Government CIO Joe Harley has had an illustrious career within the public and private sector. As well as taking on the mammoth task of transforming ICT within the public sector in January 2011, he remains CIO and director general for Corporate IT at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Some people believe he’s taking on too much work, but Harley isn’t deterred by their comments. “At the end of the day being Government CIO is one of the most demanding and challenging roles I’ve had in my career to date,” he says, adding that he’s quite excited about getting out of bed in the morning because it’s a role that can change society.
His track record speaks for itself too: in January 2010 CIO reported that he had managed to carve off £1.5bn from the DWP’s costs since 2005. At the time the department had £3m worth of IT work out to tender and 110,000 members of staff fielding millions of calls each day.
Today he faces a tough spending review settlement, which requires the DWP to cut a quarter of its costs by March 2015. Harley hopes that these further reductions will be achieved by reducing ICT spending and by cutting expenditure on travel, buildings and consultants.
“The cost-reduction agenda is never ending; once you have reached your targets you have to keep on going, raising the bar again to find innovative opportunities to reduce cost,” he explains.
Harley has done it before and so he brings much experience to his new role, and he will gain support by bringing ICT into the boardroom. In his opinion information communications technology is not something that should be hidden away in some dark back room.
“In the past the delivery of ICT has not been at the front of the conversation as often as it should be”, he explains before suggesting that ministers and policymakers need to be involved in discussions about its deliverability.
To him this shouldn’t be an afterthought, particularly now when public sector budgets are being cut back.
Doing more with less
The public sector needs to do more with less money by creating efficiencies without damaging service quality or the ability of the government and the public sector to fulfil their legal and policy obligations.
“For me the challenge is to keep and continually improve the quality of service and at the same time drive down costs, particularly because we are not living an either-or world anymore,” Harley argues.
In other words he thinks that organisations have to secure the best price for the ICT they need, and need to be constantly improving the quality of their offering.
Harley admits that this is no easy task.
“We don’t have the money any more and so we need to improve efficiencies with the back office to release resources for possible re-investment in either frontline services or new policies like Universal Credit,” he explains.
Cost will be incurred no matter what an organisation does, and so his strategy is also about reducing the time to market of government ICT projects.
This includes an increase in the scrutiny of the procurement process to drive out unnecessary expenditure that doesn’t deliver sufficient value to the public sector’s stakeholders.
Part of Harley’s efficiency drive and re-investment programme involves making sure that waste is eliminated.
As a result he’s keen to re-use the Government’s ICT assets as much as possible, cut out duplication and waste, share assets across departments, consolidate datacentres, create a common infrastructure and move more data and services online.
He says that this is all part of what he describes as his big agenda “to serve the government and to deliver its strategy”.
Much has already been achieved. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) service placed self-assessment online a while ago, and during 2010 the DWP put Jobseekers’ Allowance application processes online.
There’s now the new Universal Credit benefits system to roll out, and it could set the standard for future public sector ICT projects.
It aims to simplify and reform the UK’s benefits system by consolidating the existing benefit and tax credit schemes into one plan, while incentivising people back to work, making the system easier for people to understand, reducing fraud and error-making.
The DWP also hopes that it will be easier and cheaper for the department to administer.
A spokeswoman for the DWP confirmed that the department aims to use existing systems and not to set up entirely new ones, and says that Universal Credit will cost the department about £2bn.
This estimate considers the following processes: design, implementation, estates, programme management and IT.
The programme is expected to affect millions of benefit recipients, including those on Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, tax credits and housing benefit.
From an ICT logistics perspective the key challenge will revolve around the migration of existing recipients from the current benefit and tax credit system to Universal Credit.
The challenge won’t just be a technical one as much confusion could be caused if the people aspect of this transformation is not managed in a sensitive fashion.
Harley is nevertheless confident that it provides “an opportunity to really make a difference to the UK’s citizens”.
This difference can only occur if he manages to use his key words of ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ to demonstrate the benefits of moving over to the new incentive-based system in a way that minimises any disruptions.
As it happens, the words ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ are at the heart of government policy, and Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to make public sector data more open and transparent in a letter to government departments in June 2010.
In his letter, the Prime Minister wrote: “Greater transparency across government is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account, to reduce the deficit and deliver better value for money in public spending, and to realise significant economic benefits by enabling businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites using public data.”
