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Operational inefficiency programme

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 at 6:08 pm Written by:

Hunting around in the background to the suspicious Total Place Initiative, I found this Operational Efficiency Programme, deposited on the HM Treasury website in December 2009.

It builds on the “2004 Spending Review on the efficiency programme” that made the somewhat dubious claim to have saved £26.5billion in IT and other savings, and contains a mish-mash of reports that don’t make a lot of sense (particularly the Asset Portfolio report).

I’m here to talk about their Operational Efficiency Programme: Back Office Operations and IT Final Report (PDF 1.3MB) (106 pages) document.

What was the scope of this Operational Efficiency report?

The scope of the programme includes all organisations within the public sector, including central government and its agencies, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), local government, the NHS, police and education sector.

The term “back office” comprises the full range of operations that provide support to the frontline delivery of services, including finance, HR, estates management, procurement, legal services, travel services and marketing and communications.

The term “IT” comprises the full range of IT spend, including hardware, software, IT support and major IT-enabled change projects. For consistency, the term “IT” is used throughout this report, but this refers to the full range of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

What does this report contain?

Quite a lot of waffle, without ever mentioning any specific spectacular IT collapse, such as the largest single IT procurement in the world (the £12.6billion NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT)) which is finally getting cut at the same time as earlier participants in this sorry saga are being pursued for criminal procedings.

Who wrote the report?

The report was written by the millionaire former chief executive of Logica — one of the many IT corporations to profit handsomly from the never-ending government mismanagement of IT projects.

Logica featured in this blog last year as part of the over-priced and failing Electonic Document Management System for HM Court Service.

The arrangement seemed to be that PA Consulting were given loads of money to draw up a “feasibility study” that made no mention of open source solutions (if you don’t mention it, you don’t need to lie about how it would be less good), and Logica was given another load of money to arrange the procurement of the project, which would be built with even more money from someone else who would own the Intellectual Property Rights because they were “best placed to exploit those rights” — usually by charging the government for use of them again.

All highly inefficient for the government and the public, but extremely lucrative for the contractors. The chairman of such a company is exactly the sort of expert you’d hire to run an efficiency review into the system — NOT!.

What case does the report say?

Without getting into any of the specifics (like naming any of the numerous IT failures and identifying lessons learned), the report makes the case that there are a lot of savings that could be made to the government’s annual £18.4billion IT spend, using a diagram such as this:

In other words, compared to other countries in the world, it is obvious that we’re paying a hell of a lot more and getting a whole lot less.

The report’s author makes a conservative estimate of a 20% saving to be had, or approximately £3.2billion.

What does the report recommend?

More! Of! The! Same! Old! Crap!

The programme has developed a suite of recommendations to enable public sector organisations to address these issues and to assist in the process of delivering the targeted savings. In summary, these are to:

  • improve the collection, reporting, benchmarking and review of data on IT spend across the public sector;
  • strengthen the governance of IT-enabled change projects;
  • strengthen Gateway assurance processes for all IT-enabled change projects;
  • implement portfolio management processes to prioritise projects and resources and to reduce overlap and duplication in IT-enabled change projects;
  • promote greater standardisation and simplification of IT systems, desktops, infrastructure and applications across the public sector; and
  • develop the internal IT capability within the public sector and continue to professionalise the IT function.

Well, “developing internal IT capability within the public sector” is a good idea, except that the technicians (who actually understand and do the work) keep being outsourced into the contractors, rather than being retained by the government. It’s not that the government doesn’t pay enough, it’s that they will only pay for managers, at up to £200-300k for their “services”.

The phrase “open source” occurs just once in this worthless 106 page document.

But that’s not all.

You would think that when a report illustrates 45% of potential savings in IT spend in comparison to other nations, it might for a moment cast its eyes over what those other countries are doing that is different!.

France showed up pretty well on the graphic above. I wonder what they have been up to.

From November 2001:

European open-source enthusiasts are welcoming moves by French officials to encourage the use of open standards and open-source software in electronic-government applications.

“Many countries do open source, but only France has issued a government order which says that we should implement open source whenever possible,” said spokesman Jean-Paul Smets of the EuroLinux Alliance, a group that boosts open source and the Linux operating system. “What is going to be compulsory is the open standards, and open source is going to be a recommendation.”

From September 2009:

Almost the entire public sector, 96 percent, is using open source, says a French market survey. The most used applications are database management systems and content management systems.

A research firm, Markness, presented a summary of its report on the use of open source in France on 17 September in Paris…

Next to running databases and web sites, open source is mostly used for IT administration. Markness expects that in 2011 some 63 percent of firms and organisations will use open source office applications.

The major reason for using open source is that the products are mature, replied 77 percent of the participants to the survey. Second most heard argument, at 67 percent, is that it offers independence from IT suppliers. Interoperability and the development of public policies are reasons given by 48 and 43 percent of the participants.


That’s an easy hypothesis to raise.

But if you don’t even consider it, then it’s not necessary to strike it down.

Unlike many folks, I think a policy where the government is forced to “consider” open source for any IT project would be a major step forward, because I have never seen it happen. And looking abroad for how other governments have solved the same IT problems should always be the rule.

1 Comment

  • 1. Freesteel&hellip replies at 18th March 2010, 12:36 pm :

    […] this was confirmed in not so many words by Operational Efficiency Programme (the fore-runner of Total Place) where […]

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