Government and IT- "A Recipe For Rip-Offs": Time For A New Approach - Public Administration Committee Contents

8  Skills and leadership

100. Many of the complaints we heard about Government IT can be traced back to a lack of skills in Government; whether these are the skills needed to manage procurement, understand new opportunities and innovative approaches or to integrate IT into the policymaking process. All our other recommendations will be futile unless the Government addresses the lack of skills and leadership from senior management necessary for the effective procurement and use of IT.

An intelligent customer?

101. Discussions about procurement often focus on the lack of an "intelligent customer" function within Government to enable it to engage effectively with external suppliers and stakeholders. The Government's inability to act as an intelligent customer seems to be a consequence of its decision to outsource a large amount of its IT operations to the private sector. The NAO noted that many IT contracts:

    are for a government body's whole ICT service, meaning that civil service staff, knowledge, skills, networks and infrastructure have been transferred to a supplier. This has effectively locked government into specific contracts for the long-term.[135]

102. Computer Weekly argued that this has created a situation where "government give contractors the job of telling it what it needs to buy from them."[136] Mark Thompson of Judge Business School, University of Cambridge argued that "there is usually really lousy management of the contract once it is in place,"[137] while Professor Willcocks, LSE, has argued that the challenges facing the NHS IT programmes have been in part caused by a lack of internal capability to manage large contracts.[138] One witness, Dr Leonard Anderson of Logicterm Limited, believed that departments must have the necessary skills or employ an independent programme management consultant to ensure that the client and suppliers can work properly in partnership. He concluded that "complete outsourcing is a recipe for rip-offs".[139]

103. Professor Margetts, Oxford Internet Institute, provided another example from HMRC:

    HMRC took a decision a long time ago, in the early 1990s, to outsource everything—and I mean everything. All the expertise went over to the supplier, and a tiny proportion was spent on managing the contract compared with what the private sector would have done. We are seeing the consequences of that now.[140]

104. Similarly, the BCS stated that "departments generally do not have the overall IT skills capability or capacity to meet their sometimes ambitious portfolios of change, and have often become over-dependent on the external marketplace." It argued that this situation has been exacerbated by "the high degree of outsourcing of IT services, which makes it more difficult to develop and maintain the required level of client-side IT skills".[141] David Wilde, the CIO of Westminster Council identified one of the key challenges government faced was striking a balance between which functions to outsource while still retaining the skills necessary to manage those services effectively.[142]

105. In their evidence Hewlett Packard identified several key functions which they believe needed to be retained in-house. They were:

  • Chief Information Officer;
  • Development of Information Systems (IS) and IT Strategy and Architecture;
  • Security and Information Assurance Policy;
  • Business Analysis and Business Relationship Management;
  • Procurement and Contract Management, and
  • Business Change and Programme Management.

According to Hewlett Packard the development of IS and IT Strategy and Architecture, and Contract and Procurement Management roles were often filled by staff on fixed-term contracts or external advisers. They described this as "less than ideal" as it prevented the development of a professional cadre of staff with these skills and undermined long-term accountability for the delivery of these functions."[143]

106. The Minister agreed that government had traditionally struggled to outsource IT functions successfully:

    I have a sense that, when you outsource IT in the quite comprehensive way that some big bits of Government have, what tends to happen is either an assumption that we have outsourced, so that is fine, complete and we do not need to worry about it, or we retain a massive amount of in-house capability to monitor and man-mark what is being done by the outsourced provider.

    One provider told us that they had 2,500 people working on the outsourced provision but there were 4,000 people in-house monitoring them, which is insane. What you need is to have a small but very capable in-house CIO-type capability, which can scan the market and see what is available.[144]

107. Ian Watmore agreed with this analysis arguing that when outsourcing governments had "either abdicated, giving it all away, or we have retained an army, which has just added to cost and bureaucracy on both sides." Instead he argued that the government needed a "smaller intelligent group that can procure and manage a contract in partnership, and hold them to account when they need to, but help them fix things when they need to as well." He said that this was a difficult skill set to find but that the current Government was "buying it in".[145]

108. Managing suppliers is as important as deciding who to contract with in the first place. To be able to perform both of these functions government needs the capacity to act as an intelligent customer. This involves having a small group within government with the skills to both procure and manage a contract in partnership with its suppliers. Currently the Government seems unable to strike the right balance between allowing contractors enough freedom to operate and ensuring there are appropriate controls and monitoring in-house. The Government needs to develop the skills necessary to fill this gap. This should involve recruiting more IT professionals with experience of the SME sector to help deliver the objective of greater SME involvement.


