Good Governance - Effective use of IT

Written evidence submitted by Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (IT 33)

What role should IT play in a post bureaucratic age?

Summary

· IT needs to provide the dynamic force for the post bureaucratic age, not stand in the way of it.

· Establishing the new relationship with the citizen that comes with the "Big Society" requires a common technical platform that will support self-service and 'zero touch' public service delivery. 

· There is an excellent opportunity to do this with the implementation of RTI and Universal Credit.

1. Introduction.

a. There are two clear phases identified for the changes required in British government IT:

Lights on: deliver existing IT at better cost with increased transparency. Much of this process is already underway, although the required comprehensive audit has not yet happened and further significant savings are likely to remain.

Re-architect:
the "new dawn" of reliable, well-designed IT that delivers better public service outcomes at orders of magnitude less cost. This has not yet started.

2. This requires a new information architecture

a. The government needs to commission public services supported by a post-bureaucratic, lean administration. 

b. The government needs to interact with citizens and with other bodies in order to do this. This is at the heart of the Big Society and the ideas of post-bureaucracy.

c. Establishing this new relationship with citizens and third sector organisations requires a common technical platform that will support self-service and 'zero touch' public service delivery. 

d. This platform depends on re-usable, shared components that support innovation and service delivery across government. It must have a practical approach to

i. policy automation (rules engines);

ii. identity,

iii. security and privacy;

e. It should provide open interfaces and public data for wider community and commercial purposes. It will provide a new model for interacting with accurate citizens' personal data that will reduce complexity and cost.

f. Achieving a genuinely shared, common platform, or architecture, to support the Big Society requires common oversight at the business, information and technical levels.

g. This is unachievable from the perspective of any one government department - for the simple reason that departments cannot be expected to place the achievement of the wider political agenda above their own, very pressing, immediate operational requirements.

h. A political agenda that hinges on sharing information and resources between various organisations cannot be expected to 'self-execute' without firm direction, leadership and expertise driven from the centre.

3. A fuller description of this can be found in the attached paper, "Better for Less".

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

Summary

Establish an academy to bring IT decision making into the civil service as a core competence.
Base that competence on the best-practice recommended by the leading experts in the field.

1. Many of the mistakes, many of the strategic problems that have happened with IT in government have happened because the people with responsibility did not have the required skills to take the decisions properly. Faced with a requirement to act they outsourced the problem to expensive consultants who were only too happy to sell them limited forms of innovation and service delivery at premium prices. Indeed if one looks at the business models of some of the leading systems integrators, the reliance on the lack of capability among the customer is clear – and the ability to charge premium prices, to confuse senior officials and ministers. In the recent past a good ruse has been to encourage politicians and civil servants to identify the government's size as a component of complexity rather than an opportunity for economies of scale. This is a clear indicator for concern.

2. When we say that government needs an "intelligent customer" approach we do not mean that pejoratively – we use that term to indicate that we need to have the same level of capability on the side of the government as one would find in a large multinational commissioning complex technology projects such as ERP systems.

3. If a multinational does not have the skill in-house (and it will need it for a long time) it does not buy in that capability on a consultancy basis – not for something so core to its ongoing business requirements. It either hires it in permanently or, more sustainably, it builds that capability in-house through career development.

4. Many of the IT systems that have failed to deliver value were put together after legislation was passed with the belief that the legislation was the technical business requirement. The Criminal Records Bureau was a classic example of this, but the lesson has not been learned and the Rural Payments Agency debacle is but the latest £350m example [1] . In many cases outside contractors were called in not because it would be cheaper to listen to an expert, but because it was manifestly obvious that the skills to turn business objectives into a technical solution were absent in the civil service; furthermore, in many instances business cases have only acquired ‘legitimacy’ in the first place through association with a ‘big consultancy’ brand name.

