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What are the IT headaches facing the next UK government?

Charlotte Jee | May 8, 2015
Universal Credit, big IT deals, digital services,…and that’s before they start to implement their own policies.

Whichever party wins, getting back on track - and most importantly convincing people their personal data is safe in the government's hands - will be an urgent priority.

Digital exemplars
The Government Digital Service is widely recognised for shaking up government IT by bringing skills back in-house, improving procurement and starting to reduce reliance on a small clutch of systems integrators.

It set up a single website for government: GOV.UK, and has worked to digitise public services starting with 25 'digital exemplars'. However progress has been patchy, as its director Mike Bracken has admitted.

Just 15 of the 25 launched by the March 2015 deadline. Barriers have cropped up along the way, including arcane legislation, civil service inertia, restrictive procurement rules and a lack of engagement with external bodies - to name but a few.

It would be a huge step backwards to scrap GDS, which is perhaps why none of the parties are proposing to do so. However it is worth reviewing progress so far and thinking about how GDS' role should evolve over the next Parliament.

GDS has promised to deliver the remaining 10 services and start building common, shared platforms for government. Before increasing its list of tasks, it's worth asking why it was not able to make more radical changes during the first five years of its life.

Big IT contracts in Whitehall
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude recently admitted the government still needs to tackle its 'huge' legacy IT estate, still mostly tied up in costly single-supplier deals, if it is to move to a more interoperable, platform-based approach.

The government could save up to £20 billion by 2020 as long-term, expensive IT contracts across Whitehall come to an end, he has said.

The bellwether for success will be HM Revenue & Customs' £1 billion a year 'Aspire' contract with Capgemini, due to finish in 2017. It is the biggest IT deal in government .

The department hopes to replace it with a series of smaller, disaggregated contracts, saving at least 25 percent on costs.

It is an ambitious goal and too early to tell if it will work. Government CTO Liam Maxwell has said he is 'personally responsible' for the project. If it fails, expect recrimination and appearances before the Public Accounts Committee.

If it succeeds, it will be the ultimate vindication for those like Maxwell who argue government has paid far too much for far too long for its IT.

Windows XP
A Freedom of Information request recently revealed that a number of government bodies, including in the police and NHS, are still running on Windows XP over a year since Microsoft stopped supporting it.


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