Thursday 6 June 2013

3 questions about GDS's bailiwick

The Major Projects Authority (MPA) has, as noted, delivered its public verdict on G-Cloud – amber/red.

G-Cloud is the major project designed to reduce government IT costs by outsourcing to cloud service suppliers (Skyscape et al) who currently charge less than the usual suspects, the systems integrators (CapGemini et al).

It's a worrying verdict. This is the MPA's definition of amber/red:
Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible.
G-Cloud was until 1 June 2013 the responsibility of the G-Cloud team, half a dozen individuals or less, plus the Government Procurement Service.

"Urgent action" was needed, according to the MPA, and urgent action was taken – from that date onwards, responsibility for G-Cloud has moved to the Government Digital Service (GDS).

GDS is responsible for several other major projects, which come under the general heading "digital by default".

We know the verdict of four professors on the chances of digital-by-default being delivered – it is beyond GDS's competence. Amber/red. Or just plain red. When they write "GDS" in the following quotations, the professors mean "government digital strategy", which is written by the Government Digital Service:
... it is not clear how realistic this ideal is ... brevity cannot be an excuse for lack of detail, explanation, and precision ... It is impossible with the detail provided to form any reasonable view of how this key activity will be performed ... there is an urgent need for standards to be developed and agreed ... he had no practical understanding of how to use this strategy to have positive impact on his team’s work; We suspect he is not alone in this view ... The GDS shows no evidence that it is aware or has taken account of the impact of such thinking ... The GDS must avoid falling into the trap of an overly-simplistic response ... Open source solutions are neither free to administer and support, nor are they the most cost-effective answer in all situations ... rapidly changing services will deter the takeup of digital services, not encourage it ... The GDS is remarkably (perhaps alarmingly) silent on the issue of how to coordinate SMEs in project delivery ... We see little discussion of a concrete and practical change management process to support the “digital by default” strategy in the current GDS. We view this as a potentially fatal omission ... the principles on which the current GDS is based centre on too narrow a view of how to attain those benefits, and lack focus on the major adjustment in culture, processes, and technologies that must underpin ... this view is much too simplistic and highly risky ... there is very little detail about how such goals will be achieved, or the broader cultural impact those changes represent ... a lack of consistency in interpretation of how to enact the GDS ... It is not clearly stated in the GDS who is managing the execution process across the 18 UK Government departments to coordinate and assess progress.
But what is the MPA's verdict? Again as noted, we don't know – it hasn't been published.

Which is odd. GDS is part of the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Office is the custodian of the Coalition government's transparency programme, please see clause 16 in the Coalition programme for government:
The Government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account. We also recognise that this will help to deliver better value for money in public spending, and help us achieve our aim of cutting the record deficit.
GDS's doors remain locked shut.

It doesn't help that the MPA was plucked from the Treasury (where it used to be the Office for Government Commerce) and re-sited in the Cabinet Office.

Three questions:
  • Now that G-Cloud is in GDS's ever-expanding bailiwick, will that be used as an excuse to stop publishing MPA verdicts on it?
  • Would that be an unintended consequence of G-Cloud's move to GDS?
  • Or is it the unstated purpose of the move?

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