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Taking a dual header approach to government ICT

Mark Say Published 21 May 2012

Taking a dual header approach to government ICT

Government CIO Andy Nelson provides a warning for suppliers, a new twist on data centre rationalisation, and an update on the Cloudstore. Mark Say reports

There is a theory that the government chief information officer's (CIO's) job is not what it used to be. Andy Nelson, in the post since January, is the second to take it on a part-time basis, combined with his role of CIO at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). But he says that he is doing most of the things that John Suffolk, the last person to hold the job full time, was doing two years ago.


"If you spoke to anyone about me as a person you would absolutely hear 'hands on'," he says. "Not in trying to tell other government CIOs how to do their jobs, but with the focus on the implementation strategy and running the CIO delivery board."


He has retained the responsibilities of overseeing the government ICT Strategy, head of the profession and engagement within government, and says it is possible to do this in two days a week as there is now a much stronger governance structure and an active CIO delivery board. The main difference with Suffolk is that Nelson is not spending as much time with the industry or as an ambassador overseas, responsibilities that have passed to his deputy Liam Maxwell.




But the time he does spend on industry engagement is more focused, and involves pressing the major suppliers to play the government's game. A significant element of the strategy is that government should be a single customer, with a consistent pricing structure and the ability to share software licences between departments. It announced the first deal of its kind with Oracle in March , and Nelson says the Cabinet Office is in talks with other firms and hopes there will be new announcements soon.


He acknowledges that people in the IT industry may not be happy with the prospect, given that they have often taken advantage of the more fractured approach to increase their margins, but insists this is how government is going to do business.


"Do they leap for joy at these deals? No they don't. But we're determined that they should treat us as one customer, that we should have pricing across government, that we should have flexibility, to take software licences as an example, that we can move them around across government.


"Traditionally departments bought their own licence sets and like many businesses, public or private, might not use all of them if attached to just one department. So we're absolutely determined to do similar deals."


What if a company does not want to go along with this? Is it setting itself up to be shut out of government business in the long term? He says it would take time, as some software is deeply ingrained in government business processes, but it is a possibility to be taken seriously.


"It could be, the more we make greater use of open source and other sources of provision to meet similar business needs," he says. "As open source becomes more mature that provides more competition for the traditional big software providers."


Hosting centre rationalisation


Nelson is also switching the emphasis on another element of the ICT strategy, the data centre rationalisation programme, after identifying a possible problem with the way it could be implemented.


"I've renamed it hosting centre rationalisation," he says. "There's a danger that data centre rationalisation will just create a focus on having less data centres, the buildings which house the servers. But you could still have the same number of servers that run the same way, and while you save a bit of money by putting them in the same buildings, it's not as much as you need to do other things."


There are three features to the campaign, which is aimed at reducing the amount spent on data centres by 35% in five years beginning 2011. The first is to find savings within the existing contracts of departments that are the heaviest users of data centres; secondly, to get a better understanding of how the data is collected and managed; and thirdly, to set up a new cross-government hosting contract.


"It's early days and we're just getting our requirements out there," Nelson says of the third point. "We want to get the hosting framework ready for use, if we can, by late this year or early next year. That means other departments can start using the framework to secure their hosting needs."


Establishing Cloudstore


He also provides some guidance on whether departments should be looking to this contract or the newly established Cloudstore, from which the public sector can buy cloud services, for data storage requirements.


A new iteration of Cloudstore went live last week, promising better functionality when it comes to searching and to comparing services and prices, as well as the ability to purchase directly through the store if buyers are registered with the Government e-Marketplace.


"The intent of the government hosting framework will be for the big, complex heavy lifting stuff that we do in the big departments," he says. "In contrast, the Cloudstore provides services for smaller, simpler, standardised needs. But there's more for us to do to clarify that and what the market can do for us."


Since it was opened in February, there have been about 30 purchases through Cloudstore, a relatively small number considering it includes 260 suppliers offering 1,700 services. Nelson speaks of it as a work in progress, with another procurement in the pipeline and efforts to make it easier for government customers to use.


He acknowledges that work on building a list of security accredited services available through Cloudstore has been slower than expected; so far less than 20 have gone into the process, against a target to provide 50 by the end of the year. But he says it is still achievable and that the recent publication of guidelines should provide a boost for the effort.


"We've looked at the key services and tried to understand the demand from government in terms of where people would like to place business, and picked a number of key companies," he says. "Infrastructure services is an example where you need a level of accreditation. We're putting people through that process now, but it's not complete for anyone yet."


Digital by default


He is more satisfied with progress in implementing the Public Services Network (PSN). The procurement framework for connectivity is now in place and one for services is to come soon. The Cabinet Office is now looking at working with departments on their plans for adoption.


He points to his own department as taking a lead in striking a deal a few months ago for a PSN-compliant network to upgrade its facilities for the courts estate, and says others are beginning to think about similar deals.


On the broadest scale comes the government's 'digital by default' agenda , the campaign to make online channels the main avenue to services and a key feature in reducing costs and hitting the deficit reduction targets. Nelson says there has been good progress in improving the way information is pulled together and published, and points to the establishment of as an eventual successor to Directgov. But there is still a lot of work needed to make more transactions available online.


Many government processes are still paper-based, and this is one of the failings of government IT to date, given that the government has been talking about the transition for more than 10 years.


Nelson acknowledges the shortcoming, but says there is now a greater commitment, embodied in the form of the 150-strong team at the Government Digital Service. The creation of, currently in its beta testing phase, also improves the capability to support the changes.


The departments have appointed their own digital leaders and are scheduled to provide strategies by the autumn. He does not play down the extent of what has to be done, but sees it in terms of lots of small challenges rather than a big hurdle to overcome.


"You've got plenty of stuff to work through about how you do digital transactions. If you've got paper-based transactions and you move them online, it becomes a different business model, there's plenty to work through and there will be challenges along the way.


"But my own experience is that you will find individual issues rather than something that fundamentally gets in the way."


News : Government CIO warns vendors to accept single government approach

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