MPs slam government's 'obscene' IT spend
Gov pays 7 to 10 times the going rate
An all-party committee of MPs has found that successive governments' over-reliance on big IT companies and poor in-house skills, has led to a "perverse situation" in which governments have wasted "obscene" amounts of public money.
In its report titled Government and IT – a recipe for rip-offs: time for a new approach, the public administration select committee says that while the government is making cuts in response to the deficit, some Whitehall departments are spending an average of £3,500 on a desktop PC. It describes the situation as "ridiculous".
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, the chair of the committee, said: "According to some sources, the government pays between seven and 10 times more than the standard commercial rate for its work. However, the government does not collect the information needed to verify these claims."
The committee also found that government is over-reliant on a small "oligopoly" of large suppliers, which Martin Rice, chief executive of Erudine, an IT SME, described as a "cartel".
The report says, however, that IT industry body Intellect responded to Rice by telling the committee that "such a suggestion is not only inaccurate and misleading, but also potentially damaging to an industry that is a vital part of the UK economy".
But the committee says it also received suggestions from some SMEs that the major system integrators used legacy systems as leverage to maintain their dominance.
Some SMEs reported that there were solutions that could easily transfer data from old platforms, but that a combination of risk aversion and vested interests prevented these solutions being adopted.
The committee points to government's failure to re-use and adapt existing systems, the overcapacity in data centres and a lack of interoperability. It says these appear symptomatic of more fundamental problems, including a lack of effective cross-departmental working and IT governance across Whitehall.
The government's attempt to analyse current deficiencies are welcomed by the committee. But it says it is not clear whether the government has identified the fundamental causes of failure or simply listed its symptoms.
The committee makes four recommendations:
- Firstly, to improve the information government holds on IT expenditure, without which it is unable to secure the best possible price for goods and services.
- Secondly, to publish more information about IT projects. The committee says that the government should make public information about how much its IT costs, and how its systems run. This would allow external experts to challenge current practices and identify ways services could be delivered differently and more economically.
- Thirdly, to widen its supplier base by reducing the size of its contracts and greatly simplifying the procurement process to engage with innovative SMEs.
- Fourthly, it argues that government must work in a more "agile" way and move towards the use of more iterative development methods which enable IT programmes to adapt to new challenges.
Jenkin said: "To address these challenges successfully, the government needs to possess the necessary skills and knowledge in-house, to manage suppliers and understand the potential IT has to transform the services it delivers.
"Currently the outsourcing of the government's whole IT service means that many civil service staff, along with their knowledge, skills, networks and infrastructure have been transferred to suppliers. The government needs to rebuild this capacity urgently."
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.
Does anyone remember...
CCTA? That was the Government's own internal IT consultancy, which ran gov. projects in the 1980s. They were generally delivered well.
The industry lobbied to close CCTA down, and managed it around 2000. After that, projects were passed out to industry, and became uncontrollable....
But we've seen all this before ...
It's been going on for 20 years now, why is this a surprise? When the Inland Revenue's IT function was privatised in the early 90's there were 1800 staff delivering the entire service. Now there are over 3000 just managing the contract, let alone all the bodies employer by Capgemini, Fujitsu, BT, G4S, Johnson Controls and assorted other subcontractors. While I appreciate that there is a lot more being delivered these days, that's one hell of a lot a management overhead and profit margins to bolt onto what is still the same job.
AC because I'm still in the middle of it, despairing.
Usual government assumption
Having had the misfortune to work on government contracts in the past, it's no surprise that they go over budget.
Every time a spec is drawn up and agreed the poor buggers (who live in the real world) start to build the system.
Unfortunately just as a slightly usable system starts to emerge the customer (government dept) decides that something almost (but not quite entirely) unrelated to the original spec is required.
A new spec is agreed.
And so development hell is entered, the customer constantly changes what they want, the IT company is afraid to say 'no more changes' and the people who know what they are doing leave or become apathetic.
The NHS system was a prime example where it went from one system to almost every health trust basically being given the ability to change the systems spec and the right to veto almost everything
The set-aside programme is also a prime example of the civil service not having a fucking clue (even Radio 4 did a documentary on that abortion)
Hence the IT outsourcing company's end up adding huge contingency budgets for the inevitable lack of maturity within government departments.
No doubt the £3500 PC also had to be in a particular shade of lavender to cut down on the number of stress days that dept was clocking up