Better late than never? IT reforms months behind as Whitehall reveals how it aims to save £1.4bn

New timetables reveal slow progress on cloud computing and IT procurement...
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

New timetables reveal slow progress on cloud computing and IT procurement...

The government has put meat on the bones of its plans to cut the £17bn it spends annually on IT.

Earlier this year, the government published its Government ICT Strategy, which detailed the government's aim of saving £1.4bn over the next four years by cutting the number of its datacentres, stopping unnecessary IT projects, moving to cloud computing and reusing software and services across the public sector.

The strategic implementation plan for the Government ICT Strategy, published yesterday, details how Whitehall intends to achieve the savings, using both new and previously announced coalition IT programmes as well as work inherited from Labour.

The timetables contained in the document, however, reveal how a number of projects have slipped behind deadline, with some schemes lagging more than one year behind schedule.


Datacentre consolidation is part of yesterday's Government ICT Strategy implementation planPhoto: Shutterstock

Cloud computing

The Government ICT Strategy targeted greater public sector use of cloud computing as a means of cutting ICT costs.

Yesterday's plan has revealed more detail about the type of cloud computing services the government intends to use, stating that half of central government's new IT spending will be on public cloud computing services by 2015. Public cloud computing services are those where a business pays a subscription to access a service run from a third party's datacentre, such as Google Apps and Salesforce.com.

The strategic implementation plan has also shown that a programme known as the G-Cloud - designed to increase the use of cloud computing within government - has seen its timetable for implementation slip.

Under targets set under Labour, work on implementing a government app store - a core part of the G-Cloud programme - was supposed to be completed before the end of 2010, but yesterday's plan reveals that initial app store services will not be launched until March next year with some 50 accredited products on the app store by December 2012.

The app store aims to trim government IT costs by cutting the more than 10,000 software packages and services currently being used by public sector bodies.

Rather than each body running and hosting their own apps, the app store will allow public sector organisations to choose from a pool of shared, cloud-based applications and services on offer. The potential savings come from delivering such shared systems via the cloud, instead of building and supporting hundreds of separate versions.

Yesterday's plan sets targets for G-Cloud to save a total of £180m by 2015. The sum is a fraction of the...

Palace of Westminster

The government is planning to devote half of new IT spending to cloud technologies and servicesPhoto: Shutterstock

...amount the previous government had hoped to save using cloud computing, with Labour saying the G-Cloud programme would be a "key enabler" of plans to cut government's annual IT bill by £3.2bn by 2013/14.

Share and share alike

Another money-saving scheme the government has fallen behind on is a drive to reuse software and services wherever possible.

To reach this goal, the government is setting up an electronic register of software and services used across the public sector.

The idea of the register is to allow departments to access information about which software and IT services can be shared and reused.

Under Labour, a software asset register was scheduled to be completed in 2009 but yesterday's plan reveals that the IT asset register will now not be released until October this year.

According to the strategic implementation plan, the register will help end what it calls the reliance on "expensive bespoke ICT systems and solutions" and departments being "tied in to inflexible and costly ICT solutions which together have created a fragmented ICT estate that impedes the efficiencies created by sharing and reuse". Under the plan, 10 per cent of the public sector will regularly contribute data to the register by March 2013.

To increase reuse and sharing of IT software and services, a set of common open technical standards will be implemented across government. A draft suite of the mandatory standards will be published by December this year.

Cutting government IT down to size

Another area where Whitehall has fallen behind previous aspirations to reform government IT is in procurement.

The coalition government originally said it would publish guidance by August 2010 on how government departments should try to limit the value of IT contracts to no more than £100m. However, yesterday's plan said this guidance has not yet been published and will be issued "imminently" - over a year later than originally scheduled.

The government wants to limit the size of IT contracts in order to move away from what it calls "big bang" multiyear IT programmes with a price tag running into billions of pounds.

In order to simplify project delivery, the government also wants to move...

...to agile delivery for IT schemes.

Agile projects are delivered as a series of small chunks over a short period - allowing what is being delivered to be tested and tweaked as the project is implemented. Agile techniques will be used in half of major IT-enabled government programmes by April 2013, according to yesterday's plan.

Plans for standards

Other ways of saving outlined in the plan include creating common security and technical standards for networks, as well as standardising how much each public sector body pays for network infrastructure and services - a project known as the Public Sector Network (PSN). Under yesterday's plan, four-fifths of network services by contract value will be PSN-compliant by March 2014. The PSN will save government £390m in total by 2014/15, the plan said.

A strategy setting out a standardised configuration for PCs and other end-user devices will be in place by January 2013. The plan said the savings delivered compared to each public sector body buying its own kit separately will total £60m by 2015.

The government will also cut its datacentre running costs by 35 per cent over the next five years, the plan said, by reducing the size of its datacentre estate and virtualising servers, leading to a total saving of £160m by 2014/15.

Public service reform

The targets set out in yesterday's plan go beyond saving and also include public service reform. The plan sets out how the government will make public services digital by default and move all government services and websites under a single domain. A beta version of the single government web domain will launch for public testing in February next year and an implementation plan for shifting public services to digital delivery will be published in October 2012.

Government also plans to increase its use of social media to communicate with the public and within departments, with the plan setting a March 2012 deadline for publication of new guidelines on government departmental access to social media.

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