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Gov ICT strategy for system upgrades needs a system upgrade

Menace of PIECEMEAL STRANDS must be ENDED

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The Institute for Government (IfG) has urged the government to "broaden out" its ICT strategy to demonstrate more clearly how to turn the strategy from a collection of technical strands into a "clear articulation of how it will help citizens".

In a report, "System upgrade? The first year of the government's ICT strategy", the IfG argues that although there has been tangible progress in implementing ICT more effectively within government, there are still areas where the government continues to stumble.

As part of its report methodology, the institute carried out interviews with a number of government and departmental CIOs, who said that while they were aware of the different strands of the government's ICT strategy, many struggled to describe the overall aims of the strategy as a whole.

While many were strongly supportive of the different delivery strands, some felt that the strategy "doesn't hang together". Described as a 'technical' strategy, it was viewed as lacking a defined customer or a clear sense of how implementing the different strands will add up to an improved user experience.

There were also concerns both inside and outside government about how the interdependencies between the strands would be managed as well as a lack of clarity on how different elements of the strategy would be enforced.

One respondent asked, "Is this a mandatable strategy or a reference document?"

Although the Public Services Network and the Cloudstore elements of the cross-government programme have been recognised as some of the most significant achievements of the government's ICT strategy to date, and there is a recognition that agile development – a key element of the IfG's original report on the ICT strategy - is being more widely deployed, the government's ability to hit the milestones set out in its strategic implementation plan and the financial savings being delivered have been questioned.

The institute says that the CIO delivery board - comprising the CIOs of the big-spending departments and the leaders of the government digital and commercial agendas - has worked "very well" in creating a manageable leadership forum and has been effective in getting the crucial buy-in from the larger departments.

It adds, however, that as leaders broaden their engagement, they will need to "up their game" in communicating a clear positive vision of what the ICT strategy can deliver to different groups.

Hardest of these may be getting the right links and engagement with their colleagues outside the ICT profession to ensure that decision makers understand how elements of the ICT strategy will support business objectives.

In its conclusions, the institute argues that the government should seriously consider whether to:

  • Ensure that the government CIO is consulted in CIO appraisals, at which he should present his view of departmental ICT performance and intelligence on CIOs' pan-government contribution. It also argues that the CIO should also provide a sounding board for questions from departmental leaders as required.
  • Ensure that the government CIO is always consulted regarding departmental CIO appointments and provides input into the setting of CIO's corporate objectives, where appropriate.
  • Collectively agree the key performance metrics that should be used to support CIO performance discussions (and publish them). It suggests it is important to recognise differences between departments – in terms of what they do, organisational maturity and history. However, working together, CIOs should be able to develop a common way of judging performance, even if aspects of performance measurement are tailored to individual departments.
  • Explore the potential for more widespread use of peer review across the CIO community. Although several CIOs currently volunteer for review by colleagues, it may be useful to regularise this.
  • Build closer relationships with the civil service leadership, in order to advocate a new relationship between departmental leaders and ICT leaders. The civil service leadership should be more demanding of ICT and ICT professionals should be more demanding of the civil service leadership, promoting the changes in overall working practices needed to deliver ICT solutions effectively.

Chris Pennell, principal analyst at public sector market intelligence firm Kable, said: "While the report acknowledges successes to date such as the Public Services Network, success here is due more to collective thinking than Whitehall mandation, and highlights the need to ensure buy in across the wider CIO community if the strategy is to be a success in the future.

"This will require improving engagement with CIOs across Whitehall, not just the big six departments, if organisations are to move from addressing the different strands in a piecemeal fashion as highlighted in the report. Engagement with the supplier community will also be critical. Long term engagement is the best way to achieve the objectives laid out in the strategy."

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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