Friday, 20 April 2012

Will the ridge of high pressure over Whitehall blow away the G-Cloud?

For the moment Chris Chant is an Executive Director in the Cabinet Office, he is Director of the G-Cloud Programme and he is uniquely emphatic in denouncing the failures of government IT. Take for example his talk to the Institute for Government last October. The litany of unacceptable practices which he enumerates there makes uncomfortable listening for his fellow senior Whitehall officials and for the contractors supplying IT services to HMG.

That discomfort may soon be relieved. Mr Chant's retirement was announced on 13 April and at the end of the month he will be replaced, part-time, by Denise McDonagh who remains simultaneously Director of IT at the Home Office.

A passing acquaintance with the work of the Public Administration Select Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office will confirm that the problems identified by the G-Cloud team exist. The NAO give you the horrifying details. PAC remind you in their admirably trenchant style how much public money is wasted on government IT. And, with Whitehall and its favoured contractors comfortably and expensively under-performing, PASC keep asking how the quality of public administration in the UK can be raised.

The problems are known. The question is whether G-Cloud – the government cloud – is the solution.

Ms McDonagh divides the world into those in favour of G-Cloud, those against it and those who don’t know but insist on discussing it anyway. Before deciding whether we’re for G-Cloud or agin’ it, we proud members of the third group have a number of questions which remain currently unanswered. Here are just two of them:
  • Firstly, as Tony “forces of reaction” Blair and David “enemies of enterprise” Cameron will tell you, parliament lost control of Whitehall a long time ago. The departments of state are impregnable satrapies where the permanent secretary, his or her chief executives and the aforementioned favoured suppliers nurse a pile of eight-, nine- and even ten-figure contracts that G-Cloud would upset mightily. How is Denise McDonagh going to succeed where parliament has failed?
  • Second, even with a £1 trillion national debt and a flatlining economy the coalition government set aside £650 million for cybersecurity. Someone recognises the threat. The web is a dangerous place to be. The media treat us to stories of denial of service and the cybertheft of data every week. No-one is immune, including Whitehall. And yet that’s where G-Cloud would see all our data stored, in the cloud, on the web. How will Ms McDonagh keep control of it there?
When Chris Chant gave his “unacceptable” speech last October, was that the start of a latter-day Reformation?

Or was it the foreword to a 2015 NAO report on how G-Cloud is yet another government IT project that saw £x hundred million incinerated by Whitehall, and a PAC report asking what the point is of paying taxes if this is what happens to public money, and a PASC report on the uncomfortable question – are Whitehall capable of doing their job of public administration?

A version of this post is carried in today's PublicTechnology.net.

2 comments:

Poor Bloody Infantry said...

Private coimpanies make plenty of mistakes and end up pursuing loss-making strategies. But they also make lots of good decisions and pursue strategies that make them lots of money. Win some, lose some - as long as the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff, that's okay. When it comes to public sector "businesses", these rules don't apply, because there's no profit and loss, so they don't need to gamble with our money to find niches in the market or to overtake competitors - there are no competitors, there is no market. And yet they invariably end up pursuing G-Cloud-style projects which, if they worked, would solve lots of problems - but, of course, theses sorts of trendy, cutting-edge projects invariably fail. Officials and politicians responsible for spending our money should be as cautious and practical as possible - and there's absolutely no need for them to behave otherwise. Which leaves the rest of us scratching our heads and wondering why they invariably behave like cash-rich technology start-ups bloated with angel investor funding. Very odd. Anyway, now you've seen off ID cards, let's hope you can do the same for G-Cloud technology.

David Moss said...

Thank you for that, PBI. Today's skirmish is on the Guardian website, the UK centre of political influence, I'm sure you will agree.

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