PracticeConsultingWhitehall IT strategy questioned

Whitehall IT strategy questioned

The government is developing a central Whitehall IT strategy to try and emulate the cost savings and flexibility achieved in the private sector.

Documents drawn up at the Office of the eEnvoy and leaked to our sister title, Computing, detail a common systems strategy designed to ‘reduce the cost of IT, while getting improved output’ and ‘make government more agile and responsive’.

‘Government currently spends around £10bn a year on IT without delivering to its full potential. We should transform government, following key examples from the commercial sector, into a common systems based organisation,’ the strategy states.

The plan is being considered by the Supervisory board of Whitehall’s buying arm, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC). The next step is a feasibility study to develop a detailed roadmap and evaluate the overall costs and benefits.

And the data protection implications – the realm of information commissioner Richard Thomas – are sufficient to warrant a dedicated study of their own, the paper states.

‘Experience shows that the creation of shared datasets in government raises significant policy issues including privacy, civil liberties, security and legality,’ it states.

The programme is likely to be delivered between 2005 and 2008 and could be linked to a proposed new government chief information officer role, outlined by eEnvoy Andrew Pinder at a conference earlier this month.

A common technology strategy is a good move, but privacy questions will need to be resolved, says government IT expert Jim Norton.

‘Unless they crack the issue by engaging with citizens and coming to an understanding about what data is shared and what is not, it will become a problem at a later stage,’ he says.

Cultural questions also need more thought, says Norton. ‘There is a passing note that departments will have to champion this, but how are they going to do that? And since systems usually displace people, how will they be re-deployed?’

Email David_Rae@vnu.co.uk

STRATEGY PLANS

– To ensure departmental business processes are re-engineered in line with off-the-shelf software for common requirements such as office automation and HR

– To ensure the use of central infrastructure, such as the Government Secure Intranet (GSI), as the foundation for future IT projects

– To develop common datasets to improve efficient sharing of basic information

– To create a central repository of IT components that can be re-used.

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