Many government IT systems are the result of years of incremental tweaks to implement legislation and policy rather than of conscious design to meet well-defined user needs.
As a result, government IT has historically developed around fragmented business processes, taking a narrow application-centric view increasingly at odds with the need to deliver joined-up public services.
This approach has resulted in vertically integrated monoliths. Even within the same department, identical technology stacks can be found implemented in splendid isolation, duplicating data, processes, security and costs, and complicating the ability to run effective, joined-up services.
Where off-the-shelf software and systems have been used, they have often been customised at notable expense to match the existing way of working.
There is a growing commitment in government to designing better public services co-ordinated around a consistent information architecture, and business processes that balance both internal and external users’ needs.
Such an approach requires a move away from heavily bespoked systems that never meet user needs adequately and which bring with them a lot of technical baggage and lock-in.
The move towards vanilla services and devices based on open standards reflects the wider marketplace transition from bespoke, application-centric enterprise IT to user-centric consumerised technology.
As a result, traditional IT shops are having to radically re-assess their role. The adoption of lower cost vanilla consumer products and services enables IT governance to be rationalised, simultaneously lowering costs and improving user services.
The result of this change will be the increasing adoption of vanilla goods and services. Rather than continue to claim to be ‘special’ or unique, organisations need to recognise where vanilla services and devices can best meet user needs.
Any exceptions must be subject to a business challenge that ensures assertions of ‘unique’ user requirements are robustly reviewed, and that information and business designs are looked at holistically.
The outcome will be taxpayer-funded expenditure focused on public service improvements rather than on the acquisition and maintenance of a dysfunctional IT infrastructure.
The move to vanilla may be the most disruptive and radical change of all: the adoption of a significant new form of sourcing that takes out cost, streamlines processes and improves the user experience.