Gov 'must improve anti-Big IT rhetoric'

London city

Government must change its rhetoric on Big IT suppliers and refrain from coding in-house if it wants to transform public sector technology, it is claimed.

Think tank Policy Exchange warned that the new Conservative majority government risks stifling technological reform if it continues the last government's attitude to procurement.

Speaking at an event hosted by industry trade body TechUK, Policy Exchange's head of technology policy, Eddie Copeland, said: "[The mindset was that] it's the big tech companies who have been what is wrong with technology in government.

"The big failures, the excessive expense, [it's been] very much that narrative. It's been highly oversimplified and I hope and think it needs to improve."

Under former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, the last government ruled out deals worth more than 100 million with outsourcers like Atos and HP in favour of smaller contracts with SMBs.

It also created the Government Digital Service (GDS), Whitehall's coding arm responsible for developing more services in-house, such as website platform

The GDS is now pushing ahead with Government-as-a-Platform (GaaP), a project to create common components that can be shared between departments cutting down on outsourcing and legacy IT.

But while voicing support for the GDS, Copeland warned developing these services in-house would take too long.

He added: "Government is creating code that doesn't exist anywhere else in the marketplace, which forevermore and a day they will have to update, maintain, ensure the security of it, innovate and make sure it's always at the cutting edge."

Instead, he called for Whitehall to open up to companies who are experts in their areas.

"There's a marketplace out there, there's great stuff already there, there's specialists who deal with one little thing," he said.

His comments come after the deputy director of the GDS, Alex Holmes, wrote a blog post denouncing outsourcing under the SIAM tower model and encouraging government departments to build their own IT in-house.

TechUK's CEO, Julian David, suggested companies instead needed to adapt and "do things differently" to become better government suppliers.

GDS' director of performance and delivery, Richard Sargeant, recently indicated that GDS is open to using the marketplace to work on GaaP.

Speaking at a previous TechUK event, he said: "This is not something that government alone can do, but something that will require a constructive engagement with the private sector, the third sector as well as all of the agencies and government departments involved in service delivery."

But Copeland argued that GDS must also adapt, however, moving from doing the actual coding to managing procurement which should be vendor-agnostic, according to Policy Exchange.

"GDS has every right to be guardians of the rules, to set the framework and say this is how we want government IT to work, but they should be agnostic as to who provides it," he said.