Cuts, government IT and putting lipstick on a pig

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Britain faces an unprecedented age of financial restraint - and with that come huge demands on Government to reduce costs and deliver services for much less.

Debate is already turning to not just the level of cuts, but which services government should cease to offer altogether

Radical reform necessarily requires significant change to existing business process and systems, not just minor incremental change and tinkering around the edges.

Yet a recent paper from Adobe, with the wholehearted support of SOCITM, advocates putting yet more lipstick on the pig and declares that there is "no appetite or budget for ripping out and replacing legacy systems."

It goes on to say that a recent government implementation ensured "underlying infrastructure and services remained the same to contain costs and retain simplicity"

While web delivery and self-service can clearly deliver a modest reduction in cost, it will be no where near the levels needed to meet government budget cuts and risks creating a more complex environment where operational costs actually increase

Once again, incremental savings and 'stick to what we know' are trumpeted over true innovation. The radical reforms referred to by government departments will fundamentally change the business process locked away in those legacy systems, so now is the time to look for an alternative method of delivery that faces up to the challenge of 30-year-old systems and takes the brave step to understand why they remain so resistant to change and not repeat the mistakes of the past

Any strategy which advocates ignoring the underlying legacy systems the public sector - and indeed much of the corporate world - is not radical, it is a retrograde step which pushes us even closer to the abyss

The longer these legacy systems are ignored, the closer many will come to the end of their useful life and the strategy of "someone else's problem" for after the CIO has moved onto another job or retirement is no longer viable

It is clear there are a great many vested interests in protecting the status quo - often hiding behind a mantra of 'best practice.'

The huge revenues generated by support and change requests are at risk if a new approach is pursued, The US Department of Veterans Affairs is taking a different course. It has set up an innovation competition, investing $80m to bring forward innovations which offer new ways of tackling the major problems the department faces

You cannot simply find innovative ideas and reap the rewards - there is an investment required, but if a modest investment this year can deliver an order of magnitude savings next year, surely it is better to explore alternatives than stick with the same, broken approach

Britain's economy and public services cannot afford to be straight jacketed by these blinkered, vested interests any longer.

The new government has one opportunity to undertake a fundamentally different approach and deliver a radical reform of public services - and it must involve tackling head-on the legacy systems which are the foundations of existing services.

Adrian Hepworth is Chief Evangelist at Erudine

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