Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shared Services for the UK Public Sector 2

@tonyrcollins asks if the UK government is having trouble closing down ID Cards and ContactPoint, what chance 25% across-the-board savings? (Computer Weekly, June 23, 2010)

Tony refers to the latest "Structural Reform Plan" (pdf) from the Cabinet Office, apparently produced in Powerpoint. I have picked out four bullet points that are particularly relevant to the topic of shared services, and these four interact in potentially challenging ways.

3. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Strategy - Reduce the cost structure of ICT in central government, while supporting technologies which increase citizen involvement, and our agendas of transparency and localisation

3.1 Increase powers of CIO to drive the integration and improve value for money of ICT infrastructure; Set up infrastructure for new CIO office and increase central CIO powers; Start the roll out cross-departmental asset register on a common ICT infrastructure.

3.4 i Support Department for Education and Home Office in decommissioning / reshaping Contact Point and ID Cards

3.5 iii Establish IT skunk works team to assess and develop faster ways of developing ICT

4. Driving efficiency in Government Operations - Improve the efficiency of government operations by driving central management of core functions, including property, communications, procurement and project management

4.8 Simplify and take costs out of services; Support departments to simplify services; Support departments to reduce costs of transactional services including putting more services online

There are several conflicting agendas implied here.
  • Centralization versus simplification versus automation as rival approaches to cost-saving.
  • Localization versus central management.
  • Top-down initiative and central CIO powers versus skunk works. (It is difficult to see how a project driven and funded from a Cabinet Office plan can possibly count as skunk works.)
With particular reference to ContactPoint, surely the original business case for ContactPoint was to create a common ICT infrastructure (3.1) that would simplify and take costs out of services (4.8). Even if the original estimated benefits are now thought to be unrealistically high, it would be equally unrealistic to imagine that the benefits would have been zero. So the Cabinet Office is backing away from a commitment to decommissioning ContactPoint, and is now talking about  "reshaping". This "reshaping" is essentially an architectural problem, and a complicated and intriguing one, since those responsible must presumably find a way of preserving or enhancing the value-adding aspects of the scheme while eliminating those aspects that were politically controversial or technically expensive. I am currently writing a paper that will outline a possible architectural approach.

Tony asks what chance of achieving 25% cost savings. The PowerPoint version of the Cabinet Office plan doesn't have these figures. I look forward to the Cabinet Office releasing the Excel version of the plan.

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