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Aspire contract needs innovation not vanilla, says outgoing HMRC CIO

Derek du Preez | Sept. 11, 2013
HM Revenue & Custom (UK) department's £700m-a-year outsourcing contract is up for renewal in 2017

HM Revenue & Custom's (HMRC) outgoing CIO Mark Hall has branded the department's £700 million-a-year outsourcing contract, Aspire, as a 'child of its time', but added that it is now increasingly being viewed as historic and traditional.

Aspire was set up in 2004, with prime contractor Capgemini delivering much of HMRC's IT services via an ecosystem of suppliers that include BT, Fujitsu, and Level 3. The contract is due for renewal in 2017 and is currently being restructured.

Speaking at Gartner's Outsourcing & Strategic Partnerships Summit in London this week, Hall said that suppliers are now offering 'vanilla' services and most of the innovation is coming from SMEs and start-up businesses.

He also commented that large suppliers are "tied up in knots" and that they are still selling IT in verticals, when he believes innovation could be drawn from other sectors, such as retail and gaming. This is where working with SMEs that have innovative products and ideas can be beneficial, said Hall.

"Our outsourcing partners have been there when we have needed them, they've been with us in the good times and they have been with us in the tough times. That's a lot of what the contract was designed for in the early 2000s. The challenge is that the whole world is moving and changing around this contract," said Hall.

"It is really difficult to keep pace with the market. Go back to 2001, how many people would have put cloud-based services in their contracts at that point? How many people would have thought about the social networking aspect? You wouldn't. The contract was designed to be flexible, but was designed in a completely different paradigm than we face today."

He added: "It's also created supplier dependency - we've got a great partner (Capgemini), but our challenge is that our partner is the prime integrator of what we do, so a lot of the knowledge and a lot of the experience rests with the supplier. It's a challenge about how you bring innovation into delivery."

Hall's comments come as the Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service are mandating that central departments digitise many of their transactions and create innovative online products for citizens to use, in a bid to save £1.7 billion a year by 2015.

Key technology leaders in government have also reformed leadership in departments by advising that the traditional CIO role is replaced by a CTO and a Chief Digital Officer, with the view that this is more suited to moving away from ageing legacy systems.

There is also a strong agenda being pushed out from the Cabinet Office to work with agile SMEs, which is currently largely happening via the government's CloudStore and the upcoming Digital Services Framework.


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