Wasted billions of government IT spending exposed
Quills and abacuses cheaper, possibly more efficient
The massive increase in government IT spending under New Labour has had no impact on the productivity of the public sector, a new analysis reveals.
Work by Jerry Fishenden, who was until recently Microsoft's national technology officer for the UK and is now a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics, shows that for all the billions thrown into IT, the UK economy has not benefited at all.
Although the government does not publish regular figures on its total IT spend - and admits those it does publish underestimate the total - Fishenden has built up a picture of rocketing expenditure for less than zero return. The resulting graph is damning:
A picture tells a thousand words - your taxes in action
The green total IT spend line is a linear extrapolation from figures released by the government for 1998/9 to a recent estimate by analysts at Kable that the 2007/8 total will be about £17bn. The blue line meanwhile maps the percentage growth in overall public spending, which is published annually in the budget.
The public sector productivity data - plotted in red - is drawn from the Office of National Statistics. As a measure of efficiency, it is the government's "experimental" yardstick of value for money from the public services.
So, as the graph shows, despite the billions spent on computerising government in the last ten years - with efficiency sold as the main benefit - its productivity has been falling.
Fishenden said: "It's hard to start fixing problems if you don’t have the detailed evidence to analyse.
"One major flaw seems to have been the use of IT merely to automate existing processes, with rarely any savings or improvements in the services delivered. Instead, IT merely becomes another operating expense sitting on top of everything that was already there before."
While at Microsoft, Fishenden was a frequent critic of the National Identity Register and ID Card scheme. He believes its centralised structure is typically at the root of the failures that have meant the taxpayer has seen no return on the huge investment in IT over the last decade.
"I think the biggest change we need, which is cultural as much as IT-related, is to genuinely re-think public service design built around the needs of the citizen and the role that technology plays in enabling that re-design and the consequent operation of the services," he said.
"And I don't mean the sham of a 'citizen centric' soundbite which actually entails the producer second-guessing what a citizen might want. The public sector needs an information architecture where appropriate information is centralised but fulfilment is localised." ®
I cannot envy you with the legacy problems. The pitfalls and snares are likely to be many.
Nonetheless progress can be made but such progress is usually very hard fought for and vested interests of previous or incumbents is to ensure change is thwarted (otherwise they can look quite bad or have a strong fear of looking bad).
I work in Public Sector IT - The waste is sickening
I joined a quango last year to head up IT having spent all my career in the Private sector. My job brief was to introduce Private sector approaches.
I'm making swingeing cuts in expenditure, I reckon I'll achieve over 50% savings within 12 months. The best bit is at the same time I'm actually recruiting talented staff to enable the the savings drive.
The legacy contracts in place, with suppliers and third parties are grotesque...the biggest winners having been private sector organisations who take public sector for an absolute ride.
Government purchasing schemes such as CATALIST are nonsense, in my own experience they work out more expensive and deny local smaller and competitive companies from getting a look in.
I'm very proud that the quango I work for are restructuring to give the taxpayer value for money, I do believe after restructuring that it will fulfill its remit cost effectively.
Perhaps a Quango bonfire isn't the answer, just common sense restructuring.
@ William 9
"I think this is a potent and probably damning piece of evidence."
Ceteris paribus? It isn't evidence of anything beyond people wildly accepting a report simply because it confirms their opinions (lots of commentards here clearly don't have science degrees).
There's no methodology and no error analysis. No conclusion can be drawn from the graph whatsoever.
"So whoever wrote Jerry's Wikipedia entry (it may or may not have been him) knows what they're saying, and has it spot on."
The claim that his article was the "first public commentary on the system by a recognised industry figure, opened up constructive debate on an important topic" has three citations: two are from a website your company either owns or set up; the third is to a pdf that doesn't mention Mr Fishenden at all.
The claim itself is absurd as the debate had been underway for years and included people considerably more high profile than Fishenden. I know that Ross Anderson had spoken out against the NIR before the Scotsman article, and I sincerely doubt that anyone is foolish enough to believe that an article in that newspaper is suddenly going to open debate amongst academics and politicians.