Francis Maude has said that he expects to achieve £3 billion worth of savings from centralised procurement, and as usual, the finger of blame was pointed at the IT industry. Although to be fair, it’s not exclusively us – the travel types also get a stern look, as do printers, energy providers and fleet (one assumes cars and other modes of ministerial transport, as opposed to ships).
Saving cash is highly commendable, and absolutely necessary. It’s MY cash that’s currently not being best used, and I demand value for money. I’d like to think they are all travelling down the back of the plane with me, and I want them turning the thermostat down and using Economy Seven heaters.
However, the whole thing makes me slightly uneasy, especially (but not exclusively) in the InfoSec space. And here’s why:
1. History suggests that when Government tries to spend big sums on large amounts of stuff in a centrally managed way it makes a bit of a dog’s dinner of it. I wish them well on this new drive, but unless they can get past the reasons past programmes have failed, it won’t change now. I don’t claim to be an expert on precisely why, but it strikes me that cross-departmental spending reductions require civil servants to operate in a cross-departmental manner, which is perhaps a new departure. There’s a whole lot of politicking to be done before this happens.
2. Lots of big contracts with lots of different service providers, none of which are going to unilaterally make substantial changes or share risk with other big providers. Also, because the contracts don’t run to similar close dates, the opportunity to renegotiate ‘super-contracts’ for multiple departments isn’t there. And it’s also a reason why cloud computing isn’t going to take off quickly in Government.
3. This only applies to Whitehall. Local Government spending is not covered by this, and the eternal bridesmaid of the party will yet again be left to sort the detail out itself. Why?
4. Relating to InfoSec directly, departments across Whitehall have vastly differing requirements for often sophisticated projects. The MoD is as different operationally from the Home Office as it is from the Department for Education. I for one have long been a supporter of the idea of a ‘Crown Licence’ for certain commodity products (AV is an obvious choice, as is Office productivity software or laptops), but the lion’s share of Government Security projects are for high value, services-led projects which are not best served by the ‘pile it high…’ approach.
5. The SME piece is a brilliant aspiration, but as I have commented before it has huge problems attached to it. If these are surmountable, some sort of internal credit guarantee approach similar to the ECG scheme would perhaps help companies maintain liquidity during the lifetime of a big contract, especially with the banks so reticent to lend right now. Then the SMEs can get involved. I can think of many MDs at medium-sized UK resellers who would crawl over broken glass for a shot at these contracts.
6. OGC anyone?
7. And finally, again on a topic I have written about before , screwing suppliers for a discount will not always achieve the desired result. Suppliers exist for one sole purpose: to make cash. If they don’t make enough cash, they can’t afford to innovate. Or train their staff. Or invest in the future. So if a supplier doesn’t make enough money on a deal, you are going to get rock bottom service, crappy innovation and generally a third-rate experience. So, squeeze gently for a reasonable discount. Don’t extract all the profit from a deal or nobody wins.
So, yes to savings. Yes to making intelligent commodity purchases. And let’s hope this works.