When the Government Transformation Strategy was launched, it recognised the mammoth task of integrating complex layers of IT systems to achieve change “at pace and scale.”
The organisation being transformed is bigger than most multi-nationals, and my worry is that the timescales and scope of work make this tougher than expected. Add Brexit into the mix and the task becomes even more daunting. The National Audit Office (NAO) says HMRC is evaluating 24 other systems due to the impending legal changes. And Chris Skidmore, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Cabinet Office, says that Brexit will create 30 new public bodies.
The key to a successful transformation will be to break down the silos, integrate data pools across the government and encourage more collaboration between teams. A review Sir Alex Allen conducted in 2015 revealed individual central government departments have adopted wildly differing approaches to storing and managing data, so much so that “the processes have been burdensome and compliance poor. As a result, almost all departments have a mass of digital data stored on shared drives that is poorly organised and indexed…”
So how does the Government place integration and collaboration at the heart of its Government Transformation Strategy?
The Brexit Timebomb is Ticking
The looming March 2019 deadline should be seen as a good thing for the Government Digital Service (GDS). Brexit must focus minds and be the trigger for revisiting how the Government intends to deliver transformation. It will require departments to rapidly evolve their IT systems. There will also be the matter of the Digital Economy Bill, the Digital Charter and the incoming GDPR legislation. A more integrated, seamless approach to data collection and management across Government is essential if Government is to meet these commitments.
I very much agree that “exiting legacy IT contracts” should be a pre-condition for moving forward, but if policy makers are simply going to shift from one contract with their existing vendors to another, that raises questions. Although the Cloud appears attractive there are growing concerns it will end up with a similar total cost of ownership to existing contracts.
Chucking out legacy systems appears to be bundled in with exiting these contracts. Among some commentators it is the panacea to save money and drive change. The recently released DVLA IT Strategy talks about a phased migration over three years off legacy systems driven by a desire to reduce 75% of IT budgets being spent just to keep the lights on. However, one area that is not discussed is vendor relationships, especially challenging them on the flexibility and value they offer. The DVLA wants to reduce its ICT spend by 40% by 2019/2020. Just to be provocative I would say moving to third party support could reduce maintenance bills on existing systems by 50%. I do not see a widespread discussion in central Government of this strategy.
Transformation Requires an “Innovation Agility” Strategy
Transformation will only happen if there is a willingness to radically overhaul vendor relationships. Hard questions are not being asked about the value existing enterprise software vendors provide. I know a growing number of public sector companies are switching to third party support, but Government should provide more clarity on how it will negotiate harder with its vendors. I believe the overriding goal must be breaking down silos, integrating data across departments, and fostering collaboration. This will allow decision makers to use resources, people and time more effectively to deliver the change demanded; what Rimini Street describes as “innovation agility.” As this crucial period for the Government’s IT strategy begins, I would ask policy makers to consider these key points:
- Contracting with enterprise IT vendors must receive more scrutiny: There have been many examples of central and local government departments paying too much for hardware, software and services. A small group of IT vendors have for too long extracted significant value from their customers in return for little perceived innovation.
- Legacy software is not necessarily a bad thing: Organisations should not be hasty to plan end-of-life strategies for every legacy system. Certainly, some should be migrated immediately and some in the near term, but there are existing systems that could easily last another 10 – 15 years, saving tax payers significant expenditure.
- Migration has a price tag attached: Organisations should carefully weigh up the benefits of migrating to the Cloud. Cloud providers are not always transparent when it comes to the potential costs. For example, what happens when an organisation wants to migrate data from one Cloud provider to another? The answer is it comes with a price tag attached.
- Do not allow vendors to play hardball: The vendors are happy to help organisations migrate to newer platforms. It offers them revenue streams and on their Cloud platforms they create the terms, which can be just as difficult break free of. CIOs should not feel pushed into hasty upgrades because they are worried about losing support. Even saying you are evaluating third party support can sometimes be a good bargaining chip when it comes to vendor negotiations!