Think Tank Slams Government IT

According to an article in Computer Weekly, a government think-tank has proposed dismantling the IT systems and business ecosystem established by Labour’s drive to computerise government. In an eBook entitled Better for Less: How to make Government IT deliver savings, posted on the Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age website, Liam Maxwell and six other named contributors slam the track record of the government in IT procurement.

Using headings like An Evolutionary Dead End, Bad Systems Concreted In, and Very Successfully Resisting Change, the paper describes how the UK Government has enabled a small group of overly influential System Integrators to corner the market, and dispensed with appropriate transparency in the name of Commercial Confidentiality.

The other fundamental problem outlined is that Government IT has been steered away from the IT mainstream, which encompasses open platforms, open competition and rapid innovation, and diverted the huge number of captive users into an expensive, proprietary sideline, where there can be little competitive leverage. Security is cited as the smokescreen which hides the truth about poor systems implementations and inexplicable policy decisions, although commercial exploitation of the ignorant and helpless is the most likely explanation. We would argue that this is a deliberate policy by the IT suppliers which allows them to act as the only consulted advisors, and so helps to perpetuate the situation and their continued revenue.

Just to be clear, Liam Maxwell has slammed the whole way that Government IT procurement is handled, which is about time. He has identified at least seven examples where savings could be made without massive changes to the infrastructure

  • A test environment for development companies with easy access to rack-space
  • Open Source on the desktop through the use of Open Document Format
  • New models sought for software framework (may we suggest Apache, My SQL, PHP for a start)
  • Commoditization of Email and office productivity
  • Common Security Framework
  • Migrating Schools to Free email services
  • Prizes for IT innovation in education

The view we take is that because you need as many people to monitor and manage the contract than you employed originally, to deliver the service in house, and attempt to innovate where innovation is stifled, it can and will never save money. Furthermore, because the outsourced supplier never delivers all the services that were provided by the in-house team, you have to keep most of those staff on to fill in the gaps. The net result is an increase in staffing costs, less flexible service because of the overheads of “governance” and a worse service to the consumer, and in the end the tax payer.

We would like to take this even further, as the policy makers likely do not read this blog, any more that the suppliers do! Although legal constraints prevent us from actually calling for the sacking of specific individuals for incompetence (remember that quote from Microsoft’s Ed Bott that “Any IT professional who is still allowing IE6 to be used in a corporate setting is guilty of malpractice“?) or naming the guilty parties who are preparing to roll out unsupportable version of operating systems and software on new platforms going live about now, remember we are watching you.

We commend Liam Maxwell for putting in writing what many people have known for a long time: Government outsourcing using the existing framework does not work. We recommend everyone involved in Government IT procurement, on either side, should read Better for Less: How to make Government IT deliver savings.

Finally, the warning to the IT suppliers should be clear, but if not we will restate it to make sure the message gets home. Remember the following three fortune cookie quotes:

  • Use of IE6 in a Corporate Setting is Malpractice
  • More than two software versions behind the current manufacturer’s recommendations is effectively deploying obsolescence
  • Ignoring the calls of reason from the little guy is commercial suicide

Click here to read Better for Less: How to make Government IT deliver savings

Sunday, September 19th, 2010 General, News