Good Governance - effective use of IT

Additional written evidence submitted by Open Source Consortium (IT 54)


The recent Institute for Government report "System + Error" calls for agile government IT. This latest emerging thinking still refers to moving forward, doing something. Essentially, it the same paradigm of public sector provision presented in a new way.

It is a spoiler for choice based customer/client focused services. Agile IT will move in more than one direction. It need not be an excuse to do something, it is also an opportunity to stop and/or recede.

The policy basis for doing things differently was established in 2003.

Essentially this policy provides a framework to enable existing customer channels to include public sector products as a choice based alternative to creating new outlets for public sector customer channels.


Events that have occurred since the original call for evidence the Open Source Consortium asks that further evidence be taken into consideration.

ñ On 22 February and 1 March 2011 the British Computer Society (BCS) Open Source Software Group [1] held two open meetings to discuss how to progress the "Adoption of Open Source across HM Government"

ñ On 2 March 2011 the Institute for Government (IfG) published System+Error, a study setting out "the case for a new approach to IT in the public sector".

The audio recordings of the BCS events are available online however we learnt that

ñ all software and systems inside the government estate has to be certified by CESG [2]

ñ CESG is a bottleneck

ñ it's an expensive process and OSS projects or small suppliers will find it impossible or close to impossible to finance such certification

This information skews any discussion of how IT contracts could be smaller or directed towards SMEs back toward the usual arrangements and this then skews any discussion of the degree of agility possible with Government IT unless a different approach is adopted.

Reducing the size of the IT estate is one way of reducing the bottleneck.

IfG Report

This links very closely to the IfG report which is simply a call to action predicating that a new approach by the same organisations that got into the current circumstances will get themselves out of it.

And the thinking that hasn't changed is the difficulty of doing nothing. The report is a call to action and it could better have been an opportunity to think laterally and focus on removing a few barriers, the real obstacles to innovation.

In "making the case for change" the report begins by highlighting online vehicle road tax as an example of successful IT. Unfortunately, on the day the report was published the DVLA system was down for essential maintenance [3] More importantly, when working, the final stage in the process is to check for a valid insurance on the motor insurer's database [4] and there's a clue.

As long as Government IT isn't sufficiently agile to cope with the idea that motor insurance companies do everything else (identity, address, money, V5, insurance, provide MOT services) so just give them a stack of tax discs and tell them to get on with it, then we are stuck in the same paradigm.

The system supplier published a case study [5] among other things describing:

ñ the number of awards the project got

ñ that it took 12 months to build

It would also be necessary to add 18 months for procurement [6] and however long it took to develop the business case and project specification documents.

Given the legal requirement for obtaining a tax disc and the inconvenience associated with alternative public sector customer channels is it not a surprise that it has such high take-up figures but that does not mean it is a success.

If people are obtaining tax discs on line, they have entered all their details once already [7] into their online insurance service and one click could have added a tax disc.

Water utilities [8] are prepared to enable billing and payment to be embedded in online banking, it is not difficult to envisage tax, benefits or other public services being similarly embedded, with similar advantages for reduced data entry. As online banking becomes ever richer, including for example, free money planning and management utilities, it could include tax calculators and so forth, with government building nothing or little.

This is in contrast of the desire to build government information and payment channels that require legislation to get them to be used.

The do nothing option in an options appraisal is a hurdle to be jumped

The idea of building in a role for Government IT rather than building out the need for a role pervades the IfG report (launched it seems with consider engagement from Government CIOs with at least one speaking at the launch event).

The concept of doing nothing, the first stage in any options appraisal [9] is noticeable by its absence.

A case study based on publicly available information

PayPoint was born from the insight by utility companies that maintaining a high street presence (the "showroom") was an expensive way of enabling customers to pay their bills over the counter. Instead the now well known facility of an electronic terminal in local convenience stores was established producing a service that was so cost effective for the utility companies that it was free at the point of delivery for the consumer. [10]

In November 2008 after how long or at what cost the tendering exercise for the Post Office Card Account was terminated [11] The quote by PayPoint was stoic "we are disappointed by the decision".

And while in March 2011 PayPoint was ultimately successful [12] in embedding central government in its highly successful business model against a background of special pleading for the status quo it was doing so against a parallel attempt by a state funded enterprise to undermine its business model [13]

which was essentially stopped only by fiat. [14]

The policy for multi-dimensional agility was established in 2003

The policy is still available to read from an EU website [15] and enables existing customer channels to compete with or replace government channels. The archived Cabinet Office web page [16] reads:

Delivering choice and a better experience is a huge challenge and there is no reason to assume that government acting alone will have the best approach. Our strategy, therefore, is:

to create a mixed economy in the supply of e-government services.

We aim to create a marketplace where government and organisations from the private and voluntary sectors can come together to deliver e-government services that better meet the demands of our customers.

There are benefits for all

For Citizens

ñ It's easier to deal with government

ñ There are time and effort savings

For Intermediaries

ñ It can deliver added value

ñ It can help strengthen relationships with clients

For Government

ñ It improves the delivery of services

ñ And allows better resource management

Page 14 of the consultation document contains the following example:

A motorist services company might want to add Vehicle Excise Duty (car tax) to their portfolio. Their offer becomes more of a "one-stop-shop" and is likely to increase customer loyalty, or attract new customers to the service.

March 2011


[2] Http;// the information assurance arm of GCHQ

[3] See appended image


[5] www-304. ibm .com/easyaccess/fileserve?contentid=120420

[6] A well known figure cited as 77 weeks at the evidence session on 8 March 2011

[7] Entering the same data more than once was highlighted as a problem in the evidence session on 8 March 2011

[8] For example, Thames Water and LloydsTSB


[10] in contrast to online tax discs which adds £2.50 on top due to a particular interpretation of government accounting rules