Monday 11 June 2012

A senior Whitehall insider publicly cites 23 reasons why the relationship with Government IT suppliers is poisoned, and no-one disagrees – who cares?

On 20 October 2011, when he was still an Executive Director of the Cabinet Office, Chris Chant delivered a famous speech to the Institute for Government about Government IT. He said that:

Introducing Chris Chant
Chris has a long track record of success in delivering complex business and technology change in the public sector. Most of his work has involved working in successful partnership with multiple public sector bodies and the largest IT suppliers in the industry, where he has championed innovative approaches which challenge attitudes on both sides of the partnership. His recent work has included stints as the Programme Director in the Cabinet Office leading the UK Government’s move to cloud computing and data centre consolidation across the public sector. Previously, Chris was Director of London 2012 Integration and Assurance and also Chief Information Officer within the Government Olympic Executive, and also held specific responsibility for ensuring integrated delivery of the security systems required. Before that, Chris was CIO for Defra, where he led a major IT service improvement programme with a strategic outsourcing partner. After his early career in the (then) Inland Revenue and later, HMRC, he worked at the cabinet Office where he was programme director for a range of large and complex multi-agency IT services, including the Government Gateway.
  1. Government IT is outrageously expensive ...
  2. ... and ridiculously slow
  3. It is poor quality ...
  4. ... and not user-centric
  5. No-one knows how many staff are employed or what they do or how much they cost
  6. No-one knows whether contracts with suppliers can be terminated or how much it would cost to do so
  7. No contract should be signed for a term of more than 12 months but they are – they are signed for years into the future, far beyond the time when anyone could know what will be wanted by then
  8. Procuring Government IT should be like buying a suit from Marks and Spencer – M&S do not make you promise in advance to buy x suits over the next y years before opening a shop in your vicinity
  9. The Government doesn't know what IT systems it owns, how much they cost and even whether they are used
  10. They don't know if users have given up using systems and, if so, why
  11. Government can't communicate with its customers securely
  12. Government pays £3,500 p.a. per PC
  13. Staff should be allowed to use Twitter and YouTube at work but they're not
  14. Call centre staff should have access to the systems they are trying to support but they don't
  15. 80% of Government IT is supplied by just five contractors
  16. Departments outsource their strategy to contractors and consultants
  17. It can cost £50,000 to get a single line of program code amended
  18. It can take 12 weeks to get a new server commissioned whereas with Amazon there is no wait
  19. Government should use small and medium size suppliers whose IT practices are more "agile" but instead they stick with the big ponderous suppliers
  20. Government keeps paying for IT resources even if they're not used
  21. They waste time and money as one department after another performs the same job of assessing the same products for the same job
  22. Prices are not forced down, competition is not working and there is no incentive for contractors to do a good job ...
Mr Chant recommended several times over the ensuing months that Government IT professionals who couldn't deliver a better service should consider their position.

In the event, they're still in place, and it's Mr Chant who has gone – he retired at the end of April 2012 ...

... but not before giving one last speech (25 April 2012, SOCITM Spring Conference) in which he revealed a 23rd problem – that Government departments have in the past agreed, at the suppliers' insistence, not to tell each other how much they are paying for IT services:
There were times when we couldn't talk between government departments about one organisation's contracts with another ... Not being able to discuss contracts between government departments is crazy.
No-one has contradicted Mr Chant.

Not a soul. Not a politician, not a civil servant, not a contractor, not a consultant. No-one.

We may take it, then, that Mr Chant's view of the current state of Government IT is accepted without demur. He is right. This is the state of the art. This is the conventional wisdom – the relationship between Whitehall and its IT suppliers is poisoned and the public are being fleeced. After three decades of outsourcing and privatising. Three decades of introducing private sector methods and private sector personnel.

Mr Chant's views are consonant with the findings week after week of the National Audit Office and with the judgements of the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Administration Committee, see for example Public Administration Committee – Twelfth Report, Government and IT– "A Recipe For Rip-Offs": Time For A New Approach (18 July 2011).

To be fair, Mr Chant does offer a new approach. Cloud computing. Which, the way he tells it, will solve all 23 problems at a stroke. That is the new IT strategy being pursued by Whitehall, see particularly HMG's G-Cloud (Government Cloud) website and blog.

But beware. Where is Government IT strategy made, according to Mr Chant? Answer – in the offices of the suppliers.

HMG's sales promotion of cloud computing is indistinguishable from the suppliers of cloud computing's own sales literature. Often, they are the same suppliers who suffer from the 23 deficiencies above who now claim to be "agile" and to be committed to cutting costs by – Mr Chant's figure – up to 82%.

Is it likely that the same Whitehall officials dealing with the same suppliers will reverse the lucrative practices of 30 years and now show mercy to the taxpayer? Is it likely that the same Whitehall officials dealing with new suppliers, like Google and Amazon and maybe Facebook, will deliver any better value for money to the public?


to be continued ...

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