Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Government CIO: Quotable quotes

(By Anthony Miller – Wednesday, 25th March 2009 8:45am). I whiled away an interesting and, yes, entertaining couple of hours last evening at the ASAPTech (Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals) event hosted by Ernst & Young. The guest speaker was John Suffolk, who, to give him his full title in all its glory, is Her Majesty’s Government’s Chief Information Officer for Transformational Government – but let’s just call him the Government CIO. The avuncular Mr Suffolk certainly put on a good show, speaking without the aid of slides, script or safety net (i.e. Chatham House rules did not apply!), giving his very personal perspective on how IT vendors should go about ‘partnering’ with Government (some would say the very definition of an oxymoron).

The evening was replete with witticisms and ‘bon mots’ interspersed with thoughtful insights into the joys of trying not only to win Government contracts, but making them work. Here’s some of Mr Suffolk’s musings – sort of verbatim, as shorthand is not my strong suit – along with my comments:

On the pace of technology development: “We are inventing things we cannot keep up with” (how true!).

On government offshoring: “I am getting a request if not every week, certainly every month to put some operations offshore to reduce costs” (no question the demand is there if there is the political will is there)

On Cloud computing: “A bit like driving at speed without your lights on in a fog” (I’m really not sure that’s the right analogy but it sounds good)

On the recession: “Recessions are when we see the rise of the next generation of entrepreneurs ... afterwards you never go back to the old ways of doing things” (dead right – we’ve been banging this drum for ages)

On Government outsourcing: The Government is already 65% outsourced – we will never bring that back in house” (so, 35% to go?)

On the ID card project: “The Bill changed 40% from the time it entered the parliamentary process till the time it came out the other end” (This is the crux of the problem dealing with major Government “IT” programmes)

On bidding for Government business: “The average tender process takes 76 weeks and vendors can spend up to £10m on their bids ... this all but precludes SMEs bidding in their own right” (Both these issues also strike at the heart of the problem)

I have to be honest, I’m not sure IT vendors took much solace from the evening as the ‘problem’ of partnering with Government appears almost intractable. Our IT industry association, Intellect, published a paper on this subject six years ago and is still engaged with the Government and industry trying to develop “new partnering models” to deal with matters like handling PQQs (pre-qualification questionnaires) and the involvement of SMEs. Many in the audience asked Mr Suffolk how he thinks industry can move the ball forward, and his almost stock response was “knock on (Trade Secretary) Peter Mandelson’s door”, a solution which rather teeters between being sage advice and a bit of a cop-out.

Perhaps the problem will never be satisfactorily resolved. After all, the motivations on both sides are quite different. When IT vendors engage with the private sector, they have a common ultimate objective – to maximise profits. When IT vendors engage with Government, the IT vendors aim to maximise profits; the Government aims to maximise votes. Trying to find the intersection between these goals – especially when the posts are continually moving – is just never going to be easy.

If you haven’t heard John Suffolk speak – and I can assure you he really is worth a listen – do come along to the Prince’s Trust IT security debate on Tuesday 7th April at the Royal Academy of Arts. For more information contact Jamie Webb, Head of the Technology Leadership Group - 020 7543 1317.

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