Councils tout £1.2bn for IT whizkid to grab their backend
Outsourced IT includes crim record checks and payroll
A one-billion-pound contract is up for grabs as three London councils hunt for IT hotshots to streamline their back-office systems - handling everything from criminal record checks and financial accounts to the payroll and psychometric testing.
Westminster Council is spearheading the search for an IT provider that will service its needs and those of Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham councils. A further 17 local authorities, including Islington, Camden and Hackney, have signed up to use the procurement process.
The job, which could be worth up to £1.2bn, was advertised last week in the Official Journal of the European Union, and Westminster expects to have chosen a provider by the end of 2012.
The councils are seeking to make big spending cuts by outsourcing a slew of their backend admin services. Under the new contract the external provider would perform everything from Criminal Record Bureau checks to HR and sorting out staff wages. Simple tasks, such as help desks and document scanning, would be outsourced too.
The work will be advertised in four separate lots: HR and finance; e-sourcing; property asset data management; and business intelligence. The framework will last for four years and the contract, once procured, will last for five years with an option for a three-year extension. Back in June, Westminster CIO David Wilde explained that the separate lots would not necessarily all go to the same provider.
The business intelligence lot involves storing, crunching and manipulating council data. E-sourcing seems to involve the management of council websites and online help services.
Currently London councils use a patchwork of services - both in-house and external - to maintain their IT and admin work: under the new move, codenamed Programme Athena, the bevy of 20 councils hope to save money by rationalising their services and creating a London-wide ICT framework. ®
And not just the public sector
If it's any consolation (actually, it isn't) the private sector is just as capable of similar cock-ups. Even when you know exactly what you want and can nail down the service provider, you're still handing over your crown jewels to a third party (assuming that IT is a vital part of your infrastructure, which is the case for almost everyone these day). A true story (been there, done that, got the t-shirt):
A large multinational was looking to outsource its IT infrastructure. We got the usual suspects in, but one quote was far lower than the others. As head of IT for EMEA, I doubted that the figures they were providing could be achieved. We sat down with their CEO and he assured us they could meet the price and make a profit. We had some very good procurement guys who drew up a watertight contract defining our service requirements. I was still unconvinced and told our CIO: "you do realise that once we've handed over all our infrastructure and staff, they'll have our balls in a vice". I was told in no uncertain terms to shut up and that if I voiced my concerns to anyone else it would be 'career limiting'.
After a couple of years they announced that they couldn't make any money on the existing contract terms and they were unilaterally withdrawing support for any further changes. We indicated the watertight contract and told them we'd pointed this out at the beginning. They said (in effect): "sue us". Of course, suing them would have taken years (and cost untold millions) and meanwhile we couldn't make any IT changes. Replacing them would also have taken time and a substantially increased cost. Long story short - there's a new contract on 'enhanced' terms. The senior management responsible have been promoted and/or moved on to pastures new (aka 'the next sucker'). None of this has been made public or could be ascertained from published information. I'm sure it has happened innumerable times before and will happen again.
I don't usually post anonymously, but those who know me could probably identify the company (those who still work there definitely could).
This'll end well!
Public sector organisation wants to save money so they bring in a company to deliver services as well as make a profit. It is this kind of thinking that gives both the public sector and IT a bad name, for the record, yes, I work in both.
The tender documents will be written by people too far removed from the coalface and signed off on both sides by bean counters with no idea what any of the words mean but are still impressed by claims of "industry leading products"- which translates as "other councils are already struggling with these and you'll be in the same mess in 6 months".
Then it'll start, the customisation, as council A has to fulfil a need that mega-joined-up-software-package called something functional yet dynamic like syngress currently doesn't fulfil so a contracting programmer will write a work package, this picture illustrates what happens next: http://zanematthew.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/project_management_swing.png
The next step is for the people who originally signed off this brave new world to either be replaced or get itchy feet over how much this whole thing is costing and pull the plug on the funding just as the project is nearing the critical phase. The good people working on the project start to get worried as they know which way this is heading, these are the people who have devoted the long hours to ensuring that stuff may actually work as well as it can do. They've faced the slings and arrows from both sides, made "the business" as well as the implementation team realise concessions need to be made on both sides and progress is almost being made towards delivering a usable product.
Then the migration starts, not migrating data from legacy systems to the new one, the migration of the talent. As funding quickly ebbs away the talent sees which way the wind is blowing and sensibly jump ship whilst their reputation is still intact, when "I'm currently delivering a £30 million project for council X and Y" still looks good on a CV as the snafu hasn't been revealed yet. Once the flight of the competents starts the project is officially doomed, no one on the techie side is left with an understanding of the work of the council or a commitment to make sure the product fits, the people who have been working between the techies and the councils to change processes and help the councils implement the new system aren't replaced so no one is left telling either side that the decision they have just made on that relatively tiny aspect of the system actually has far, far reaching consequences.
It is at this point that the project manager leaves, they have already become semi-detached from the project as they have had to shoulder the burden of other people's incompetence and are now in the cross hairs of everybody. They leap before they are pushed. They are not adequately replaced as we are almost at implementation and we need to save every penny, "besides, we're nearly there, we don't need a project manager now, we've only got to get through the implementation. Almost steady state."
And then we have the implementation, or to more accurately name it, the new systems are thrown over the wall to people like Betty, Brenda and Alan to not use properly as that 2 hour training course they went on 4 months ago has been forgotten, besides, due to the customisations and cost cutting that occurred in the final weeks "that bit has changed now." Then the load balancing testing is proven to be flawed as the systems grind to a halt, local staff revert back to doing things "the old way, cos it works, isn't that right Margaret? This new thing is crap."
With no funding for the implementation these "teething troubles" don't get resolved and the brave new world doesn't get realised, departments cherry pick which bits of the the new systems are used leading to a more fractured environment than was present before the project started. £millions are wasted and then the press can write their reports of white elephants and reports of waste and inefficiency at council A.
Meanwhile the people who make the shocking decisions that lead to the failure of the project are promoted, the project manager is assigned all the blame and the whispering campaign about their shortcomings gathers pace as the ass-covering phase starts.
The provider company departs with a truck load of cash and the public sector body is left with a system not fit for purpose, unable to fall back to their legacy systems, half the organisation has reverted to local systems and the rest are in some twilight halfway house.
Not fit for purpose solution underfunded, under-designed by know-nothing imbeciles is implemented badly, under resourced and fails to meet unrealistic demands. Daily Mail enjoys, IT is besmirched, again and service users suffer.
Yet another business change programme under the cover of an IT project.
The clue that these councils have no clue is that they want this massive (by most *normal* standards) project up and running so fast when the only way they will cut those costs is by *converging* the separate councils processes (manual and computer) to eliminate all those special cases.
That takes understanding *of* those processes and negotiation, along with a willingness to accept the best process might not be *yours*.
That needs things like *trust* and time.
I smell another trough for the usual suspects followed (*much* later) by the usual report from the Public Accounts Committee ("Badly spec'd. No clear idea of what was wanted. No clear way to measure if they were achieving it. Unrealistic timescales. Poor buy in from senior managers etc").
Call me cynical but this sure smells like the same old bucket with the same old contents.