109. David Clarke, BCS, expressed concern that the tendency to outsource government IT functions was undermining the IT profession within Government.

    One of the things that worry me a lot is the lack of career paths now in this profession in Government. So much is outsourced; that work used to be the career paths of people coming up to become those excellent, knowledgeable people at the top of the tree. By outsourcing a lot of the stuff that you do, you don't have that career path within Government.[146]

110. The Government Chief Information Officer is responsible for the IT profession within government. The first strategy for developing IT skills was out in 2005[147] and focused on the Skills Framework for the Information Age which was developed with the IT industry. The NAO found that there had been "no clear mandate to implement" this strategy.[148]

111. The Government is also developing its own IT talent through the Technology in Business Stream of the Civil Service Fast Stream Programme. Established in 2007-08, this programme is designed to develop high calibre government IT employees. It has placed 47 staff in 10 departments. The Technology in Business Fast Stream has been the most successful of all the Civil Service Programmes, with more applications per place, the highest growth in the number of applications.[149] The BCS commented positively on this scheme, but said that it was producing "nowhere near enough" people and could benefit from expansion.[150]

112. The strategic importance of Government developing and maintaining an intelligent customer function has been repeatedly highlighted throughout our inquiry. We are very supportive of the Government's efforts to develop its own talent in-house through the Technology in Business Fast Stream. The Government should use this scheme as a basis for a strengthened IT Profession within Government. It must ensure that it aligns the training curriculum with its ICT Strategy and wider developments in the world of technology outside of Government.

Spread of skills

113. Mr Clarke, BCS, emphasised that the skills required by Government included the ability to manage business change programmes and understand the role IT plays in those programmes. These are not technical skills, but competencies that all senior officials including those on Departmental boards should possess; having an understanding of technology policy will enable better integration of technology into policy making and the operation of public services. This will be increasingly important as the Government seeks to deliver more services on a "digital by default" basis.

114. When we put concerns regarding the quality of existing skills to the Government the response we received was mixed. At official level the prevailing view was that the Government had the skills it needed. Phil Pavitt, CIO HMRC, told us that the description of the Government as lacking in skills was not one he recognised.[151] This view was echoed by Craig Wilson, Hewlett Packard, who told us the "Government has some excellent skills in terms of procurement and leadership now [...]".[152] However, the Minister was more sceptical commenting that the Government was "not nearly as good as [it] should be."[153]

115. Knowledge about how modern information systems and technology can be used to improve public services should not be restricted to the IT profession - this knowledge is essential to the work of all senior civil servants responsible for designing and delivering policy. The Government should explore how departmental boards and senior officials can best benefit from professional training and support in technology policy. A systematic programme to improve these skills across the senior civil service would also help support the Government's aim of ensuring public services become "digital by default" by improving the integration of technology and policy throughout the policy-making process.



116. Senior Responsible Owners (SROs) are the senior officials responsible for ensuring that a programme meets its objectives and delivers the projected benefits.[154] They are the owner of the overall business change, provide senior leadership for the programme and take personal responsibility for the successful delivery of outcomes. A number of organisations highlighted the importance of SROs. Intellect, the IT industry trade association argued that:

    Senior Responsible Owners (SROs) of appropriate seniority and experience should lead programmes of all sizes from conception through procurement and delivery.[155]

However, as the Government acknowledges, this has not always happened, with SROs often changing several times during the course of a project. The Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Royal Academy of Engineering noted that these changes mean any significant project overruns or failures can be blamed on previous SROs who have since left the project.[156] To rectify this situation the Government has announced that it will require SROs to stay in post until an appropriate break point in the project.[157]

117. We welcome the Government's intention to strengthen the role of Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) by ensuring that they stay in post until an appropriate break point in the project. Wherever possible SROs should stay in post to oversee the delivery of the benefits for which they are accountable and which the project was intended to deliver. It should be in Ministers' interests to ensure that this happens, and Ministers should take a personal interest in the leadership of politically sensitive programmes.

