs directly, and commit to meeting SMEs in private where this is requested. We recommend that the Government establish a permanent mechanism that enables SMEs to bring innovative ideas directly to government in confidence, thereby minimising the risk of losing business with prime contractors.

Is government policy shutting out SMEs even more?

“…the Government has been moving to act as a single buyer to obtain economies of scale… This approach can be counter-productive. The effect of demand aggregation can be to aggregate supply, further concentrating contracts in the hands of a few large systems integrators.

Departments are following instructions from the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group to switch away from their existing direct SME contracting arrangements in favour of centralised procurement models. This would mean that SMEs would become tier 2 suppliers behind selected large suppliers, preventing SMEs from contracting directly with departments. The Cabinet Office has confirmed that:

Spend is being channelled into three current channels: a) existing framework contracts where spot buying is undertaken centrally (this is known as Home Office Cix), b) department-specific arrangements based on their unique needs (such as FCO’s arrangements with Hays) and c) an existing contract with Capita, owned and managed by DWP and available to all government departments.

It is unclear to us how narrowing the supply channels will create a more open and competitive market. The nature of this supply-side aggregation of SMEs under large contracts appears to be in direct contradiction of the policy articulated by the Minister when he indicated his desire to encourage Departments to secure more direct contracting with SMEs.

“… the Government’s plan to act as a single buyer appears to be leading to a consolidation towards a few large suppliers. This could act against its intention to reduce the size of contracts and increase the number of SMEs that it contracts with directly. We are particularly concerned with plans to move SME suppliers to an “arm’s length” relationship with Government. The Government needs to explain how it will reconcile its intentions to act as a single buyer, secure value for money and reduce contract size to create more opportunities for SMEs.

Procurement barriers for SMEs

The way procurement currently operates favours large companies that can afford to commit the staff and resources to navigate the convoluted processes. It also encourages the Government to confine discussions to as few potential contractors as possible.

If the Government is serious about increasing the amount of work it awards to SMEs it must simplify the existing processes

**

We recommend that the Government investigate the practices which seem unintentionally to disadvantage SMEs. When contracts and pre-qualifying questions are drawn up thought must be given to what impact they could have on the eligibility and ability of SMEs to apply for work, and whether separate provision should be made for SMEs. We believe it would be preferable if the default procurement and contractual approach were designed for SMEs, with more detailed and bespoke negotiation being required only for more complex and large scale procurements.

Have Departments the people and skills to handle more SMEs?

Increasing the use of SMEs will place extra pressure on departments. The management of smaller organisations is currently outsourced to the large systems integrators.

For example the Aspire framework provides HMRC with access to over 200 IT suppliers. Mr Pavitt, HMRC Chief Information Officer said that:

“managing those individually would be quite a heavy bandwidth for a Government department”.

It is not clear that Departments are willing to take on the additional work that contracting directly with SMEs implies even where this could yield significant savings…

Ministers need to ensure their officials have the skills, capacity and above all the willingness to deliver on ministerial commitments to SMEs.

On agile methods:

“… greater use of agile development is likely to necessitate behaviour changes within Government. As agile methodology requires increased participation from the business to provide feedback on different iterations of the solution, departments will need to release their staff, particularly senior staff with overall responsibility of the project, to allow them to participate in these exercises.

Agile development is a powerful tool to enhance the effectiveness and improve the outcomes of Government change programmes. We welcome the Government’s enthusiasm and willingness to experiment with this method. The Government should be careful not to dismiss the very real barriers in the existing system that could prevent the wider use of agile development.

We therefore invite the Government to outline in its response how it will adapt its existing programme model to enable agile development to work as envisaged and how new flagship programmes will utilise improved approaches to help ensure their successful delivery….

The Government will have to bear in mind the need to facilitate agile development as it renegotiates the EU procurement directive and revises the associated guidance.

Need for more people with the right skills to manage suppliers

Managing suppliers is as important as deciding who to contract with in the first place. To be able to perform both of these functions government needs the capacity to act as an intelligent customer. This involves having a small group within government with the skills to both procure and manage a contract in partnership with its suppliers.