Harley believes that the ICT aspect of the government’s welfare reform agenda, of which Universal Credit forms a big part, provides the public sector with an enormous break from the technology projects of the past.
It will help him move away from legacy systems to enable the public sector, including the DWP and other government departments to, he says, “achieve more participation and engagement with the public by relying on a more agile delivery of ICT with the increased adoption and provision of more online transactional services”.
Self-service and the cloud are therefore going to be central to his service enhancement, time and cost rationalisation strategy.
Traditionally government contracts are given to larger vendors, but Harley advocates breaking up large contracts into smaller components.
The purpose of this is to control the risks that are associated with being locked into all-encompassing large-scale contracts. This will allow more vendors, and in particular SMEs, to participate.
“We want a more progressive approach to the implementation process through the use of pilots: a smaller and a phased approach,” he explains, adding that it is “just a general philosophy to allow us to get done what need to with less risk”.
Suppliers are the cornerstone to Harley’s rationalisation campaign, and he has already renegotiated many of the DWP’s existing IT contracts.
Hopes of an extension to the HP contract were rejected and while HP’s staff were none too pleased about it, Harley believes in encouraging supplier competition in order to ensure that the DWP gains the best products for the best price.
“We tend to create an industry standard commodity services model, and utility pricing to allow us to pay for what we use,” he elaborates.
By reviewing his suppliers regularly and inviting their competitors to compete, Harley and his team can establish a cost-reduction benchmark.
This has been translated into the aforementioned operational cost savings, and it has been used as a means of ensuring that suppliers also maintain and improve their quality of service.
“This is one of the main benefits of re-aligning the contracts,” he emphasises.
The contract re-alignments also permit his team to leverage the government’s purchasing power, as mentioned in Sir Philip Green’s recent report on government contracts and procurement practices.
Harley thinks that procurement processes needs to “be open, fair and transparent when it comes to competition in order to get the best from the market”.
The cost of procurement relating to the DWP, suppliers and particularly SMEs is a key issue.
“We need to find a way to reduce costs and time to market without compromising the fair and open playing field,” he argues.
Innovation and creative thinking are encouraged and everyone is invited to contribute their ideas, including the suppliers themselves and the wider IT community.
Suppliers are therefore playing a role in taking the DWP on a journey of consolidation which has affected all of the DWP’s agencies and has created economies of scale.
However, he says that one supplier can’t do everything. There has to be, in his view, a multi-supplier environment and this requires real collaboration.
“The supply community is going to play a leading role in helping us to deliver the outcome we need,” he stresses, while suggesting that SMEs can play an important part in helping the Government to execute its agenda.
In short, Harley declares that it’s not the size of the organisation that matters, but what companies of all sizes can bring to the table in terms of the value and capabilities they offer to the DWP and to the government as a whole.
So how can third-party suppliers reduce the risk that is commonly associated with public sector contracts?
“We help suppliers by procuring standard commodity services and solutions,” says Harley, before explaining that he also wants to eliminate bespoke and highly complex systems while simplifying contracts.
Harley believes that companies can be helped throughout the process by being clear about what is required in terms of communicating government and departmental needs and expectations.
After all, if suppliers don’t know what is wanted, they certainly won’t be able to deliver whatever is expected of them. To him it’s more about being more hard-edged.
“It’s about being robust and more businesslike in the way we deal with ourselves and our suppliers, and this involves striving for continuous improvements,” he says.
With an eye on flexibility, cloud services are going to be part of Harley’s flexible resourcing business model. This means he can further reduce his internal IT staff headcount while employing the expertise of commercial suppliers.
While people will lose their jobs during what Harley recognises as austere times, speaking from a departmental perspective, the cloud will allow him to add and reduce resources levels according to demand, helping the DWP deliver at the peak of activity.
“There will be more redundancies, but we need to use our collective resources,” he admits.
So what does he advise other CIOs? He recommends that they join the other C-level executives in the boardroom to make sure that ICT is part of the conversation.
He says this is because CIOs are in a unique position to advise the other executives about how ICT “can make a difference in terms of the delivery of business objectives”.
He concludes by suggesting that CIOs should also re-use the assets that other departments have created. In his opinion, there is no point in each department doing their thing.
Only consolidation, standardisation and resource sharing will reduce operational costs while enabling each to deliver the cross-government agenda.