Chunk up government IT to save spend

As I've noted in this space before, I'm a sceptic when it comes to economics, a form of betting with way too many variables to justify having a punt on the likely outcome. It's also seemingly a field susceptible to the whims of blind prejudice so when George Osborne slashed and burned yesterday, you either cheered along this bright new face of British politics with his smack of firm government and fiscal reality or you considered him a dough-faced toff with a smackable smug grin. I just idly pondered the Chancellor's similarities to the George Osborne character in Thackeray's Vanity Fair or why Ron Weasley from Harry Potter was standing alongside him*.

Whether you believe Osborne is performing a much-needed task in clearing up Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's disgraceful bedroom (TMDaily Mail) or consider that it's not actually that bad and a turn of the business cycle will reinstate order (Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O'Neill in last night's Evening Standard), a minor but pertinent aspect of the Budget fallout will be what happens to state IT.

Again, this is less of a topic than a planet to be explored but a bland consensus would hold that there has been considerable overrun, overspend and general disappointment on several key IT projects.

Martin Rice, CEO of software and services firm Erudine, didn't hold back in a statement yesterday:

"The IT industry should be apologising today. After years of profligate self-interest to protect the Government-fuelled gravy train, the industry delivered for the taxpayer a host of projects that have run massively over-budget, were completed years after they were promised, or in some cases have totally failed. The vested interests of incumbent suppliers, often masquerading as best practice, have become a straitjacket on government, with the taxpayer left to pick up the inflated bill. The status quo cannot continue. As the wider debate of how huge savings can be delivered by radically changing the way public services are accessed, the entire IT industry has to up it's [sic] game and deliver real value to the taxpayer."  

That may be so (give or take an apostrophe) or it may be, as many other expects contend, that government IT mess is just a more public version of the mess common in private sector IT. Leaving that aside, if IT cuts are to be made with axe rather than cheese grater, it seems likely that an entirely new systemic model will have to be adopted. Enter cloud computing then, and I have heard from a reliable source that the G-Cloud project is being accelerated rather than canned under the new, ConDemmed regime.

My modest proposal on this is that in a cold economic climate like this, a sensible resolution will be to chunk up projects using cloud services where appropriate and erecting some barriers to make larger schemes more manageable. This will be by no means a perfect solution and the price in terms of legacy integration further down the road will undoubtedly be high. But that, as with the likely negative results of rises in VAT, pay freezes and much else, it may well be just something we're going to have to live with. At least until the next government... 

*This on further investigation turns out to be Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.


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