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NAO Gives Cautious Approval To Government ICT Progress

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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National Audit Office delivers its six-monthly report to parliament

The National Audit Office (NAO) has praised the government’s early progress in implementing its new ICT strategy but has warned that there is still work to be done if it is to fulfil its ambitions.

The findings were reported in the NAO’s six-month review of the strategy, which was aimed at rectifying problems with lengthy, expensive and complex government ICT projects.

Good Start

The strategy was launched in March and was targeted at reducing waste and project failure, building a common ICT infrastructure and using ICT to enable and deliver change.

The NAO said that the government had adopted “a pragmatic and collaborative approach” and had largely met its first round of deadlines. Of the 17 actions that were due by September, seven were delivered in time with work on most of the others underway and a small number behind schedule.

A number of developments such as the willingness of suppliers to offer assistance and the establishment of a CIO delivery board were praised by the NAO, which also said that there were new arrangements in place to implement strategy and leadership.

The report said that 30 actions have been rationalised into 19 different areas and that a more consistent plan about the new approaches and standards of a common ICT infrastructure had been established.

However the review also identified a number of areas where not enough progress had been made. It was critical of the lack of a system for measuring the success of the implementation of the strategy and that a lack of ICT skills in the public sector remained a serious challenge.

The culture change needed to implement the strategy may also be “a significant barrier”, according the report, which also noted a conflict between short-term financial pressures and need for longer term reform of public services.

Work to be done

“The Government’s ICT Strategy is in its early days and initial signs are good,” commented Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office. “However, new ways of working are as dependent on developing the skills of people in the public sector as they are on changes to technology and processes; the big challenge is to ensure that the Strategy delivers value in each of these areas.”

The NAO has previously criticised a number of government ICT projects, including the management of an operation to consolidate prison service databases which suffered from delays and spiralling costs. Last Week, it also criticised the government’s website strategy, specifically the absence of any method for measuring the benefits of its online portals such as DirectGov, which have cost over £500m.

In July, the government’s new ICT strategy was slammed for not having enough targets by the Public Accounts Committee, but the NAO did praise the £126m of savings made by HM Revenues and Customs after it introduced online tax filings.