ComputerworldUK 2014 round-up: Top 10 stories in the world of government

What happened this year? We offer you the top stories, including Universal Credit and e-Borders write-offs, big ICT contract replacements, ‘Government as a Platform’ and controversial deals axed in local government, and some hints for what to expect in 2015

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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.

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