Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has the power to transform public services and generate efficiencies. While the history of ICT in government has included some successful projects, there have been far too many expensive and regrettable failures. ICT is not well enough embedded in departments' business, and as a result not enough reform programmes have had ICT at the core. Problems have arisen where expectations for systems are too grand and the proposals from suppliers are unrealistic. Projects have been too big, too long, too ambitious and out of date by the time the ICT is implemented.
We welcome the direction and principles of the Government's new strategy for ICT (the Strategy). But this is not the first time that government has set out to deliver better outcomes for citizens and businesses, and large scale reductions in operational costs using ICT. Success will depend on greater rates of adoption of technology, and a cultural shift to encourage genuinely different ways of working in the Civil Service that will stimulate behaviour change by suppliers.
The Strategy is ambitious, with some 30 actions to be delivered in just 24 months. However it lacks quantitative targets, or a baseline of current performance, which will make it difficult to measure success. We look forward to the publication in August 2011 of the implementation plan, which we expect will include milestones on which we can hold government to account.
We welcome the differences between this and previous strategies. The Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) will insist on shorter, more iterative projects that take no more than two to three years, will step in and micro-manage a department's project if required, will promote greater input from smaller business suppliers, and will require a focus on designing services around the customer.
We have serious concerns about the Strategy. It lacks detail about the Government's approach to cyber-security, which is worrying given the drive for more government services to move online. Government also has not yet assessed the size of its existing ICT workforce or the number of ICT people or the skills it will need to deliver its strategy. A longstanding issue has been that Senior Responsible Owners have had too little experience and too little time to devote to a project, and leave their posts before they have had to live with the consequences. We are concerned that not enough has been done to deal with this issue, and the ERG should address it.
ERG has only a small team of experts to keep on top of more than 50 major projects. We have concerns that ERG could not provide any detail on the nature or the number of its major projects. We recognise that the Strategy is in its early stages and we will watch progress with interest. Ultimately, success will be shown when complex change programmes like the Department for Work and Pension's Universal Credit are delivered on time and to budget, and the Committee sees fewer critical NAO reports on projects like the NHS Programme for IT and the Rural Payments Agency's Single Payment Scheme.
On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Cabinet Office on the Government's new strategy for ICT and the practical steps necessary to implement its 30 key actions.