What About the Public Sector?

By: NickCC BY 2.0

We are all aware of the, often glacial, progress of the public sector. Bigger, usually means slow lumbering progress, and government is usually about as big as it gets. Chris Chant, head of the the Government’s G-Cloud programme, addresses the problem in this blog post, calling the current IT infrastructure unacceptable.

With little first-hand public sector experience, I cannot comment on the current situation regarding IT, but if a senior-level insider is calling it unacceptable, I am prepared to accept that. Charges of money wasting are often levied at the public sector, but with IT there is a huge grey area when it comes to making good choices that will stand the test of time. Since time never stands still in the world of IT, and since the contracts we are discussing are so costly, playing it safe has long been a public sector default, hence Chant’s charge of out-of-date technology.

Though there is less of a problem with public scrutiny, the technological challenges encountered by the private sector are not dissimilar to those in the public sector. As we have discussed previously, resistance to change, or inertia, is endemic in many large organisations, particularly those in long-standing, traditional sectors such as financial services. Concerns about the security of the cloud are equally valid in both the private and public sectors, though not an excuse for the level of resistance to this now-pervasive technology.

As a consultant, I do not necessarily see the use of single suppliers as wholly negative; a one-size-fits-all approach does simplify the procurement and servicing processes. However, it is clear that if these valuable contracts do not live up to expectations, reliance on a single supplier over a long period of time can cause numerous problems for the buyer. Better then perhaps, given the enormity and scope of many public sector agencies, to pilot different products and services in particular areas of the country, and use the results of this to decide on a national IT strategy.

Ignoring IT is simply not an option, and it would appear, with the G-Cloud project, that the Government is taking the initiative (better late than never) of providing a marketplace for cloud products that are available to the public sector. This gives individual agencies and departments more independence from centralised contracts, whilst at the same time utilising the economies of scale available to an organisation as large as the UK Government.

I am sure there are some lessons and key points here for businesses as well as governments. Cost effectiveness in the future will need to adapt to evolution of the cloud marketplace. Departments in businesses are already changing the way they consume their IT whether with cloud or web based services. If big central organisations are allowed to succumb to their own inertia, it is likely that they will eventually fall irredeemably behind the times. Better to give individual departments some autonomy, and allow change to occur organically, than risk the chaos that could result from indecision and failure to invest.