David Cameron

RT @ITprofligate http://ping.fm/rwWIu election UK politics conservative labour here is part one
In case you can't see it on conjoint.bis here it is.

David Cameron
Published on Friday, April 9th 2010. Edited by Lab Zipzipace. tag

1. Reasons for this note.
2. Principal Issues, Savings and Leverage.
3. Remedies:Approaches to detoxification of the supply chain.
4. Ministerial Interference.
5. A Crack Team.
6. Pragmatic Remedies:A Team Remit.


Reasons for this note
Cuts are being measured in billions, perhaps an additional £12bn to the already project £15bn in the first year of a Conservative government. £2bn is forecast to come out of the Civil Service in the first year.
£3bn in renegotiated contracts of supply and a similar figure on discretionary spending, that is on consultants.
The remaining tranche is largely in IT spending, the figure given as between £2bn and £4bn.
I can only write about what I have view of and what I can extrapolate from that view.
The project I have view of, like any sizeable public sector IT project, should have been a flag ship project to the highest of standards.
I can affirm that it was actually shamefully lacking in standards and of very poor quality.
However, before entering into any of that detail or possible remedies it is necessary to understand the context, that of ensuing severe cuts.
These represent both an opportunity and a danger from the point of view of wanting to ensure standards.

Principal Issues, Savings and Leverage

There are two principle issues.

2.1. The amount of savings I can predict.
2.2. Whether those savings can be meaningfully leveraged.

2.1. I have said that savings could be in the order of 90% - 95% of what is being charged in software development. Let us assume that the project of which I had view was atypical. Nevertheless I realistically anticipate the possibility of 50% reductions. This means that for, effectively the same outcome, the cost would be 50%.
2.2. Leverage is more complex. It is necessary to inspect the reasons for the huge and wasteful overspending as at the moment. Unfortunately space does not allow.
One of the reasons for overspend has been that what can be saved on projects compared to the savings the project is making does not warrant the perceived risk of tightening the spend.
I do not agree with that calculation, but I do agree that the ratio of saving in one area is not commensurate with that in the other, unless it can be leveraged.

The whole of what I propose rests, therefore, on this possibility of leverage.
Discussions abound about the appalling failings in public sector IT procurement and what, reasonably, might be done about it.

3. Remedies:Approaches to detoxification of the supply chain.

A firm commitment must be made to the answer to this issue: _Is centralised control effective and if not would decentralised control be a remedy?_

The following illustrates common public exchanges in this area.

The Operational Efficiency Programme (OEP) stated that the public sector could trim around 20 percent of its current £16 billion annual spend on IT by 2014.

As well as making commitments to energy efficiency and cloud technology, the government also reiterated plans to champion open source software and open standards and avoid proprietary lock-in.

However Mark Taylor founder of the Open Source Consortium is quoted as saying:-

“I was very closely involved with Birmingham at the start (I resigned from the ‘Open Source Academy‘ when I saw what was happening) and it was a shameful project [sic]”.

from eweekeurope

Here we have a representative of a market segment pointing out that aside from buzzwords, the current government is doing little substantial to make good their commitments to his segment (Open Source).

4. Ministerial Interference. This story also illustrates another extremely important feature:Ministerial interference. It is an extraordinary fact that Ministers can interfere in processes that end up costing the exchequer billions and that the only redress the tax payer has is in the election ballot. .....
Opportunity one
This is one of the opportunities that cuts in spending represents. Once a clear process is arrived at Ministers will not be greatly interested in further interference.

5. A Crack Team. Others recommend gathering a team of experts to assess claims from competing sectors for their potential savings and steer through changes.
While this is the approach I favour, using a team that comprises more legal experts and economists able to assess impact than IT experts partisan to a particular approach, any such team must come up against fundamental obstacles both in their ability to make objective assessment and their ability to deliver changes.

6. Pragmatic Remedies:A Team Remit. A more pragmatic solution might be to have a succession of teams set up that would report back to central.
Each team should have a very clear remit.

I outline the remit below.

1. dismantling of reliance on large suppliers.
2. scrutinising contractual obligations and finding points of non-fulfilment.
3. in conjunction with 2. wholesale renegotiation of contracts that cannot be terminated.
4. concentrate on de-scoping large projects into far smaller cooperating units.
5. create a component database and monitor supply costs against key elements.
6. emphasise the technology for cooperation and reporting.

Further Discussion It is only with the last two points that I can make a contribution on the basis of my own expertise. With regard point 5. I have been told that, because of the way the Government has formed its contract with its suppliers, a simple but necessary operation needed in the intercommunication space, a few hours work, can be charged out at £100,000.
This area needs an urgent and very vigorous review. It is certain that contracts have to be substantially renegotiated or broken here.
Opportunity two
If the technology deployed in the IT engine of businesslink supplied by Serco PLC is anything to go by, not only has money been wasted but opportunity to embrace new technologies that can truly be leveraged has been squandered.
Good things have general benefits that include cost savings, but also the pulling up of skills, a benefit in an entirely different area.

I believe this has been a deliberate policy on the part of the large suppliers to make their systems closed and, therefore very expensive to interact with the systems of others.
Technology can be designed to facilitate systems intercommunication and the general thrust in Software Engineering is to embrace the smaller, separately steerable model.
Thinking of each project as a boat on the English Channel is a good metaphor. There couldn't be just a few big boats on the channel, as each has its own purpose and separate destination. But they do communicate with each other and with central. Just as these ships could open up greater channels of communication with one another so should each IT module have this ability. At the moment this is not the case.

Two final points.

1. Size. My estimate is that the optimum size of these modules by value would be between £500,000 and £5 million.
Very much smaller than current thinking.
2. Retrofitting.
The final issue is whether the necessary intercommunication between module elements can be retro-fitted. In other words is it possible to break down existing projects?
The answer to this is that it is and it would also be necessary to realise the benefits.
One major area this touches on the complex issue of open source in relation to Crown work.
The ultimate aim is to invigorate the supply chain and promote a very vigorous ecosystem.