by Richard Steel

A new deal for the public sector

May 06, 20094 mins
IT Leadership

Hurrah! This afternoon, Andrew Gibson ‘phoned, as he promised he would, to let me know that the new Public Sector Licensing Agreement with Microsoft had just been signed.

I won’t go into the details that I’ve been itching to report, here, as they will have been reported on the Buying Solutions, and other, websites, by tomorrow, when you read this, but I do want to make the point that I think this marks a step-change in collaborative UK public sector IT procurement.

The agreement incorporates a number of “firsts”, including licence transferability within the wider public sector (i.e. including most of the voluntary sector) and more granular licensing. For the duration of the contract, if anyone gets a better price, we all get a better price.

Congratulations to the Buying Solutions Team – and also to Microsoft, which has now set the benchmark for future public sector deals with major software suppliers to Government. This is the first of these new deals, but negotiations with another major supplier have already started.

Yesterday, together with John Jackson, Camden’s Head of Corporate IT, I met Moira Gibb, the Camden CE who chairs the Social Care Task Force set-up by the Government post “Baby P”. The Task Force was set-up to look at the barriers faced by Social Workers that prevent them from doing their jobs properly. A review of IT systems, which Lord Laming said in his report hamper the progress of the Integrated Children’s System project, was prioritised, and it’s in that connection that John and I were consulted.

I think there’s little doubt that IT systems for Social Care are complicated – both to use and to maintain. As each new piece of Government legislation comes along, new facilities are bolted-on to comply with the new requirements. The systems, which are now far removed from what they started-out as, would ideally have been redeveloped from scratch, but issues such as time pressure, maintaining continuity of service and cost invariably mean suppliers (the few of them that specialise in this complicated market) try to adapt.

It seems that the complication is added to by the fact that, whereas Social Workers mainly work with family groups, the “Every Child Matters” agenda requires child-centred record keeping, and trying to fulfil both objectives entails extra documentation and duplication, and the feeling that too much time is spent filling forms, and too little looking after children.

My Hobby Horse – the need for a single pan-Government security infrastructure – is also relevant, particularly when dealing with disabilities or special needs requiring extensive multi-agency working. Here the DCSF development of EAS, linked to Government Connect is helpful but, again, if you wanted to start-out on the development of well-integrated, secure, effective and easy to use systems you wouldn’t start here – you’d start with a single comprehensive enabling infrastructure.

My own experience has been that Heads of IT have been slow to engage in understanding and meeting the requirements of ICS and CAF (the Common Assessment Framework). Social Services has been one of those services that tended to rely on in-business ICT support, rather than the corporate service, and this inevitably encouraged silo working. It’s an example of how CIO’s and Heads of Corporate ICT needed to pop their heads above the parapet to advise executive colleagues of the cross-cutting and integration issues based on their helicopter view of Authority’s services.

Lord Laming called for a feasibility study into a single national integrated Children’s System. Newham’s own Kim Bromley-Derry, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said such a move would backfire. “It is right that professionals should have quality recording systems and share information effectively. The integrated children’s systems are not delivering for us. Some are working better than others. They are a barrier rather than an enabler to effective work – but experience of national IT systems is not good. The several years we would need for a national roll-out would repeat the teething problems of ICS locally but on a national scale.”

I’m afraid I agree. We need a period of consolidation, to refine and effectively implement current initiatives, whilst working on a properly thought through strategy that enables tactical development, where appropriate, informed by an agreed vision, rather than knee-jerk tactics in the absence of a guiding strategy. The starting point is a comprehensive enabling infrastructure.

Plans for stress-testing Newham ICT Remote Access Portal, which can support 1,000 concurrent users and unlimited Outlook Web Access, ensuring that we are well-prepared for the impact on working arrangements of any ‘flu’ pandemic are well-advanced.

Julie Holden sent me the group photo taken at the IRRV function she hosted at Claridges on Red Nose Day, so I thought I’d post it here. Where’s the waiter’s red nose; that’s what I want to know!