Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Tories to reduce Government’s commitment to large IT vendors?

The Tory Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation, Adam Afriyie gave a very interesting speech last Thursday, in which he outlined some of the Tories plans for major IT projects if/when they get into power.

Regular readers will know of my confirmed belief in the vital importance of true inter-operability, and it was a pleasure to hear Adam’s views on this....

"By using standard data formats, like XML, government can open up the procurement process to the widest possible base of suppliers. With inter-operability, large projects can be split into manageable, modular chunks. The outcome is a more flexible procurement process where it is easier to change suppliers and resolve problems as they emerge."

Then, as if he had been reading my post on How NHS NPfIT should have been procured, he announced that...

"One option we are considering is the use of multiple proof-of-concept pilot projects. If several suppliers are asked to come up with working solutions, they can then be piloted, and the most successful can be scaled up and rolled out nationally. The use of multiple early-stage pilot projects could reduce reliance on a handful of big vendors and increase the proportion of IT budgets spent with innovative young companies."

I only hope that the Civil Service allows this to happen – I remember that one of the objectives of the LA Pathfinder projects in 2001-02 was to involve smaller companies who were more innovative and faster to react than larger IT companies – unfortunately 24 of the 25 Pathfinder projects went to the major service suppliers – some of whom had no track record of LA application software development at all.

But perhaps, given the spate of government IT disasters over the past few years, these sorts of initiatives will have a chance over the next couple of years.

Adam also gave what was, in my view, a very good summary of the current government’s e-initiatives:

".... some worthy objectives, such as joined-up government and personalised public services. But their approach has been deeply flawed. While the pace of technological change was breath-taking, the response from government was not.

Internet access empowers people. It improves productivity and opens the door to self-improvement. But while the internet was empowering individuals to take control over their lives Labour was attempting to maintain the old bureaucratic machinery.

Ministers were mesmerised by the transformative potential of technology but failed to integrate it seamlessly into everyday use

Perhaps the next few years will see significant changes in the way government procures and develops new IT systems – let’s hope so.....

Capita divests IBS R&B unit to Civica

Over the summer, Civica acquired IBS's revenues & benefits unit from Capita - following the Competition Commission's decision to force Capita through a divestment – see Capita to divest IBS Revenues & Benefits unit.

I was quite surprised that Capita divested the unit to Civica as, with Civica's existing base of R&B back office and Comino workflow/DIP customers, it makes a serious competitor to Capita's own R&B business. But as I understand it, Civica were the only credible bidder with the cash to complete the deal.

In practice, I believe that Civica has done well and bought the unit at an apparently bargain price. I'm sure that the indecision brought about by the CC investigation has harmed both the IBS business and staff, but now Civica has a complete, competitive R&B offering – and a good upgrade offering to its existing R&B back office customers running Civica's very old, Pick-based, back office software.

However, I still believe that Civica will have an uphill struggle to sell its now Progress-based solution to new customers – particularly the larger users such as the new unitaries. But perhaps they will win a sympathy vote from those customers unhappy with Northgate's decision to switch off support for the old Anite Pericles product (and unwilling to move into Capita's extensive grasp).

Over the past year I've spent some time with external companies looking at the UK local authority market and considering trying to enter the R&B market by developing new back office products from scratch, but all seem put off not just by the development cost, but also by LA prospects' desire to see three live reference sites, the resulting lengthy time to market, and the possibilities of future central government changes in the way revenues are collected and benefits handed out.

Seeing no potential new entrants, we now must live with the three R&B suppliers, each of them with competent solutions, but neither of them with clearly the best solution, and each of them with at least one major drawback.......

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Back to blogging

As regular readers will have recognised, I’ve not been posting to this blog during the summer, primarily due to pressure of work. But after a very busy summer, including a stint as interim Operations Director of an AIM-listed software company, work has reduced a bit, so I’ll be getting back to posting a few items each week.