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Whitehall needs to dump 'unacceptable IT' – outbound G-Cloud chief

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Updated Outgoing government G-Cloud programme director Chris Chant has harangued civil servants and tech vendors telling them times are a-changing and so must they.

Chant, a career Whitehall civil servant, has warned his fellow CIOs they are “hiding behind the comfort blanket” and must change how they buy IT.

“That blanket is on fire,” Chant said.

According to Chant, CIOs like himself have been guilty for years of taking the easy path by signing expensive contracts with big IT suppliers, of failing to innovate and thereby causing end users to suffer.

“We have done the #unacceptable and thought we were doing a great job,” he said.

Chant is retiring as program director and leaving the civil service at the end of April.

Chant is currently a member of the Cabinet Office that is driving G-Cloud and the UK government’s digital change agenda along with recently promoted deputy government CIO Liam Maxwell and their ministerial chief MP Francis Maude. Maxwell moved up after predecessor Bill McCluggage left for storage vendor EMC.

There's no word on where he's going. A Cabinet Office spokesperson told The Reg The G-Cloud program will continue without Chant and "a decision on the role will be made in the coming weeks.”

After 37 years in government, Chant now reckons "#unacceptable IT is pervasive.” The hash tag appeared several times in his post and seemed to have been included deliberately.

Chant reckoned big tech suppliers should see the CIO’s smoking pants blankets and be warned that government IT has "changed", and is now taking a more “customer approach”.

“They can no longer rely on delivering poor service for big money and get away with it,” Chant said.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) also got it in the neck. Their crime seems to be one of lack of awareness of the change, sloth, or both. We’re not clear.

“SMEs should embrace the opportunity they now have and bring their capabilities – speed, flexibility and low prices – to the government market. For the first time, government is ready,” Chant said.

SMBs are being held up by Chant and Co as the new hope for delivering IT to government, because they are more accountable and charge lower prices.

When Chant says government is changing, he means CIOs must manage smaller contracts with more frequent renewals so they can no longer opt for the “easy ride” of extending an existing contract or renewing what they have now.

Chant reckons IT procurement is becoming transparent, too, and with smaller contracts and use of “frameworks” it’s becoming easier to compare costs.

The framework he appears to be referring to is G-Cloud and CloudStore, the latter a vast catalogue of approved suppliers and services that is supposed to make it easier for government to shop for and buy IT and to pick suppliers.

CloudStore contains 1,700 services from 257 suppliers. While the government’s strategy relies on SMBs, the reality is the usual IT companies are represented – companies including Capgemini, BT, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft. Further, many of the supposed services are still waiting to be assured.

The government has promised a new round of companies will be certified this month.

Underpinning all this is the shift to “digital by default”. Chant says government must design services around customers “whether that customer is a citizen in front of a web browser at home or one of our own staff working in an office”.

The government is also pushing departments to publish data sets under the Open Data Initiative.

Chant’s blog is the latest outburst from those inside the Whitehall G-Cloud to target government computing users as it seems G-Cloud is encountering at the least confusion and at most entrenched opposition from government techies.

Earlier this month G-Cloud Ministry of Justice representative Emma Gawen complained of “myths and confusion” surrounding its plans for security accreditation on G-Cloud. Among these, is a belief accreditation is "just unnecessary bureaucracy". ®

This article has been updated to include Chant is retiring.

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