Good Governance - Effective use of IT

Written evidence submitted by Sirius (IT 19)

Short summary in bullet point form:

· Government IT costs too much

· Government IT procurement costs too much

· IT is the enabler of the 'Post-Bureaucratic Age

· Government must become smarter in IT usage, and do 'better for less'

· Government IT policy must be 'Triple-Open' – Open Data, Open Standards, Open Source

· Incumbent supplier oligopoly is fighting move from 'closed, proprietary and expensive' to Triple-Open

· Innovative SMEs drive Triple-Open and cut costs

· Procurement reform is the key and trigger

1. How well is technology policy co-ordinated across Government?

Poorly. Government technology usage costs too much, constantly reinvents the wheel, frequently fails and is based on an outdated paradigm.

Technology policy, which needs coordination to achieve best results, is a clear victim of the Haldane Report. The gap between Government practice and best industry practice is wider than ever, and the trend towards Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source is still in it's infancy.

2. How effective are its governance arrangements

Clearly ineffective.

As well as being too expensive, only 30% of projects work, 30% of contracts are terminated and 57% of projects experience cost overruns. Government productivity has declined since IT was introduced.

Lack of expertise is evident in all project stages, from procurement to post-implementation dispute resolution.

Governance is only as strong as the expertise and objectivity of the governers. Objective and expert oversight is missing.

3. Have past lessons from NAO and OGC reviews about unsuccessful IT programmes been learnt and applied?

Based on the constant repetition of the same mistakes the answer has to be no. Based on the repeated application of the same technologies and technology paradigm the answer has to be no. The way IT is done has undergone a fundamental change in the last decade, from closed and proprietary to open and open source. The very fact that contracts continue to be handed to the 'usual suspects' and continue to fail in the same old ways suggest that the lessons have not come home yet.

4. How well is IT used in the design, delivery and improvement of public services?

It is an afterthought – it comes after developing policy and legislating, both of which are done in isolation to the technical environment or technological implications.

Effective use of IT is the very essence of the world of online services, indeed one could say that innovative, useful and wildly popular and successful online services grow out of understanding the potential of the new way of doing IT – Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source.

5. What role should IT play in a 'post-bureaucratic age'?

Since its election in May last year, the coalition government has championed the idea of a post bureaucratic age centring on the principle of popular empowerment through technological advancement. We are, in David Cameron's words ‘living in an age where technology can put information that was previously held by a few into the hands of almost everyone.We believe this powerful principle of empowerment is the central pillar of what is meant by the post bureaucratic age. The triumvirate of data, information and communication are the means by which post bureaucratic governance is driven but at its heart is the shift from a government monopoly of information and power to a more networked and engaged model for government.

IT should be central to this Post-Bureaucratic Age.

Every day technology gives us better tools for people to interact easily with each other and with organisations. Open technologies empowers individuals and shifts power away from the centre. Open technologies build social cohesion and are socially transformative. Government should be as technologically smart as possible, in the service of productive efficiency and participatory democracy.

IT can deliver "better for less".

6. What skills does Government have and what are those it must develop in order to acquire IT capability?

Ufortunately, after many years of outsourcing, the existing skills are few.

The skills that must be developed are primarily those around an understanding of the way IT has changed and the way the most successful service delivery systems are done now. Government systems pre-date the online age and are almost entirely closed and proprietary. The skills needed for successful service delivery in the connected age are open and non-proprietary. In this sense the existing lack of skills is in fact a good thing, as the skills Government have lost relate to an age coming to a close.

7. How well do current procurement policies and practices work?

Extremely poorly.

It costs too much. Best estimates place the figure around £21bn annually.

Procurement costs too much, second only to the cost of Defence procurement, about the same amount of money is spent on the procurement process as is used to run the Foreign Office.

It favours the same set of enormous suppliers, almost all Government contracts go to the same 11 suppliers.

It excludes Open Source.

It excludes innovative SMEs.

My own company is a British SME with an international reputation, and is the champion for Open Source in the UK. All our work in the public sector has to be done through incumbent SIs who neither understand Open Source, not wish to see it succeed as it ultimately disrupts their own business model with it's oligopolistic profits. Public Sector organisations pay a premium to a provider that does it's best to dissuade them from using Open Source whilst grudgingly placing the work it cannot kill off through us.

8. What infrastructure, data or other assets does government need to own, or to control directly, in order to make effective use of IT?

The essential asset is understanding, and being able to take a strategic view.

The fundamental shift to Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source means that physical infrastructure is becoming less important, and thould be seen as an opportunity to reclaim control of systems. Government should ensure the data held within systems is not in proprietary formats and can be extracted without huge costs or risk.

Government needs to own and protect the domain expertise of systems and staff. Without this knowledge, the maintenance and modernisation of systems is dependent on suppliers, and will always come with a hefty pricetag.

9. How will public sector IT adapt to the new 'age of austerity'?

This remains to be seen. How it should adapt is simple:

Adopt a 'triple-open' strategy – Open Data, Open Standards, Open Source.

Break up the existing Oligopoly supplier cartel and open up procurement to the innovative SMEs who understand and have adapted to the triple-open model.

Let the market do the rest.

The result will be rapid innovation and flexibility in service provision, massive cost reduction, and a move of public sector IT systems to the new paradigm over time, ie 'better for less'.

10. How well does Government take advantage of new technological developments and external expertise?

Historically very poorly. One hopes this will now change.

New technologicial developments have changed the way IT is done. It's all about Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source.

11. How appropriate is the Government's existing approach to information security, information assurance and privacy?

 

The previous Government wanted, through IT, to find out "a deep truth about the citizen based on their behaviour, experience, beliefs, needs or desires". Fortunately, this folly has been abandoned by the new Government, although a positive strategy is yet to appear. Policy needs to be based on individuals owning their own identities and personal data individuals need to decide who they trust and who they share it with.

12. How well does the UK compare to other countries with regard to government procurement and application of IT systems?

The concentration of Government IT procurement in the hands of a small number of suppliers is a particular problem in the UK, as is the high cost of the procurement process. It is likely these two facts are related.

In terms of Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source, the UK is late to the party. There are signs, however, that this is changing, and one hopes this PASC enquiry will continue this trend.

January 2011