Depending on the figures you use, and ignoring some of the odd mathematics employed by Cabinet Office to demonstrate savings, we spend about £20bn a year on ICT in the Public Sector. Ranging from giving small children computer access, weird and wonderful stuff in Universities to sinister stuff we may-not-speak-of in places-that don’t-appear-on-Google-Maps, Public Sector ICT comes in all shapes and sizes.
Public Sector IT Security also comes in similarly broad colours, and many organisations have deployed security that ranges from great to data-breach-tastique.
And yet, I still get the feeling all is not right. I shall explain
I have over the years met people in our industry whom I trust and few that I call friends, that are for want of a better word, demand side. And chatting with some of them over the last few weeks, I have become struck by the fact that creeping back into our world are two things: technology being deployed without solid business cases, and saving money over productivity.
The two are interlinked. Every time a dustman gets an iPad or a copper gets a Blackberry, people sneer. Why do they need these shiny gizmos? Isn’t it just silly Councils spending cash they could be spending on old people or schools or nurses or playgrounds? Why do coppers need email? How about a whistle and the right to give a hoodie a clip around the ear? One imagines these would be the same people who complained that Policemen did OK on bicycles and didn’t need cars or that writing on blackboards is preferable to interactive whiteboards. The rose-tinted view of some Eden-like England (or whichever country you are resident in) is just that, rubbish. Policemen catch bad guys more quickly and safely if properly equipped, and teaching is more effective and inclusive if everyone can share learning materials.
The problem is of spending that genuinely does not match requirements. And I don’t mean IT’s requirements, I mean the business requirements. IT staff are not as portable as one might think, particularly in the Public Sector. Being a Network Manager for a Council is different from being a Network Manager at a manufacturing company. Or it SHOULD be. Plugging a router into a firewall or configuring a switch can be done by most 17 year olds these days. Understanding the business implications of configuring a firewall in a certain way because you are running a digital by default ethos takes situational awareness. A friend of mine who works for a substantial public sector organisation was last week fuming as he related story after story where security-led changes were made that actually stopped some citizen centric services working. If a public body is stopping citizen centric services, one has to ask, what’s the bloody point? The entire raison-d’etre of that organisation is to provide such services. Security should be there to enable them to work, not to block them.
IT Departments are hard pressed right now, but complaining about reductions in tech spend doesn’t cut it to my mind. A typical Local Authority spends about 4-7% of its budget on ICT, so 20% cuts sent down from Whitehall across the whole Authority are only going to be achieved through cutting staff. And it’s here where ICT can offset these changes by spending on tech that enables organizational goals to be achieved. And the only way this works is by ICT staff working with frontline staff to see what really goes on. Watching a Police officer frantically trying to make calls on an Airwave that suddenly loses reception or a Social Worker buried in case work because everything needs to be keyed in twice because the VPN is not man enough will suddenly focus ICT teams on the real business requirements.
Real business requirements may well need iPads, but how will you know unless you see it for yourself? Situational awareness should be the mantra of all Public Sector ICT staff, and everything should be about the business. Its time to look again at the business reasons for ICT and remember why the organisation exists in the first place