The biggest problem with Government IT?

It can be argued that the biggest problem with Government IT is that the CIO John Suffolk has limited power to change the status quo. There's an assumption that he has control over the public sector annual IT spend of about £17bn. Not even...

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It can be argued that the biggest problem with Government IT is that the CIO John Suffolk has limited power to change the status quo.

There's an assumption that he has control over the public sector annual IT spend of about £17bn. Not even ministers have control of £10bn of it.

This is what the £17bn comprises:

Data Centres                       £3.2 bn
Desktop                               £1.85 bn
Data Networks                      £1.69 bn
Voice Networks                    £1.01 bn
Help Desks                          £1.18 bn
Application Dev                    £3.04 bn
Application Support              £3.04 bn
Finance, Man, Admin           £1.85 bn
 
(source Gartner analysis January 2010)

As Suffolk said at a conference last week on the £17bn IT spend: “You might get the impression that I can get my arms around this as Government CIO but it is a democracy, so much of the money is devolved… The money going into local authorities is legally independent. What they do with it is a matter for that local authority - and there are 400 of them.

“What money goes into educational and health trusts is legally independent. You cannot say: you will do this or that. That’s illegal.” Suffolk can “get his arms around” £7.1bn of the £17bn. That’s about 42% of the total public sector IT spend within ministerial control, said Suffolk. 

Even then the CIO’s powers are limited. 

This is the breakdown of the £7.1bn of the £17bn annual IT spend that’s within ministerial and CIO control:

Data Centre                                          £1.35bn
Desktop                                                £781m
Data Network                                        £710m
Voice Network                                       £426m
Help Desk                                             £497m
Application Development                      £1.28bn
Application Support                               £1.28bn
Finance, management, Admin                £781m
(source - Treasury estimate)

Suffolk said that at least 8,000 government data centres can be dispensed with, their work dovetailed into about 12. 

Applications can be standardised, business processes simplified, procurements brought down from thousands to dozens.  Hundreds of millions can be saved on the cost of desktops. Up to £4bn a year can be cut from the £17bn IT spend.

But with devolved decision-making, and dominance of Government IT by the big suppliers, how can fundamental change happen?  

About 65% of central government IT is outsourced. The top 12 suppliers have 60% of the spend. Every time the contract is changed it costs the taxpayer. 

“Every time I change something I have to hand over money,” said Suffolk. “That’s fair commercial stuff. No criticism there but it has its consequences.”  

So will the changes Suffolk wants happen?  The local decision-makers have to want to do things differently. 

Perhaps they need to embrace the words of Samuel Johnson: “Let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before.”

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