Currently the Government seems unable to strike the right balance between allowing contractors enough freedom to operate and ensuring there are appropriate controls and monitoring in-house.

The Government needs to develop the skills necessary to fill this gap. This should involve recruiting more IT professionals with experience of the SME sector to help deliver the objective of greater SME involvement.

When disaster strikes is anyone responsible?

We are concerned that despite the catalogue of costly project failures rarely does anyone – suppliers, officials or ministers – seem to be held to account. It is therefore important that, when SROs do move on they should remain accountable for those decisions taken on their watch, and that Ministers should be held accountable when this does not happen.

Open source and open standards

Recent initiatives such as the Skunkworks team, dotgovlabs, data.gov.uk, and the Alphagov project suggest that the Government is moving in this direction

Government should omit references to proprietary products and formats in procurement notices, stipulating business requirements based on open standards. The Government should also ensure that new projects, programmes and contracts, and where possible existing projects and contracts, mandate open public data and open interfaces to access such data by default..

Report’s conclusion

“… The last 10 years have seen several failed attempts at reform. The current Government seems determined to succeed where others have failed and we are greatly encouraged by its progress to date.

“Numerous challenges remain and fundamentally transforming how Government uses IT will require departments to engage more directly with innovative firms, to integrate technology into policy-making and reform how they develop their systems.

“The fundamental requirement is that Government needs the right skills, knowledge and capacity in-house to deliver these changes. Without the ability to engage with IT suppliers as an intelligent customer – able to secure the most efficient deal and benchmark its costs – and to understand the role technology can play in the delivery of public services, Government is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Links:

Jerry Fishenden, adviser to the PASC, gives his view of the report.

Today’s Public Administration Committee report: Recipe for rip-offs – time for a new approach

Government reliance on large IT suppliers is recipe for rip-offs.

Government IT rip-offs – surely time for a new approach – my view of the report

Techmarketview on the report

Good analysis of PASC report – Centre for Technology Policy Research.

Cabinet Office takes on open-source specialist

By Tony Collins

“Let’s not waste this great opportunity to make British government IT the most effective and least expensive service per head in Western Europe.”

 An open source advocate and critic of the high costs of government IT, Liam Maxwell, is joining the Cabinet Office for 11 months  to provide expertise on how civil servants can use innovative new technology to deliver better, cheaper solutions.

His secondment from Eton College where he is ICT head underlines the determination of Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, to continue bringing in strong people to oversee major changes in the way government works.

What remains unclear, however, is how much influence the Cabinet Office will have on autonomous government departments and their permanent secretaries.

Although David Cameron has given his personal backing to the changes being sought by the Cabinet Office, the PM has  little or no direct control over what departments do or don’t do.

Simon Dickson at Puffbox points out that Liam Maxwell has said all the right things in the past. Maxwell co-wrote a 2008 paper for the Tories on ‘Open Source, Open Standards: Reforming IT procurement in Government’, and also a 2010 paper Better for Less‘ for the Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age, which said:

“British Government IT is too expensive. Worse, it has been designed badly and built to last. IT must work together across government and deliver a meaningful return on investment. Government must stop believing it is special and use commodity IT services much more widely.

“As we saw with the Open Source policy, the wish is there. However, the one common thread of successive technology leadership in government is a failure to execute policy.

“There is at last a ministerial team in place that “gets it”. The austerity measures that all have to face should act as a powerful dynamic for change. Let’s not waste this great opportunity to make British government IT the most effective and least expensive service per head in Western Europe.” 

In a statement, the Cabinet office said that Maxwell will help to develop ideas for how technology can:

– increase the drive towards open standards and open source software

– help SMEs to enter the government marketplace

– maintain a horizon scan of future technologies and methods

– develop new, more flexible ways of delivery in government

Ian Watmore, the Government’s Chief Operating Officer said: “Liam’s insight and knowledge will make him a valuable source to the team over the coming year. He has a strong track record of delivering success in government ICT and he also brings significant experience of turning the theory into practice.”

