The City may be jittery but the hung parliament is likely to have little short-term effect on government IT projects, according to industry experts.
Clive Longbottom, service director at industry analysts Quocirca, and Stuart Okin, former chief security officer at Microsoft UK who now works as managing director of security consultancy Comsec, said government IT projects were likely to proceed as normal for at least the next few months, until the impact of a likely Conservative spending review kicked in. Major projects like the ID card database and ContactPoint are likely to be ditched while spending restrictions are applied in other areas.
NHS budgets are likely to be ring-fenced from upcoming cuts designed to bring down the UK's budget deficit. Whether NHS IT project escapes cuts is rather less certain.
Longbottom explained: "A hung parliament leads to a hung set of decisions on public sector projects overall (not just IT). Assuming a Lib/Con or a Lib/Lab pact of some form, it is likely that a few large projects will be brought down either because of joint agreements (eg ID cards with Lib/Con) or as part of the deal (eg ID cards with Lib/Lab). The NHS projects will probably take more of a battering that they would have done, and various others will come under heavy scrutiny."
Projects most closely identified with the last Labour administration are most likely to get "dropped quickly and with great fanfare", according to Longbottom. The industry veteran said that Tory hopes of saving hundreds of millions through weeding out badly thought out projects was always unrealistic.
Head in the clouds
"Apart from some of these headline projects that were fatally flawed at any rate, a lot of the other stuff is either needed due to the exiting back-end systems being too old and unfit for purpose, or that the projects are required to actually try and reach the savings required for the Conservatives to meet their 'manifesto promises'," Longbottom told The Register.
For example, projects to push cloud computing in the public sector promise savings over the longer term and are set to continue, according to Longbottom. "A lot of IT projects will not only go forwards, but may well be accelerated," he explained.
The Cons may want to up spending on defence IT - things like making sure that battle-space communications really work, that the software for Chinook and Apache helicopters works and so on, he added.
"Overall, I expect that there will be some headline changes to IT projects - but you can expect that behind the scenes the majority of projects will continue on, as the politicians find out that the projects are required to actually do what they themselves have been elected to do. The headline messages will, of course, be very cleverly spun and nuanced, but everyone knows that the only way to an efficient public sector is to have an efficient IT platform for it to work from," Longbottom said.
"The government can then change how the civil service and the rest of the public sector works - and ensure that 'The computer says no' has been removed from the encyclopedia of public sector excuses."
Stuart Okin was able to speak in more detail about the impact of last week's general election results on the information security sector, sketching out the likely outcome of the two most likely resolutions of the hung parliament conundrum.
If ongoing talks between the Conservatives, who gained the highest share of the vote and most seats, and LibDems, who hold the balance of power, result in a coalition government then this administration "would not look for any comprehensive spending review around security in the short term", Okin said.
"Therefore in all likelihood there will be no change to the infosec strategy and budget," he explained. "However, over time there will be considerable pressure on the security budget, although ironically we may see increase support in the infosec arena, as part of intelligence support spending, over more expensive defensive technology.”
If talks between the two parties fail to reach a firm agreement resulting in a Conservative minority government then "infosec is not likely to be the top of the budget considerations".
"Longer term, assuming no further polls, then there could be support for further investment and additional leadership in the infosec arena."
Whatever government the country gets is unlikely to have much impact on government information security projects over upcoming months, at least.
“The bottom line in the short term is that I think there will be little effect on infosec strategy and budget.” Okin concluded. ®
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