Nick Cleggis unlikely to put IT at the top of his list of policy issues to argue about with David Cameron. Indeed on questions like so-called \u2018big brother\u2019 databases, Cameron\u2019s deputy is more likely to warmly endorse his new boss\u2019s oft-stated position.\u00a0 Of course we don\u2019t yet know the new government\u2019s precise policies on every aspect of public sector IT. But we can surely take recent Conservative Party pronouncements as a useful guide for the shape of things to come - and come soon.\nMany of the pre-election proposals are not just sound and sensible but unarguable, at least to those in the know about public sector IT. They include things like: \u2018We will set common standards for data security\u2019 and \u2018We will carry out a transformational redesign of NPfIT\u2019. But others will need considerable care and caution if their intended consequences aren\u2019t to be swamped by unintended ones. To see what I mean, let\u2019s look at three of those proposals:\n(1)\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0 \u2018We will drive better procurement and management of ICT throughout Whitehall.\u2019\nThere is emphatically scope for improvementhere, but how to achieve it? Government procurement must of course be seen to deliver best value for money, and stand external scrutiny \u2013 by the Audit Commission, Office of Budget Responsibility etc \u2013 and quite right too. But IT procurement needs to be quicker, and more focused on value. Yes, IT is complex, but there is no reason it should take over a year to buy a \u00a35m IT system; it wastes time and money and adds little other than cost to everyone concerned. The government has a plethora of \u2018frameworks\u2019; it should start using them \u2013 this would halve time and increase quality. Finally \u2013 the cheapest bid isn\u2019t necessarily the best value. We need to start looking at outputs and benefits. And suppliers need to be prepared to link their payments to them.\nEvery big IT procurement involves a balance of confrontation and collaboration, but to win true value from public sector IT bids I\u2019d recommend a big shift from the former to the latter, with bidders given much freer access to the departmental \u2018business people\u2019 (as opposed to IT specialists) whose needs the new procurement aims to satisfy. There is also a need to increase and spread professionalism in IT procurement across Whitehall, to bring all departments up to the standards of the best-in-class.\nEven more important in my view is the need to shift from input-based pricing (number of person-hours etc) to outcome-based pricing. This means paying the successful bidder for delivery against the benefits promised \u2013 staffing costs saved or productivity gained or (for instance) time to resolve pension tax or benefits enquiries from the public cut. This is emphatically not the same thing as output-based pricing, based on number of users, applications, lines of code etc. It is payment by results, and by the results that really matter. It is excellent that the Conservatives are keen on this approach, of paying for results or paying for business benefits achieved.\n(2)\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0 \u2018We will immediately establish a presumption that ICT projects should not exceed \u00a3100 million in total value.\u2019\nThis sounds like common sense, especially in view of much-publicised public sector IT disasters. Unfortunately, however, it is going to be a difficult idea to put into practice. To take an example: if you are going to upgrade and run 125,000 desktops that are nearing the end of their useful life in a big department, that programme simply won\u2019t be achieved within the \u00a3100 million limit. True, you could split the programme into bite-sized chunks \u2013 hardware replacement, software licences, systems integration, staff retraining etc \u2013 but let\u2019s face it, that is precisely the kind of Sir Humphrey fiddle that our new government will be watching out for, and will not tolerate. And fitting the separate chunks together will probably involve additional integration activity \u2013 and costs. IT systems in government handle millions of complex transactions for millions of people daily. Sometimes they will cost a lot of money.\n\nClearly all big ICT projects will need scrutiny, and the bigger the project the closer the scrutiny. That is surely a principle we can all applaud. But I seriously doubt whether an artificial cut-off point can work in the world of real-life government departments facing big challenges that can only be addressed using big IT.\n(3)\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0 \u2018We will impose a moratorium on existing and upcoming procurements, and review big databases.\u2019\nA moratorium is understandable in an era of drastically tightening purse-strings. But there is another side to the picture. All government departments are striving to \u2018do more for less\u2019 \u2013 less budget, less headcount, less office space. But the almost universal experience from the public sector and from our best companies, large and small, across all parts of the private sector is that the solution to such a challenge is critically dependent on IT \u2013 new investment in IT and in the right IT. So if a moratorium means a pause for thought \u2013 hard thought and careful scrutiny \u2013 then it will prove eminently sensible. But an overly-dogmatic total ban would, I believe, be more akin to cutting off the water supply to a parched land. Sure, it will save money in the short term, but could end up costing a ton of money in the medium and longer term as systems, processes and productivity levels become fossilised in their present-day state. And let\u2019s be realistic; if we are going to make really significant cuts to public spending and retain an acceptable level of service; we will need more and better IT not less.\nIn reviewing big databases, let\u2019s not forget that without them there would be no tax revenue to HMG and no benefit payouts to citizens. The promised review is nonetheless an excellent idea. Indeed, in present national circumstances it is inevitable. But \u00a0there is a balance: we need databases to deliver the basic functions of the state - tax, welfare, public security and protecting the vulnerable. And I seriously doubt government knows as much about you as your local supermarket \u2013\u00a0 where you live, your spending habits, lifestyle choices - even your favourite wine. Let\u2019s keep some perspective.\nTo sum up, I believe that post-election we have a new spirit of realism in public sector IT, and a new opportunity to evaluate the money spent on it against the benefits delivered. And closer scrutiny of costs versus benefits is an idea that all sensible people must surely support. But let\u2019s also remember just how central a role IT plays in every aspect of our lives today, and let\u2019s implement our new realism and cost-consciousness with care and caution.\nThe focus must be more radical than simply cutting the cost of IT; this will not save anything like enough. Rather we must use technology radically to reduce the costs of operations by system re-design. Government must incentivise this by paying for results, business benefits achieved and not otherwise.