1: The scale of Universal Credit’s problems became apparent 

The government may have to write off a staggering £663 million on the beleaguered benefit reform project Universal Credit, HM Treasury admitted this year.

Just £34 million of IT assets worth £697 million developed by HP, Accenture, IBM and BT will be used for the final system.

The project gained its seventh boss in just two years in 2014, with senior DWP official Neil Couling taking over from external appointee Howard Shiplee.

The DWP is placing its hopes in a limited, small-scale trial of a new digital solution developed with help from the Government Digital Service (GDS).

But the future of the project is still far from certain. Labour has promised to pause and review it if the party wins the next general election. Whatever happens, you can be sure Universal Credit will stay in the headlines in 2015.

2: The government started replacing big ICT contracts in Whitehall

The Cabinet Office has long been eyeing up the expiry of big, single-supplier contracts for departments’ ICT estates as a source of savings.

Next year we’ll see big contracts finish in the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence.

Over the next Parliament, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude thinks Whitehall can halve the cost of ICT deals – which would save £22 billion over the next five years.

This year the first departments took the plunge, with three of them replacing deals with Fujitsu.

The transition went smoothly for HM Treasury. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) were not so lucky.

They hit the national headlines back in June thanks to an ICT overhaul that left users with slow connections, frozen screens and intermittent e-mail.

The issue apparently centred on service integration, so departments due to replace deals in 2015 might want to give this area particular attention.

Whitehall ICT managers preparing to replace contracts would be well advised to put in a call to HM Treasury, BIS and DECC to see what lessons they can learn.

3: The concept of ‘Government as a Platform’ started gaining traction

A trendy idea went mainstream this year: ‘Government as a Platform’.

The aim is to move to common technology platforms across government with public services built on shared core. GOV.UK is an early example of the idea being put into practice.

Whitehall IT top brass Liam Maxwell and Mike Bracken have promised to make the concept a reality in the next parliament, creating single, sharable tools for reuse across the public sector.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have bought into the idea, so it should be at the top of the digital agenda next year and beyond.

‘GaaP’ was endorsed by civil service head Sir Jeremy Heywood in September. He argued platforms should be created once and shared across government, for example online booking forms for appointments or interviews.

It’s early days. It’s unclear whether it can be achieved - and if so precisely how. But there’s no doubt removing the vast amount of duplication across Whitehall would yield a huge prize in terms of savings and enabling more joined-up services.

4: Public Services Network compliance got less painful

The Public Services Network (PSN) has lofty aims to create a single ICT infrastructure the UK public sector, save millions and enable more efficient, joined-up public services.

But this year it went off track, with some local authorities in open revolt thanks to an expensive, prescriptive and over-complicated compliance process.

The problems were blamed on the fact the Cabinet Office took over the process from CESG, increased the scope of the audit and introduced new controls and regulations.

Many councils were initially refused connection to PSN after security audits, and a handful did not make the compliance deadline at the end of March this year.

The Government Digital Service, which is now responsible for PSN, has admitted the process was ‘far too complicated’ and, after discussion with local authorities, has started removing ‘needless complexity’.

Socitm president Nick Roberts thinks this will pave the way for PSN adoption by multiple shared services and support health and social care integration.

PSN stakeholders say we can expect to see the conversation on PSN take on a much more upbeat tone next year, focusing on what it can enable, rather than what it has been holding back.

5: It emerged the Home Office is set to waste £830 million on border systems

The financial fallout from the long-running border systems saga moved sharply into focus this year.

The Public Accounts Committee found the Home Office is set to waste £830 million thanks to two abandoned IT projects: the e-Borders system and Immigration Case Work system.

The e-Borders IT contract was cancelled in 2010 at a cost of £259 million. That figure soared to £483 million in August after supplier Raytheon successfully extracted a settlement of £224 million from the department, claiming officials had failed to make targets and objectives clear.

The Home Office wasted a further £347 million on an Immigration Case Work (ICW) system, intended to support applications for visas and immigration, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report in July.

At the time the department attributed the problems to a “totally dysfunctional” immigration system inherited from the last government.

The Home Office has promised to introduce exit checks from April next year. However, given its track record and the lack of details on how this will be achieved, you can hardly be blamed for feeling slightly sceptical.

6: The public sector spent over £300 million through G-Cloud – although SMEs received just under half

G-Cloud has been one of the notable successes in government ICT this year. The public sector spent over £300 million through the framework in 2014. The current sales total stands just shy of £400 million, up from £93 million in January.

