Government IT culture a 'recipe for rip-offs'

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28 July 2011 | Adam Leach

The UK government’s “woefully inadequate” approach to purchasing IT led to an average cost of £3,500 for PC desktops, a report has found.

In a candid evaluation of IT procurement in central government, the Public Administration Select Committee concluded a range of inadequacies, such as insufficient data on spending and a lack of IT expertise, has cooked up a “recipe for rip-offs”.

“We heard truly worrying accounts about the amount of money successive governments have wasted on failed IT projects,” said committee chairman Bernard Jenkin. “According to some sources, the government pays between seven and 10 times more than the standard commercial rate. However, it does not collect the information needed to verify these claims.”

The report outlined a number of key failings. Poor quality of data on IT prices and needs was blamed for ineffective benchmarking, while commissioned projects were viewed as too large and complex for the skill levels in place. The government was also criticised for relying too heavily on a small group of suppliers, failing to include IT as a factor in broader organisational reforms, and over-specifying security requirements.

Issuing advice on how best to move forward, the committee called on government to make a number of reforms. It specified that better data on how much is spent on IT across government should be collected to allow for more accurate benchmarking, while details on what systems are intended for should be published publically to enable external parties to assess whether the proposals make sense. The committee also recommended a broadening of the supply chain, ending government’s record of relying on a so-called “cartel of suppliers”, along with an improvement of IT skills and expertise to enable value-for-money contracts for effective technology projects to be secured.

“To address these challenges successfully, the government needs to possess the necessary skills and knowledge in-house, to manage suppliers and understand the potential IT has to transform the services it delivers,” said Jenkin. “Currently, the outsourcing of the government’s whole IT service means that many civil service staff, along with their knowledge, skills, networks and infrastructure, have been transferred to suppliers. The government needs to rebuild this capacity urgently.”

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