IT organisations batter MPs on outsourcing

Representatives from a number of IT firms gave evidence to a select committee hearing on government IT sourcing today, with a split occurring over how to end the current monolithic system.

Following a number of criticised IT schemes in the past there has been a move to find a new way to procure IT contracts, with many challenges inherent in doing so on such a large scale meaning that it is unlikely a single is method is likely to solve all problems.

Janet Grossman, chairwoman of the Public Sector Council for IT industry association Intellect, argued against the employment of a smaller scale ‘agile’ approach to outsourcing, citing that many of the projects would be in fact just be shelved and left incomplete due to the reactive nature of the approach.

She stated that “if you are not careful it could lead to a never ending change project”.

This was countered by Martin Rice, chief executive officer of software and services company Erudine who said this approach has worked for  other large organisations such as Facebook, and would mean that the government would gain the ability to be much more flexible.

The impact on large firms who benefit from the from the current approach would mean that a new way of working with the government would be needed in order to break up what Rice described as a “cartel” of firms to whom all of the work currently goes to.

“These suppliers talk to each other and know that if they don’t get one deal, another will come up,” he said.

“An oligarchy is not going to disband of its own accord. It needs to be destroyed by changing the processes by which government procures IT.”

Another criticism leveled at government IT procurement was that there is not enough being done within the civil service to ensure that the delivery  of services meets expectations, though it is unlikely this will be helped any time soon with civil service jobs becoming less appealing by the day.

Whilst there is a fast track system in place which guarantees swift access to top level jobs it is not thought that there is enough quality within government, with British Computer Society CEO David Clarke stating that a move towards outsourcing which began in the eighties has left the civil service bereft of necessary talent in this area.

“The problem is that government cannot do it because the skills are not there,” he said.

“It’s inevitable that the companies will want to deliver it, and then self-interest takes over.”

This was also echoed by Grossman who said that the government was in an weaker position due to lack of skilled workers within Whitehall.

“There are very few IT career paths in government. Because so much is outsourced, the government has no choice but to bring in expertise from the private sector,” she said.

Of course with cutbacks across the civil service, coupled with the need to supply the Lords with new iPads and upgraded IT systems, it may be hard to drum up the cash for recruiting talent into the crippled public sector.