Government ICT Strategy receives tentative thumbs up

An influential government think tank has published a report, entitled System Upgrade, which praised parts of the government’s ICT strategy, whilst warning that there are still ‘voices of scepticism’ within Whitehall and more needs to be done.

Prior to this release, the Institute for Government (IfG) published a report in 2011, called System Error, which identified two core priorities for improving government ICT - creating a shared government platform to drive down costs and rolling out agile methods across the public sector. Both of these points were adopted by the ICT strategy, which was released by the Cabinet Office in March 2011.

The strategy outlined how the government aimed to cut public spending on ICT by “millions of pounds through cutting duplication and waste”. Between 2008 and 2009 the public sector spent over £16 billion on ICT.

It aimed to reduce the cost of using data centres by 35 percent over five years, increase the use of SMEs as suppliers, use more cloud solutions through a government online application store and adopt more open source.

System Upgrade recognised that there has been “significant progress” since the release of the strategy one year ago, referencing wider adoption of the new PSN framework, the creation of the ‘Cloudstore’, introduction of the Government Digital Service, and about half of all departments reporting that they are running projects using agile principles.

The government has also estimated cost savings of £159.6 million on government ICT as a result of tighter expenditure controls and re-use of existing ICT solutions across government.

However, some of those interviewed by the IfG also highlighted that “reductions in upfront contract costs have not always led to realised long-term savings in the past, and cautioned that project scope creep or change requests could reduce actual savings in future”.

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It was also pointed out that most felt that agile was far from becoming the norm for ICT-enabled change projects.

System Upgrade recommends that a ‘clear narrative’ should be on the government’s agenda, which would “help to define what success looks like and ensure those implementing the strategy can identify and address interdependencies between different components of the strategy, and connect the strategy to other reform programmes across government”.

It found that most saw the ICT strategy as a collection of ‘rather technical’ discrete strands of work, and a clear narrative would help resolve this.

Also, the report recognises that the government does not produce robust mechanisms for measuring the success of its own strategy.

It reads: “Given the historic lack of a central role in comparing ICT metrics across departments, this may be understandable – but the lack of robust comparable management information creates major risks.”

“Cost savings may, for example, be made at the expense of quality or elements of the strategy might be delivered to the detriment of performance in other areas.”

Finally, it calls for government to make better resource decisions, as although some workstreams, such as the PSN, have established strong funding models, others are yet to secure the resources required.