Tag Archives: innovation

Francis Maude –“unacceptable” civil service practices

By Tony Collins

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed Maude said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massive duplication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

O’Donnell said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fujitsu banned from Whitehall contracts?

By Tony Collins

The FT reports today that Fujitsu has been deemed for the time being too high risk to take on new public sector deals, along with another unnamed IT services contractor.

The newspaper quotes “people close to the situation”.

It’s likely the article is correct in naming Fujitsu as a supplier that is deemed by the Cabinet Office to be high risk. It is unclear, though, whether being categorised as “high risk” by the Cabinet Office amounts to a ban for the time being on future government contracts.

The FT says that Fujitsu has “in essence” been blacklisted.  “The Cabinet Office refused to confirm the identities of either of the companies that have in effect been blacklisted,” says the FT.

It is also unclear whether the Cabinet Office could exclude a supplier from shortlists even if it wanted to. The Cabinet Office awards few large IT contracts of its own; contracts are awarded by departments, and the Cabinet Office has no unambiguous power to exclude particular suppliers from shortlists drawn up by autonomous departments that take their own decisions on which companies to award contracts to.

Mega-contracts to be awarded by central departments must, however, must go to the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority for approval.  The Authority could in theory require that Fujitsu be excluded from a shortlist before it gives approval.  This blacklisting would require Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, and the minister signing the mega-contract to be in agreement.

If a departmental minister refused to exclude  a supplier from a bid or shortlist because of its past performance what could the Cabinet Office do, especially if the minister argued that the supplier’s continued work , in the form of a renewed contract, was not just desirable but essential?

The FT says that the latest initiative to ban companies with troubled histories in government from new contracts is being spearheaded by Bill Crothers, formerly of Accenture.

He was appointed as chief procurement officer two months ago to inject private sector rigour into Whitehall’s contracting system. He is quoted in the FT as saying that his new approach would allow past performance to be taken into account for the first time when a company is bidding for a fresh tender.

Comment

The idea of a blacklist is a good one; indeed it would be the most important innovation in government IT since the general election. For decades MPs and others have said that under-performing suppliers should not be awarded new contracts. Now at last that may be happening.

After Fujitsu sued the Department for Health for about £700m over the NPfIT a settlement has been elusive, despite the intervention of the Cabinet Office. It is likely that Fujitsu UK’s hands will have been controlled by its parent in Japan.

Fujitsu’s performance on the “Libra” contract for IT in magistrates’ courts was strongly criticised by MPs and the National Audit Office which exposed repeated threats by the supplier to withdraw from the contract unless its terms were met.

Fujitsu could circumvent any blacklisting by becoming a subcontractor on a mega-contract, as it is at HMRC on the “ASPIRE” contract and at the DWP where its hardware runs benefit systems. Or a department could ignore the Cabinet Office and award non mega-contracts to Fujitsu.

We hope the Cabinet Office finds a way to make its blacklist – if that is what it is – stick. A  private sector company would not award a new contract to a supplier that had bitten in the past. Why would the public sector?

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?

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.

www.o2.co.uk/futurefund

Innovation and change: a world tour

By David Bicknell

With innovation and change in mind, I was interested in this blog by a French writer, Francis Pisani, who is undertaking a ‘five continent tour’ taking in innovation worldwide.

He’s been in Australia, South America, and India in April, before heading to Africa (South Africa, Rwanda and  Israel) in May, then Eastern Europe in June and July, and finally the Far East in August and September.

Here is his interview on his travels in India with Raveev Suri, an old contact from Infosys who is now a CEO and entrepreneur based in Bangalore.

Related Reading

UK technology firms spurn BRICS deals in favour of home investment

As Agile as a John Deere tractor

By David Bicknell

Thanks to Rally Software’s Agile Blog for a pointer to a Computerworld post about the use of Agile development at the tractor maker John Deere & Co.

It seems that John Deere has moved 800 software developers into an Agile development process  in around a year.

This involved recreating the company’s software development effort around new teams that included developers, systems engineers, customer support and marketing personnel, testers, all working closely together.

It is ironic that although  John Deere’s software development work is incremental through an Agile approach that is designed to deliver speed, innovation, quality, customer focus and teamwork,  the company’s actual move to adopt Agile as a development philosophy was more of a Big Bang approach than an incremental one, and was partly designed to overcome any resistance.

DWP defends £316m HP contract

By Tony Collins

The Department for Work and Pensions could lead the public sector in technical innovations. It has had some success in cutting its IT-related costs. It has also had some success so far with Universal Credit, which is based on agile principles.

It has further launched an imaginative welfare-to-work scheme , the so-called Work Programme, which seeks to get benefit claimants into jobs they keep.

Despite media criticism of the way the scheme has been set up – especially in the FT – a report by the NAO this week made it clear that the DWP has, for the most part, taken on risks that officials understand.

Some central government departments have updated business cases as they went through a major business-change programme and not submitted the final case until years into the scheme, as in parts of the NPfIT.

