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Let SMEs in to Government ICT. Jeez, they can’t do any worse, can they?

Gary Flood says that it is time to let SMEs have a fair share of Government ICT contracts as ‘the other way’ hasn’t got us anywhere...

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So the government has published, in detail, a set of objectives – its detailed Business Plans – for all 17 major Departments, outlining what it says they will all do in the next four years. It’s a bold exercise in transparency as much as PR as it’s been honest enough to also detail where it’s slipping its own self-imposed deadlines, especially interesting when they involve its determined push to find a whole new way of doing business around ICT.

The Department most in focus here is Francis Maude’s Cabinet Office, where the push for revised arrangements with the 19 biggest ICT suppliers to government have dominated the summer and where he has assembled his SWAT team to fix ICT consumption, the Efficiency and Reform Group, where industry stalwarts and generally very smart people like Martin Read, ex Logica head, and efficiency guru Sir Peter Gershon are driving the agenda.

It’s in Cabinet Office’s proposals, in fact, that we see both most mention of ICT and also the most honesty. Thus we are told that the publication of guidance for the rest of Whitehall that ICT projects should not exceed £100m in total value and that the general aspiration should be to reduce the scale of large ICT projects is "overdue," for instance.

But that pales into insignificance if some of the other ambitions do get realised. Take the promise to integrate ICT infrastructure across central government so as to improve value for money in ICT work in general, to be done by increasing the Chief Information Officer’s power to integrate ICT across government. How cool – and financially prudent – would that be? The Coalition also says it has completed a draft of a whole new ICT infrastructure strategy "including government cloud computing strategy".

And, if they can do it, this would surely totally revolutionise the public sector ICT market: March 2011 should see the publication of plans "outlining a new approach to ICT procurement enabling greater use of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), a much shorter time-scale and lower costs to all parties".

That datum comes the same day that one of the biggest of all our central government offices, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, revealed that it spent no less than £765m, 44% of its entire 2009-10 supplier budget on one outsourcing deal, the Aspire programme being led by Capgemini. The latter, by the way, also picked up a further £2m outside its Aspire contribution, forming part of a very familiar set of names in the taxman’s monthly cheque run, right up there with BT, Cable & Wireless, Vodafone – the usual suspects.

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Any opening up of government to smaller contenders is well overdue. So whatever your politics, let’s acknowledge real commitment and interest here in finally looking to do things differently at state level regarding technology.

God knows, we tried the other way for long enough – and look how little it’s got us.

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