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Local councils shed CIOs as cuts bite

Opportunity for outsourcers, but pickings may be slim

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Many local councils that jettisoned CIOs or senior decision-makers in the rush to cut costs lack a coherent IT strategy, according to a panel debate by Netgear.

The Coalition last week boasted that the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) had saved £800m by squeezing public sector suppliers, but others further down the food chain continue to seek ways to slash budgets upwards of 33 per cent.

This is leading to a flattened management structure as CIOs who used to set IT strategy are elbowed into the jobs market, said Doug Maclean, consulting director at the Society of IT Managers.

"There are fewer councils now who've got anyone who approaches the role of the CIO," he said. "In many cases there is no real manager driving the service forward; there's no one making strategic decisions."

Mclean described the public sector as a "huge data information collection machine" but argued not many councils understood the value of this, providing an opening for savvy resellers.

However, some traditional vendors and suppliers are not nimble enough to help hard-pressed councils, which are considering the shared services alternative.

David Grasty, lead ICT Business Partner at Kingston Council, said: "We are looking for flexibility above all else." He added, "Merging council IT departments provides a sensible way of maximising resources and talent to drive strategic IT plans."

The dearth of senior decision-makers is leading to a hike in outsourcing deals, said Stephen Harley, Milton Keynes Branch Manager at ACS Office Solutions.

"A major trend we are seeing currently is that public sector bodies that previously had their own IT teams have now entered into outsourcing contracts. Channel partners have become the IT department and manage the services for various organisations, especially in the education sector."

Public sector specialists in the reseller and integrator channel must fill the void left by the dwindling toll of senior IT bods.

Jonathan Hallet, VAR director at Netgear, said the channel must "step-up to the challenge to provide public sector workers with the strategic direction they clearly need at a price they can afford".

The old adage that "where there is mystery there is margin" is applicable in circumstances where the customer is akin to a rudderless ship cast adrift on the high seas. Sadly in this situation that ship has already been plundered. ®

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