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Government bodies thinking of offshoring IT functions need to make careful plans to deal with the downsides, according to guidance published on the Cabinet Office website.

The document acknowledges the potential benefits of savings, productivity and making better use of skills that may in short supply domestically, but while its language is neutral, most of the document is focused on dealing with the potential pitfalls of offshoring.

Among those it highlights is the need to manage security risks, stating that the threat to information and services may be higher than in the UK. It may not be possible to carry out some checks that are made domestically, and there is a need for a full risk assessment, the document says.

Offshore operations have to comply with data protection legislation and data or services related to national security should not be moved overseas.

In addition, all IT systems should be accredited and managed to the same standard as if they were in the UK.

The document says that a broader range of risks can be reduced by using an offshoring plan within a business case. This should involve a governance framework and plans for commercial and human resources, security, assurance, operations, legal and policy compliance, transition and business continuity. An exit strategy should also be in place if it is necessary to terminate the offshoring.

It also highlights the public relations element of offshoring, acknowledging that it can stir up hostility due to the loss of UK jobs. It says officials should take instructions from ministers, and brief their media teams early in the process.

"Failure to follow the Government ICT Offshoring Guidance will also be of serious concern," it says.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: "It's just intended as guidance, and was developed as a result of the likelihood of more responses to tenders having offshoring in them. It's just a sign of how business as a whole is going."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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