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G-Cloud Boss Slams Unacceptable Government IT

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The outgoing director of the G-Cloud framework has delivered a withering assessment of ‘unacceptable’ IT within government

The man in charge of the government’s G-cloud framework has hit out at both IT suppliers and IT managers of Whitehall IT systems, which he says are ten years behind that of the industry norm.

The comments were made by G-Cloud programme director Chris Chant in his swansong blog posting, as he prepares to retire from his post at the end of the month.

Unacceptable IT

“Unacceptable IT is pervasive,” wrote Chant, who then delivered a withering assessment of the state of governmental IT.

“Real progress has been blocked by many things including an absence of capability in both departments and their suppliers, by a strong resistance to change, by the perverse incentives of contracts that mean its cheaper to pay service credits than to fix the problem and by an unwillingness to embrace the potential of newer and smaller players to offer status quo-busting ideas,” he wrote.

And he lambasted government CIOs for not doing more to ensure government systems and technology were keeping pace with the market.

“CIOs across government, including me in various roles at the centre of government, have been guilty for too long of taking the easy path,” he wrote. “We have done the #unacceptable and thought we were doing a great job.”

CIO mistakes

He then listed some of the mistakes that government CIOs have made over the last ten years. This includes signing contracts with single suppliers that led to both poor service and high costs, and failing to include innovative suppliers because of large contract constraints and a fear of risk and uncertainty.

He also said that government CIOs were guilty of designing and delivering solutions that looked ridiculously expensive and over-engineered, and allowed government users to “suffer with IT that is a decade – or more – behind what they are using at home because the security considerations for government are different and stricter from those for everyone else.”

Chant then warned that some within government circles are simply not up to the task.

“There is still plenty more to do and, if I look back on the last dozen years and honestly reflect on those I’ve worked with and interacted with, this is still a pretty difficult list of stuff to do and some of those people just don’t have the capability to do it,” he wrote. “They will have to look hard at themselves and decide how they are going to resolve that because it will turn out to be the toughest thing that they have done in their career so far.”

Looking Forward

The G-Cloud man said that the difficult stuff comes now for today’s generation of government CIOs, as they have to manage multiple suppliers, ensuring comparable technology is not being charged at too high a price simply because it is a governmental contract rather than a commercial one.

Chant said future government systems need to accept that they must be ‘digital by default’ as services need to be designed bearing the user in mind.

“CIOs across government need to recognise what has changed and stop hiding behind the comfort blanket of what has always been done before,” wrote Chant. “That blanket is on fire.”

Chant did accept in his blog however that government IT has come a long way in recent years, thanks to the advent of greater transparency, open data, open services and the G-Cloud programme.

Poor Record

Chant’s rant about the state of government IT systems is not particularly new.

In April 2011 Ian Watmore, the man in charge of Whitehall’s efficiency drive, issued a damming assessment of the Labour’s government’s IT track record. He accused the previous Labour government of creating huge IT projects simply to make policies “sound sexy”.

This came after an investigation by the Independent newspaper in January 2010 which exposed the shocking cost of the Labour party’s botched IT projects during its period in power.

That investigation found that British taxpayers had been left with a bill of more than £26 billion for computer systems that either suffered severe delays or ran over budget, or that were cancelled altogether.

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