5. This has to change.

6. As the Thompson Report made clear in 2008, the civil service must continually develop the skills for e-government.

7. A clear understanding of how to employ technology is a core competency, a mandatory skill, for all leading business executives in the private sector. It should be the same in the civil service as well as in the political layer: their professional competency should require it.

8. However a one off course of shock therapy will not be effective or sustainable.

9. Officials and ministers must be aware of what IT can successfully achieve and how to learn from documented failures: a high-level strategic understanding of ‘what the business needs to know about modern IT’. In turn, this will enable government both to understand ‘the art of the possible’ in terms of how services can be delivered – as well as how such decisions affect the design of government itself.

10. A suitable curriculum for confidence and understanding of the issues of IT must be created for mid ranking to senior officials and ministers. It should be provided in a series of short courses, akin to Cranfield University courses, and it should form a core component of the professional competence of this group. Like a business degree, all senior management should demonstrate their competence with the use of modern technology in government.

11. This mini university needs to be established with access to the best resources in the world, many of whom can deliver effective training and input from outside the UK. It would almost certainly form a core component of education at the Technical Academies proposed by the Conservatives in 2010 [2] .

12. This framework already exists in part through the PROCOM model at the eskills sector skills council – a body established by the IT industry. In order to impose the sustainable skills and competencies with technology that modern government requires, this educational framework should be established and implemented immediately across the civil service. The development of the Professional Programme by e-skills UK, based on the PROCOM framework, is an example of how such courses can be based on industry best practice.

How will public sector IT adapt to the new "age of austerity"?

The economic climate provides an impetus for change in government IT, but to approach this simply through an agenda of across the board reductions would be to miss the opportunity.

1. We should save money by changing the way we do things, not by 10% cuts across the board. After all in an environment of plenty that logic would lead us to increase spending by a similar amount.

2. In Windsor and Maidenhead we think that it is possible to deliver government services from anywhere – regardless of the building one should be able to set up a trestle table in the shopping centre and serve residents.

3. This is possible through the use of a more flexible, cloud computing, model.

4. The approach to cloud is complex and requires detailed thought around identity and security. Some of the data that we process is extremely sensitive, some of it is locked up so badly that we cannot make effective use of it.

5. Our IT strategy, which is attached as an appendix, explains how the savings that the age of austerity requires can be achieved through a different approach to IT service delivery.

6. We estimate that our savings will be around 30% of cost over the next four years. We anticipate that our service delivery will be better and our services to residents improved by the innovation, transparency and effectiveness that these changes allow.

Open Document Format – what is the hold up?

Summary

The failure to declare the Open Document Format as the standard format for government documents is difficult to justify and has obstructed progress in cost reduction.

Text

Why don’t councils just go Open Source and save taxpayers money on the licences they don’t need to use for commodity activity like word processing, non-macro spreadsheets, email and presentations. Bristol manage this quite well, Windsor and Maidenhead are moving to Open Office.

But it is difficult – why?

The specialist line of business applications that councils use in areas such as planning, housing benefit etc all have "break outs" to Word, Excel and so on. So a letter is created for a benefit claimant in Word (not in the benefits package) and so on.... and it is the supplier of the specialist software that has specified that only Word can be used.

If we required all local governments software suppliers to enable all their software to integrate with Open Source "Office" components as well as Microsoft office components, then 95% of all council staff would not have to buy Microsoft Office. They could choose to but they would not HAVE to.

Let's make it a free market.

After all if only half of the authorities did this it would be a significant saving.

Assumptions - FTEs in Local Government = 600,000 (it is more but leave it at that)

Microsoft Office costs 80 pence per day (Microsoft quote yesterday, their "bargain price to me")

Only 50% of councils do this

10% of all staff in all councils declare UDI and stick to Office because they love clippy.


January 2011


[1] “ NAO urges DEFRA agency to replace £350m system that's only 4 years old” Computer Weekly 15 October 2009.

[2] Conservative Technology Manifesto – March 2010