The government needs to do more than just renegotiate cheaper contracts with suppliers to achieve significant IT savings, according to industry experts at yesterday’s Westminster eForum.
Using open source technology, selling to operational leaders without an emphasis on technology and making changes incrementally were all suggestions made by panellists at the seminar in London, which included representatives from BT and Microsoft.
Mark Langdale, client partner of government and health at BT, told the seminar that while he recognized that initiatives such as the memoranda of understanding that Cabinet Minister Frances Maude signed with a number of its top IT suppliers last year was a good start to cutting IT costs in the public sector, he did not believe it was a sustainable strategy.
“BT itself has squeezed £400 million from its supply chain by renegotiating contracts, but you can’t squeeze that orange forever,” Langdale said.
He suggested that the government extend its collaboration with suppliers further. For example, the government has worked with network suppliers to develop common codes and standards, but Langdale said that while this was a step in the right direction, a problem was that the process took too long – four years in the case of networking.
Langdale also said that in order to engage with and get buy-in from public sector operational leaders, technology should take a backseat in efficiency strategies.
“Don’t put IT or technology at the front, [otherwise] people focus on the technology rather than on efficiency,” he said.
“Be open about the technology and explain it, but put it second and find the operational person – who is not the CIO – to be in charge of the change.”
He added: “The next time the government gets excited about [technology], look for the operational leader and see where the excitement is coming from. If it’s not there [in the operational leader] you can expect the procurement to be slow and the operational leader saying why are you doing these things? We see this consistently in NHS IT.”
Dr Mark Ferrar, national technology officer at Microsoft UK, agreed that the government should focus on the business side of becoming more efficient, rather than the technology.
“There is a difference between commodity procurement and understanding what solutions you need to support your business processes. You need to focus on [the latter],” he said.
If it does look at technology, the government needs to take a long-term view of its costs.
“It [government] should focus on total cost of ownership, not purchase cost.
“Operations is really where they should focus the efforts in reducing cost and increasing efficiency,” Ferrar said.
Ferrar also believes that the government should encourage more collaborative working, automate its more routine processes and reuse existing assets to reduce duplication. He pointed out, however, that in order to do this, the government needs to work out what its assets are.
“Focus on what the government needs to do that’s different and deliver that in an agile, incremental way,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mark Taylor, chief executive officer of open software specialists Sirius, argued the case for open source technology in government.
In its recent Government ICT Strategy, the government has reiterated its commitment to using more open source software.
However, Taylor said that this commitment has yet to manifest itself.
“One year in [with the coalition government], there are no more open source deployments on the ground in the public sector as there was a year ago,” he said.
Taylor blamed the current lengthy, and therefore costly, procurement process for the lack of progress in open source software adoption.
“We need an open source procurement list. We need a government-backed open source infrastructure project which can be benchmarked against to see where savings occur,” he said.