The Realities of Government IT for Innovators

A wide and deep ranging House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Report published today is required reading for all innovative entrepreneurs, small and medium sized companies and others planning to work with government.The Report,...

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A wide and deep ranging House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Report published today is required reading for all innovative entrepreneurs, small and medium sized companies and others planning to work with government.

The Report, entitled: 'Government and IT: “a recipe for rip-offs”: time for a new approach', publishes particularly incisive and challenging “as-it-is” evidence from across the IT community.

There were two disturbing aspects.

Firstly, the virtual absence of submissions by the “oligopoly” of 18 large IT suppliers which, according to the National Audit Office, undertake 80% of government IT-related work. To its credit, HP Enterprise Services (formerly EDS) was the only one to give oral evidence to the Committee, despite requests to several others.

Secondly, the need to arrange a special “in camera” confidential session for small and medium sized IT businesses. That demonstrated the climate of fear currently endemic among that community involved in government work. Many wanted to give evidence but not in open session. The resulting closed session, under the auspices of the Institute of Government, attended by around a dozen SMEs provided the Committee with a disturbing insight into current practices within the opaque supply chains, often under the cover of crippling non-disclosure agreements. Evidence culled from that session is interwoven into Volume 1 of the Report.

That closed session was sparked off by one brave small company, Erudine, which did raise its head above the parapet to give oral evidence about the situation as it saw it from the ground floor as an innovative small company.

There is currently much talk about the need for innovation, supporting small and medium sized businesses, and bringing innovation into IT enabled public service delivery. The practicalities on the ground don't yet reflect this, to judge from the evidence of this PASC Report. 

There is a useful section on the need and the structural implications to government departments for adopting agile technologies into public service delivery development. Let's hope "agile" is not just used as a convenient new buzz word. To be truly effective agile development requires considerable discipline and regular interaction with senior non-technical management.

If you're planning to engage with government related work, I strongly recommend reading the full three volumes of the Report so that you go in with your eyes wide open about the realities and the contexts.

My view is that if you have an innovative technology that can make a real difference in performance or cost savings to core government systems be prepared to spend a lot of time and money trying to prove your concepts to incumbent suppliers who have most to lose from adopting it.

So my advice would be: don't go there yet. Wait until the bulk of the Report's 33 conclusions and recommendations are adopted.

As a tax-payer I really hope those recommendations are acted upon, and soon, not just in lip-service but in spirit and that this Report doesn't gather dust as so many related ones have in the recent past.

Use these recommendations as a benchmark, keep a watching brief for any real progress, and keep your ears open for climate change. But, unless you, as an innovator, provide a “bolt on”, simple end-to-end product or service, beware.

Anything more complex and you'd be better off spending your money and energy trying to convince commercial enterprises, or even setting up in Silicon Valley and starting from there.

Is this overly cynical?

From reading the Report, I think not, but do let me know.




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