A clear vision for the future or a Cloudy load of hot air?
(did you see what I did there? a media career beckons I feel)
Cuts, austerity and prudence appear to be the way of the future for some time to come. And ICT needs to take its share of the pain. Yesterday’s publication of the Government ICT Strategy sets out where the knife is going to cut, and how it’s going to be used. Oh, and it only covers Central Government, Executive Agencies and Arms Length bodies, and therefore does NOT cover Police, Local Government or the NHS. *
The key points are:
• A huge focus on getting SMEs more involved in providing services to Central Government and in breaking the tendency to award big contracts to just a few large suppliers:
“… a presumption against projects having a lifetime value of more than £100million… ”
“The Government will also put an end to the oligopoly of large suppliers that monopolise its ICT provision. The Government will streamline the procurement process to break down the barriers that impede SMEs from bidding for contracts.”
• A strong focus on Open standards to promote interoperability, and open source having equal billing on contracts as a solution.
• An additional set of requirements for sharing and reusing solutions:
“Government will not commission new solutions where something similar already exists”
• An acknowledgement of a skills gap in the industry.
“Government has become over-reliant on external expertise from consultants, contractors and interim staff, as well as the recruitment of public sector ICT leaders from the private sector. This has resulted in high costs and an erosion of the skill base within government. It is essential that our workforce has the capability to successfully deliver ICT-enabled business change and services”
• Cloud mentioned by name as a desired approach and solution.
• The requirements of Cyber and IA will be embedded in the common infrastructure.
• Channel Shift is a core topic and ICT presented as an enabler.
i.e. in order to reduce the transaction costs of public interaction with government, the channel used should always be “digital by default”
There are some truly laudable aspirations in here and a lot of it makes sense. However, I have to take exception to a number of things.
1. The question of SMEs doing more business with government: Yes in principle. No in reality. Like it or lump it, the reason the big companies get the big contracts is because they have the ability to execute. I have worked in SME reseller land, and it’s too much risk for all parties when a contract won represents half your turnover. Skills sets, supply chains, staff, credit availability – all of these things come into question when working on a major contract. How many SME organisations in the UK would be able to pick up the £100 million desktop contract for DWP and run it well and profitably?
2. I’ve blogged on this before, but Open Standards yes, Open Source no. Open source does NOT mean free.
3. Again, I blogged on this recently. The skills gap is one of the biggest threats to IA/Security in the next decade and I applaud the point here. However, who is going to pay to bridge the gap?
4. Channel shift. (blogged on this too. I am feeling somewhat vindicated today) Channel shift represents the best way for transformation to be achieved by massively reducing transaction costs in Government. However, depending on who you talk to, there are millions of people in the UK who do not have internet access, and largely these are the people most in need of the State’s help. If you move sole access to these service to online, you need to get these people online. Saying you are going to make ICT available in post offices and libraries whilst at the same time closing down large numbers of said institutions strikes me as counter intuitive.
5. The Government will “identify reusable applications, equipment and resources, government will populate a comprehensive cross-government asset register” and this is supposed to be done within 6 months. I have to question the ability of Central Government, or geographically disparate organisations like the Environment Agency to do this.
6. Cloud. Cloud. Cloud. A bit like spam, it’s everywhere these days. And I still have to question how all these organisations with contracts and outsourced systems are going to draw together on a common platform anytime soon. Mark this down as laudable but unlikely.
The devil is, as always, in detail, and I await with trepidation what that will look like.
* Yesterday’s strategy document is the first in a series of documents/groups/initiatives due, including:
Publication of Strategic Implementation Plan by CIO Council Delivery Board this summer
Government ICT Capability Strategy (referring to skills and staff requirements)
Open Source Implementation Group
System Integrator Forum
Open Source Advisory Panel
Cloud Computing Strategy
this all looks a bit Quango-tastic to me