Dickson said that Maxwell was a Windsor and Maidenhead councillor who drove the debate a year or so ago on councils switching to Open Document Format, part of OpenOffice.

The Guardian said Maxwell has been an adviser to the  Conservative party on government ICT.  At the Cabinet Office he will advise the Efficiency and Reform Group and Ian Watmore. He will begin the job in September and is taking a sabbatical from Eton.

Katie Davis for new Health CIO?

The Cabinet Office’s Katie Davis, who takes over next month, on an interim basis, from Health CIO Christine Connelly,  is ex-Accenture.

But that shouldn’t be held against her.  Accenture left the NPfIT in 2006 with its reputation untarnished.

A profile of Davis appeared in The Telegraph in 2007. The newspaper described her as a yank at the court of King Tony, set on excellence in IT.

Though it could be assumed that Davis has a “big company” approach, and so would welcome the continued dominance of the NPfIT, she told The Telegraph she found her time at Accenture highly satisfying but after a while she stopped having fun.

“The overheads of working for a huge corporation had slightly impaired my ability to deliver. By overheads, I mean travel and the demands of process. My needs and those of the corporation did not overlap so well.”

She also said she worked in the NHS.

“I had worked with the NHS before, and was seconded to work with some of the cleverest and most committed people I’d ever been in a working environment with. It opened my eyes to the challenges and the excitement of working in the public sector.”

Davis has the advantage of having started her career as an engineer (electrical). Which makes it sound as if she’s more practical and realistic than visionary and idealistic. She may make an excellent (permanent) Health CIO.

Telegraph profile of Katie Davis.

Cabinet Office’s chief projects troubleshooter – a good choice

David Pitchford, who has been Executive Director of Major Projects within the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group, is to run the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority which has the power to intervene in failing projects.

Last year Pitchford delivered what Lindsay Scott, co-director of Arras People, called an “amazingly frank assessment of the state of major projects within the UK Government”.

Pitchford said failures of government projects were because of:

– Political pressure
– No business case
– No agreed budget
– 80% of projects launched before 1,2 & 3 have been resolved
– Sole solution approach (options not considered)
– Lack of Commercial capability  – (contract / administration)
– No plan
– No timescale
– No defined benefits

The new Major Projects Authority is run as a partnership with the Treasury and approves projects worth more than £5m.  The Guardian reports that the Authority has an enforceable mandate from the prime minister to oversee and direct the management of all large scale central government projects.

It will be able to:

– tell departments if there is a need for additional assurance

– arrange extra support for a project

– take disputes or problems to ministers.

Departments will be required to provide an integrated assurance and approval plan for every project at its inception. The MPA will approve these before the Cabinet Office and Treasury approves projects, and run an assurance process at key stages to assess whether they are on course to deliver on time, within budget and to the required quality.

It will also compile a portfolio of major projects, reporting on them once a year, and work with departments to improve their skills in the management of projects and programmes.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the Authority is being set up to improve government’s poor record on project delivery.

“The MPA will work in collaboration with central government departments to help us get firmer control of our major projects both at an individual and portfolio level,” he said. “It will look at projects from High Speed Two (for London to Scotland rail services) to the Rural Payments Agency’s ICT system.”

Comment:

Pitchford’s increasing influence on major projects within the Cabinet Office is welcome, especially after the departures of some other reformers who include John Suffolk and Andy Tait.

John Suffolk, Government CIO, to leave – a blow to major reform?

By Tony Collins
John Suffolk has decided to leave his post as Government CIO by the end of this year, a departure that will be seen by some as a setback to the campaign for major cuts in wasteful IT-based spending in the public sector.
Suffolk confirmed his departure to me on 15 November: “Just under five years is a good stint …time to pass the baton on and give the new Government a clear run on new policies, new strategies and new people. Its been truly great working with Francis Maude. His agenda is my agenda and reverse. He will drive it [major reform] forward.”