118. We are concerned that despite the catalogue of costly project failures rarely does anyone - suppliers, officials or ministers - seem to be held to account. It is therefore important that, when SROs do move on they should remain accountable for those decisions taken on their watch, and that Ministers should be held accountable when this does not happen.


119. Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are a department's most senior official directly responsible for information management and the related technical systems. They play an increasingly important and demanding role ensuring that organisations are well placed to manage the information required to deliver their objectives. Ian Watmore praised the quality of the current CIOs working in Government describing them as "some of the very best people from the private sector. About half the CIOs from the last three or four years came directly from the private sector and were really top players."[158]

120. However, some witnesses expressed concerns about the CIO Council[159] and the lack of impact the Council's work has had.[160] A number of witnesses argued that CIOs should have a higher profile within departments and advocated that they should serve on departmental boards. Roger Marshal, former Chair of EURIM said that:

    It cannot be emphasised too strongly that CIOs or their equivalent must be given the resources and authority within public sector organisations in order to impose good practice and eliminate poor practice. In comparable private sector organisations [...] there will invariably be a main board director who both understands and can represent the interests of IT professionalism. This should be the case in the public sector too.[161]

Hewlett Packard made similar points, arguing that while the importance of the departmental CIO was increasingly recognised, "the function remains inconsistently adopted - some are members of their department's board and accountable to the Permanent Secretary, others less senior. More could be done to strengthen the role of the departmental CIO in policy development."[162]

121. Of the 14 departments we surveyed as part of our research into Government IT only three (DWP, HMRC and Office of National Statistics) reported that their CIO sat on the departmental board. This is presumably due to the large amount of information processed by these departments.

122. When we put these concerns to Ian Watmore he acknowledged that the level of CIO appointments "has been the source of some controversy over many years." However he argued that every function "whether it is IT, finance, HR [....] wants to have their person on the board, and the view of departmental leads was that the boards would become overly big and complex."[163]

123. The Minister also argued that one of the risks of having CIOs on departmental boards was that it led to IT being compartmentalised with the rest of the board not taking an interest in large IT-driven programmes. He said that there was a danger that people would say:

    "He or she is doing the technology. None of us needs to worry about the IT projects." Actually Ministers need to be taking an interest in big projects generally, including IT projects, and so do permanent secretaries. I do not think they have in the past to nearly a great enough extent, so someone down there in the bowels of the organisation will deal with it.[164]

124. Ministers should reconsider the governance arrangements for their departments' information systems and associated IT. Whilst it may not always be appropriate for the CIO to be a board level appointment, we think that more department boards should include CIOs given the essential role that information and technology play in delivering Departments' services. Where CIOs are not on a departmental board, another member of their Board should have proven expertise in, and act as a champion for, information and technology issues.

135   National Audit Office, Information and Communications Technology in government, p 17 Back

136   End IT dinosaurs' reign of terror, MPs told, Computer Weekly,23 February 2010 Back

137   Ev w142 Back

138   Ibid Back

139   Ev w40 Back

140   Q 31 [Professor Margetts] Back

141   Ev 97 Back

142   Q 295 Back

143   Ev 106-107 Back

144   Q 541 Back

145   Q 542 Back

146   Q 193 [Mr Clarke] Back

147   Cabinet Office, Transformational Government - enabled by technology, Cm6683, November 2005. Back

148   National Audit Office, Information and Communications Technology in government, p18 Back

149   Ibid Back

150   Qq 196-199 Back

151   Note of informal evidence session. Back

152   Q 430 Back

153   Q 541 Back

154 Back

155   Ev 113 Back

156   Ev w121 Back

157   Ev 119 Back

158   Q 542 Back

159   A group of all departmental CIOs Back

160   Ev w56 Back

161   Ev w56 Back

162   Ev 107 Back

163   Q 560 Back

164   Q 561 [Francis Maude] Back

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Prepared 28 July 2011