Overseeing an IT budget of some £1.2 billion, Joe Harley, leader of IT at the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), characterises the use of technology over the last 12 months as marked by “major progress”.

The picture is not all rosy however, with significant failings at the Child Support Agency put down to an inferior IT system. But Harley points to changes in IT sourcing strategy and the introduction of a revised services framework as real wins. In August 2005 the DWP re-organised its 150 separate contracts with EDS into a scheme that will cut IT spend by £900 million over five years (£180m annually), making EDS’ 2005 invoice £520m, not £700m. And in December it consolidated its voice and data contracts with BT in a deal worth £870m over five years.

“This sets out the map by which suppliers will deliver services to the DWP in a manner that best fits their expertise and which will enable us to compare these services with equivalent market offerings,” he says.

A key achievement, he goes on, is the realignment of existing contracts with EDS and BT to fit this framework. “This will deliver services based on industry-wide standards and supplied at competitive, market prices and drive up supplier performance,” he adds.

Harley’s team provides the systems and infrastructure needed to deliver services to all its 26m customers, with IT systems covering 120m customer files, 100 years of social records and delivering over 30m monthly payments at over £100bn a year. The DWP has some 35 mainframes to manage the task.

During the last 12 months the DWP has also put in place a plan to develop and implement new ways of working, reflecting industry best practice and creating an efficient, professional team of IT specialists. During 2005-06 this translated to a smaller but highly skilled and experienced IT professional workforce, with numbers cut from 1,273 in April 2004 to 448 in February this year, as well as “key professional appointments made in a number of areas to increase capability, bringing a wealth of external expertise” and “better engagement between the department’s businesses and its IT professionals through information system directors, who report to the CIO and business heads.”

Another area of focus has been the DWP’s progress with the Underpinning IT Delivery, (Unity) project, introduced to help make the Department’s sourcing strategy more flexible.Or in Harley’s words, “enable us to access a range of suppliers with diverse skills and quickly set up contracts to deliver specific business requirements”. An area of particular importance to the DWP is the delivery of standardised, value for money IT services from its suppliers, centred on a scheme to drive service price and quality rather than technology.

Last year MIS 100 was told of at least 12 major IT deliverables set for work over the next few months. The DWP says there has also been progress here, as part of its efficiency commitment to Gershon and improved services for customers. Harley points to the first two phases of the Customer Information System, which provides a single accurate view of key citizen information, having been successfully released in the last few months, which he says also underpins greater sharing of information across government. It provides tailored online access services for local authorities, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, HM Court Services, the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

In any case, other milestones passed technology-wise since 2005 include delivery of over 700 integrated Jobcentre Plus sites, nearly all (97 per cent) of DWP customers now being paid by Direct Payment, and the replacement of
traditional ‘job boards’ in Jobcentres with over 8,000 smart touch screen terminals.

Over the next year Harley sees DWP’s key priority as: “Our people and their performance; the implementation of new competency frameworks to raise the professional standards of project management and IT across the department will drive individual and organisational performance.

“The sharing of our learning with other government departments will contribute to the government’s wider IT strategy for transformational government. Another priority is to provide world-class service by driving out the benefits of our
realigned supplier contracts and intensifying the implementation of our supplier performance monitoring activities. We will also collaborate with the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), other government departments and key IT suppliers to identify, share and apply good practice,” he predicts.