But the DWP has implemented the Work Programme unusually quickly, in a little more than a year, by taking sensible risks.  The NAO report on the scheme said the business case and essential justification for the Work Programme were drawn up after key decisions had already been made. But the NAO also picked out some innovations:

– some of the Work Programme is being done manually rather than rush the IT

– suppliers get paid by results, when they secure jobs that would not have occurred without their intervention. And suppliers get more money if the former claimant stays in the job.

– the scheme is cost-justified in part on the wider non-DWP societal benefits of getting the long-term unemployed into jobs such as reduced crime and improved health.

So the DWP is not frightened of innovation. But while Universal Credit and welfare-to-work scheme are centre stage, the DWP is, behind the safety curtain, awarding big old-style contracts to the same suppliers that have monopolised government IT for decades.

Rather than lead by example and change internal ways of working – and thus take Bunyan’s steep and cragged paths – the DWP is taking the easy road.

It is making sure that HP, AccentureIBM and CapGemini are safe in its hands. Indeed the DWP this week announced a £316m desktop deal with HP.  EDS, which HP acquired in 2008, has been a main DWP supplier for decades.

DWP responds to questions on £316m HP deal 

I put it to the DWP that the £316m HP deal was olde worlde, a big contract from a former era. These were its responses. Thank you to DWP press officer Sandra Roach who obtained the following responses from officials. A DWP spokesperson said:

“This new contract will deliver considerable financial savings and a range of modern technologies to support DWP’s strategic objectives and major initiatives such as Universal Credit.

“The DWP has nearly 100,000 staff, processing benefits and pensions, delivering services to 22 million people.

“DWP is on schedule to make savings of over £100m in this financial year for it’s Baseline IT operational costs, including the main IT contracts with BT and HPES [Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services].

“All contracts have benchmarking clauses to ensure best value for money in the marketplace.

“The five year contract was awarded through the Government Procurement framework and has been scrutinised to ensure value for money.”

My questions and the DWP’s answers:

Why has the DWP awarded HP a £316m contract when the coalition has a presumption against awarding contracts larger than £100m?

DWP spokesperson: “The Government IT Strategy says (page 10) ‘Where possible the Government will move away from large and expensive ICT projects, with a presumption that no project will be greater than £100m. Moving to smaller and more manageable projects will improve project delivery timelines and reduce the risk of project failure’.

“HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and DWP’s commercial and finance teams have scrutinised the DWP Desktop Service contract to ensure that it represents the most economically advantageous proposition.”

What is the role, if any for SMEs ?

DWP: “There are a number of SMEs whose products or services will form part of or contribute to the DWP Desktop Service being delivered by HP, for example ActivIdentity, Anixter, AppSense, Azlan, Click Stream, Cortado, Juniper Networks, Quest Software, Repliweb Inc, Scientific Computers Limited (SCL), Westcon etc.”

Why is there no mention of G-Cloud?

DWP: “Both the new contract and the new technical solution are constructed in such a way as to support full or partial moves to cloud services at DWP’s discretion.”

Comment:

For the bulk of its IT the DWP is trapped by a legacy of complexity. It is arguably too welcoming of the safety and emollients offered by its big suppliers.

The department is not frightened by risk – hence the innovative Work Programme which the NAO is to be commended on for monitoring at an early stage of the scheme. So if the DWP is willing to take on sensible risks, why does it continue to bathe its major IT suppliers in soothingly-large payments, a tradition that dates back decades? What about G-Cloud?

DWP reappoints HP on £316m desktop deal

DWP signs fifth large deal with HP

“DWP awards Accenture seven year application services deal”

“DWP awards IT deals to IBM and Capgemini”

A few suggested blog posts – on change at Kodak, the rise of Splunk and a culture clash in China

By David Bicknell

Browsing over the weekend, I came across a few posts about change management and cultural change that caught my eye and are worthy of passing on.

A couple are from the Harvard Business Review, and one is taken from IT-Director.com.

The Harvard Business Review items cover the innovation and transformational change issues involved in the continued demise of Kodak and the cultural issues that anyone who has plans to do business in China may have to get to grips with. The IT-Director article covers the growing reputation of Splunk, a real-time operational intelligence specialist that collects and indexes machine data and which has potential in the growing ‘Big Data’ marketplace.

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

Dedicated Cloud servers make a difference says Puma

By Tony Collins

Jay Basnight, the head of digital strategy at sports shoe and sportswear manufacturer Puma, has told CIO how his company moved from four cloud suppliers – Amazon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Rackspace and Slicehost (now part of Rackspace) –  to cloud supplier Eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus provides Puma with dedicated servers rather than spreading the company’s data and applications across servers used by other businesses, as is the case at Amazon, says Basnight. That helps make privacy audits easier because he can point to a specific server where data resides.

“This allows you peace of mind that you’re not sharing infrastructure with anyone else.”

Consolidating clouds saves “significant” money says Basnight – as much as 50 percent per hour due to better contract terms and economies of scale.

CIO article.