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Industry on the fence over new government IT strategy

Industry on the fence over new government IT strategy

Open standards questions raised

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The IT industry has delivered a mixed response to the new government technology strategy, as former Whitehall chief Ian Watmore blasted the way systems were created and run under the Labour government.

On the day of the launch, the Open Source Consortium also attacked the newly published policies around standards.

In the new strategy, the government vowed to launch much smaller IT projects and open up the market to more suppliers, a move met with industry body support.

As the strategy was launched Watmore – now chief operating officer of the government’s Efficiency and Reform Group – appeared in front of the Public Administration Committee. He said that Labour had launched expensive IT projects, the BBC reported, in order to make policies “sound sexy”.

The National Outsourcing Association said it “welcomes the government’s promise to bring down the ICT oligopoly” of large suppliers. It was good for both the industry and the government, it said.

But NOA chairman Martyn Hart said that while the dominance of large suppliers was hurting smaller vendors and could affect the quality of service, “contracts with big-name suppliers are not necessarily a bad thing – many established names have a solid, established infrastructure which allows them to deliver projects in a timely, efficient manner”.

Hart said there were more questions to be asked. “It’s worth remembering that most major outsourcing and shared services contracts are also dependent to a large extent on building relationships and understanding business processes, which, if not effectively established, can lead to operational inefficiencies.  Perhaps it would have been useful for the Cabinet Office to have considered these areas as well.”

David Clarke, chief executive at the BCS-Chartered Institute for IT, said he welcomed “the commitment to move away from mainly very large ICT projects”, as well as “the higher profile” of IT and related skills with the new strategy.

“This echoes our own commitment in establishing IT as a major profession where practitioners are trusted by the public and recognised for their contribution to society,” he said.

Gerry Gavigan, chair of the Open Source Consortium, criticised the new strategy, and said it offered “few surprises”.

He noted that the new strategy will mandate open standards, following a consultation with industry. “So rather than rely on its own leadership, Government is going to pass the problem across to you, despite solutions already existing, developed in an open manner,” he said.

Trade body Intellect, which represents IT suppliers, said it “welcomed” the steps, but added that it was now “time to get down to business”.

John Higgins, Intellect director general, said it was good news that cloud computing, datacentre consolidation, streamlined procurement and stronger project management were being brought to the fore. The industry had “long seen” these aspects “as vital to delivering successful IT projects”, he said.

Intellect, which represents over 500 technology SMEs, added that it “wholeheartedly supports” the objective of opening up the market.

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