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Report on government ICT highlights critical challenges for new government CIO, says Institute for Government

In a report out recently, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) commends government progress in implementing its ICT strategy but recommends that more can be done to ensure the strategy delivers promised benefits. In particular, PASC argues for an overhaul of government procurement to break the perceived ‘oligopoly’ of large suppliers and calls for more timely and accurate data to benchmark costs across government departments.

The report comes just days after the announcement that Andy Nelson has been appointed as the Government CIO, replacing current CIO, Joe Harley, when he retires in March. Mr Nelson will retain his current role as CIO of the Ministry of Justice. He will lead on ICT strategy implementation, supported by a new Cabinet Office CIO (and Deputy Government CIO) who is yet to be appointed.

Institute for Government support

The Institute for Government  has welcomed the general thrust of PASCs report.  Programme Director, Tom Gash said:

“We particularly support the view that current procurement processes must be urgently reviewed to ensure that they do not exclude ‘Agile’ ICT projects or block SMEs from competing for contracts. We also welcome the recognition from both Government and PASC that implementing the ICT strategy will require a deeper understanding of ICT across the civil service.

However, the Institute feels that PASC should have highlighted the need to ensure strong cross-government leadership for ICT strategy implementation. In particular, we are concerned that the new Government CIO may not be sufficiently empowered to provide a strong, independent view and to influence the decisions of the wider civil service leadership”.

Strong independent leadership

Sir Ian Magee, Institute for Government Senior Fellow said:

“The new Government CIO, Andy Nelson, has his work cut out to ensure clear leadership of the ICT strategy while also performing a challenging role as MoJ CIO. A new deputy CIO will provide additional impetus and support to the ICT strategy implementation once appointed but the Government should explain how they will ensure that the Government CIO is supported to deliver vital cross-departmental programmes. It’s currently unclear how the proposed reporting arrangements will ensure that ICT will independently and strongly influence business decisions.”

 ‘Agile’ procurement

In March 2011, the Institute published System Error: Fixing the Flaws in Government which advocated a number of recommendations adopted in the ICT strategy including wider use of ‘Agile’ approaches.

Justine Stephen, Institute for Government Senior Researcher, and lead author of System Error, says:

“Current government procurement processes appear to be proving an obstacle to implementing ‘agile’ approaches and to contracting with the SMEs who are most experienced in agile techniques. Without addressing the procurement process, it will be hard to embed new agile approaches, which our research has shown can deliver new ICT functionality far more rapidly and at significantly lower cost than more traditional approaches.”

Previous Institute for Government research on government ICT
System Error: Fixing the Flaws in Government ICT by Stephen et al, March 2011

Further work

The Institute is committed to support Government as it implements the ICT strategy and will be conducting further research on government ICT in the coming year.

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