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Prime Minister’s advisor wants £10bn taken out of government IT spend

Rohan Silva believes billions can be saved while making improvements to services for citizens

Rohan Silva, senior policy officer to Prime Minister David Cameron, has said that the government can take £10 billion out of public sector IT spending in the years ahead, whilst also improving digital services for citizens.

Silva was speaking alongside Mike Bracken, executive director of Government Digital Service, and Liam Maxwell, deputy CIO for the government, at a special briefing at the Treasury this week to discuss the recent developments in the government's digital strategy.

To put Silva's bold claims into context, the government spends between £15 billion and £20 billion a year on public sector IT (depending on which estimates you follow).

These savings are expected to be made through a number of government initiatives that centre on breaking up lengthy monopolistic IT contracts in the public sector, reducing costs, becoming more agile, using open standards, and improving digital services for citizens.

"It's really interesting to remember where we were on this agenda two and a half years ago. In May 2010 there were 750 separate government websites, there was no Government Digital Service, even basic data about performance of public services and government spending weren't being released," said Silva.

"Over 95 percent of government contracts went to companies with over 250 employees and about 70 percent of IT contracts went to seven multi-national companies. That's what was inherited."

He added: "People are talking about very big figures and potential savings in the Welfare budget, but it's my view that over time we can take just as much out of IT. I think we can take £10 billion out of public sector IT spending in the years ahead, without any change in the experience for the citizen, other than it will get better."

Recent announcements to support these strides include the launch of the single government domain, GOV.UK, mandating all departments to adopt open standards, the launch of the second iteration of the Cloudstore, and the release of the government's Digital Strategy, which looks to digitise hundreds of thousands of transactions across government.

GOV.UK's chief, Mike Bracken, was keen to emphasise to attendees that the required change in government isn't about technology, it's about changing culture and approaching IT procurement with a different perspective - with the end user always at the forefront of decision making.

He said: "I think this is utterly transformational for government as a whole. We have got to move away from the whole framework of IT thinking, and redefine IT thinking. First and foremost it's about the user - IT is about the fourth question you should be asking. The first is how do we make the user needs better, then when can this be done, and how quickly can this be done.

"We have had a major shock to the system, and now we need to recognise that the Digital Strategy is as much about changing skills, capabilities, processes and thinking within government, as it is about technology."

Bracken added: "We will not succeed if the framework of our thinking is technology led, we have got to think about how we change processes, culture and systems."

Finally, deputy CIO Liam Maxwell said that the government is now aware of technologies and companies that can help the public sector move away from handing expensive contracts to one tech giant, which creates an element of lock-in for departments.

Maxwell said that this realisation was helped by a trip to the US' Silicon Valley in California.

"[The trip to California] was about seeing technologies like Hadoop, and companies like Cloudera, that have a different perspective. You could see that people can build and deliver large technology in smaller groups. The days of big programme management, with 455 analysts from a big consulting company, are over," he said.

"This means that instead of going back to the same old, same old, our very decisions about what we procure needs to be opened up to a wider market. To move away from the oligopoly we have."


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