The framework – to encourage adoption of cloud computing in the public sector - was billed as a route to open government work up to SMEs. Some of them have done exceptionally well out of it.

However SMEs are currently getting just under half of all sales through the framework, down from 67 percent in 2012, despite accounting for 88 percent of all suppliers.

Buying patterns are also lopsided, with central government accounting for about 80 percent of sales.

The categories include platform as a service, infrastructure as a service, software as a service and a rather conveniently general ‘specialist cloud services’. This covers everything from consultancy and support to architecture and data quality services.

Most, 80 percent, of all sales are conducted through the ‘specialist cloud services’ lot.

Next year it would be good to see the GDS investigate why spending is so biased towards central government and lot four, and what can be done to increase spending with SMEs.

7: The NHS scheme was delayed after a huge privacy backlash is a scheme which aims to set up a database of people’s GP medical records and combine them with other data to improve care. Patients will be automatically opted in and will have to tell their GP if they wish to be taken off the list.

However the start of data collection was delayed in February to provide more time to inform the public, after a backlash from privacy experts who said that patients would be easily identifiable by data linkage.

The scheme is the brainchild of NHS patients and information director Tim Kelsey. He says the NHS England has been listening to the views of the public, GPs and other groups since the scheme was paused in February.

NHS England set out plans to pilot the scheme - without any significant alterations - in a limited number of GP practices this autumn. It emerged this week that the surgeries will now not be signed up until next year.

The project is rolling along – albeit now at a snail’s pace – but with a third of GPs saying they plan to opt their patients out despite it being against the law to do so, its future is far from certain.

8: Local authorities started to share more services to cope with huge cuts

Local government has really borne the brunt of public sector spending cuts, coping with a budget drop of about a third since 2008.

In response, almost all councils – 96 percent – are now sharing services with other public sector organisations in some form of another.

A few new arrangements were agreed this year. For example, three authorities in Devon agreed to transfer their ICT teams into one standalone company. Three Cambridgeshire councils have said they will share ICT and legal services and councils in Norfolk have promised to share more ICT services.

Fire services are getting in on the act too. Hampshire fire services have agreed to share their headquarters with the police, Cambridge’s Fire and Rescue Service is set to work with the service in Bedfordshire and Derbyshire’s police and fire services are due to move into the same building, to name but a few.

The trend for sharing services to save money shows no sign of going away – especially in the light of another 1.8 percent cut to local authority budgets announced this week.

However it does raise the question of whether will local government will eventually reach ‘shared services’ saturation point and have to seek savings elsewhere.

9: Some councils terminated or curbed expensive mega-outsourcing deals

A number of high profile local authorities started to rid themselves of expensive outsourcing deals with single suppliers this year. 

Liverpool Council terminated its controversial deal with BT at the end of October, which it says will save £30 million over the next three years.

Birmingham City Council has agreed to bring contact centre services back in house from its £300 million-a-year joint venture with Capita.

A recent review concluded the arrangement “is not operating well”. With Birmingham facing a budget gap of £360 million by 2018, it will undoubtedly want to negotiate further savings from the contract next year.

Authorities tempted to sign thousand-page, multi-million deals with large suppliers next year might want to take note of a report about Southwest One that came out this September.

The deal was the first local joint venture - between IBM and public sector bodies in the south west.

This year Somerset County Council admitted the 3,000 page contract was too complicated, too ambitious, too big to manage and that it was impossible to align the interests of all parties.

 The venture has notably failed to achieved anywhere near the promised savings.

10: The Government Digital Service launched seven new redesigned online services

The GDS has launched seven new redesigned online services this year, including voter registration, applying for carer’s allowance and making civil claims.

In December 2013 the service promised the top 25 highest-volume government transactions would be online by March 2015.

It has since admitted only 20 will be delivered by that deadline, but digital director Mike Bracken has insisted that is ‘still a brilliant outcome’ as it was such an ambitious undertaking to begin with.

However to meet its new target of 20 transactions live by March 2015, the government will need to launch 12 digitised services between now and then.

Seven of them are already being used by citizens as they are in public beta – but 12 services launched in three months still seems an almost unfeasible feat.

If they pull it off, expect to see pressure for GDS to make further commitments, such as the CBI’s call for it to ensure all public services are online by 2020. 

If they don’t, expect a great deal of schadenfreude from GDS’ critics.

Image credit: © iStock/lorenzoantonucci