back to article Gov to resellers: Glory bonanza secrecy days are over. For real

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude continues to talk the talk - warning big resellers that the days of massive contracts with even bigger margins are over. Maude said both suppliers and civil servants would need to change. Maude said: "The days of the mega IT contracts are over. We will need you to rethink the way you …

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  1. Jah

    Forgot about SMEs, again!

    Government and Civil Servants are more likely now then ever before to give contracts to large suppliers rather than to SMEs. The Cabinet Office are encourging Departmernts / Agnecies to cancel contracts with SMEs. Government thinks "IT Service Providers" are good but "Management Consultants" from SMEs are bad. Even though it is the SMEs that have staff that could help Government get better VfM from the large IT suppliers. What madness. Pretend that we are saving money by cutting costs but no one cares about the reduction in VfM. Its never been so good for the profit driven mega IT companies!

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      1. Jah

        SMEs

        You did not appreciate the reference to "IT Service Providers". These are the young unexperienced "management consultants" that Government are happy to hire as they are not labled as Management Consultants. True Consultants have high ethical values and want to work to deliver public goods - being from an SME means you need to deliver results to stay in business. The issue is that Government and the Cabinet Office are actually sacking the most experienced external help in favour of the large IT supplier staff. Think about what this really means.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        look within not without ...

        ... thing is, IT staff, even in government, usually isn't completely clueless. They surely do more with and know more about IT systems than those for whom a computer is an EIOF (Excel Input/Output Facility).

        But senior IT management, the so-called "deciders", rather _buy_ external advise than ask their own staff for improvement suggestions. The latter is there to execute orders, not to suggest purchases.

        Agreed that there are some circumstances where external advise is worth the money. But there also are a lot of situations where the remedy is at hand, well-known, even communicated in staff meetings - but simply ignored by those that could apply it because it doesn't come from "a trusted source" - and instead, much later, the same advise is b[r]ought in externally, via "management consultants". Always trust those more that you pay more.

        How difficult actually is it to develop an IT strategy and/or an IT-related implementation plan _together_ with those that will eventually implement it ?

  2. Bluenose
    Flame

    Think how much better it would be if.....

    The following was not so very true

    "....blamed a culture of secrecy for protecting civil servants who signed deals they did not understand"

    Says it all. Poor old civil servants being asked to read documents that they don't understand and agree to them. Says far more about the quality of the Govt's procurement organisation than the allegations about the suppliers that are made.

    Perhaps if the Govt invested in the people that work for it by paying them better salaries (at least commensurate with those paid to people in the same role in the private sector) and giving them the write training e.g. IACCM instead of Procurement they might stand a chance of understanding the contracts.

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      1. Gavin McMenemy

        What complete tosh.

        Having worked in the civil service I can assure Mr Kenworthy that this isn't true.

        Unless you're top grade mandarin in Whitehall.... in which case his experience is jaundiced, out of touch ... and true.

        Just to hammer the point home... these madarins are not representative of the vast majority of civil servants. Regular civil servants are paid crap and treated as such.

        1. Kubla Cant Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Not tosh

          @McMenemy: It looks like your colleagues in the public sector weren't letting on what they really earned.

          The Government's own statistics (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=285) say: "The percentage difference between the median level of full-time earnings in the public sector (£539 per week) and the private sector (£465 per week) widened over the year to April 2009, following annual increases of 3.1 per cent and 1.0 per cent respectively."

          16% more earnings, 200% larger rises during a time of national economic crisis, plus index-linked DB pensions, long holidays, job security. It's a tough life in the public sector.

          1. Justin 15 Silver badge

            must have a title

            Sure, on average across the entire public sector this may be true. An office clerk in the public sector probably gets more than one in the private sector, but when you move to professional services, doctors, lawyers, engineers, IT people, those specific professions tend to get more in the private sector.

            As an IT professional, I nearly tripled my pay leaving the public sector and becoming a contractor doing the exact same job. And my colleagues who left into private industry as full time employees to places like IBM, CSC, Sun, Novell etc always got at least 30% more, at least. Some (obviously the extradordinary smart cookies) sometimes got 6x the pay as a full time employee.

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The sound of desperation

    > We will expect you to be transparent in all your dealings with us ...

    You can almost hear the pleading in the tone of this quote. What he really meant was "Pleeeeeeeeeze stop running rings around our purchasing people. They're only indolent, untalented jobsworths. It's not their fault they neither know nor care about the projects they are responsible for. You should start to treat us nicely, or we'll cry and tell your dad."

    The basic problem with politicians today is that they come out of university (having studied politics and/or history or somesuch). get a job working for a political party. Progress to becoming a parliamentary researcher for a politician, eventually graduate to becoming a candidate themselves and finally getting elected. They generally have zero experience of a proper job and even less knowledge of how the real world operates. As for "business": worse than clueless. The same applies for the "workers" in the civil service. Lifelong pen-pushers who wouldn't recognise a piece of source code if it crawled up their trouser leg and nibbled their knee.

    Having people with no background making decisions that require technical information and a qualified background is just asking for trouble - they shouldn't be surprised when they get it.

    1. Ancient Oracle funkie

      @Pete 2 or should that be troll?

      Why quote the word workers when referring to civil service employees? As a comparitively well paid IT consultant, I have implemented systems in both public and private sectors. And guess what? While the public sector can be a bit jobsworth and staffed by some people who seem to be out of their depth, so can the private sector - SHOCK!!! Both sectors employ the full gamut of abilities. From those who actually do know what they are talking about to those who are just a waste of oxygen.

      As for "lifelong pen-pushers who wouldn't recognise a piece of source code" - why the hell should they? They use the systems, not design them. It might help the procurement teams to get some IT assistance, except governments have been outsourcing the IT departments. So all they can do is either, do it themselves or buy in some consultants. Sounds like you'll damn them whatever they do.

      Far too many people start from the postion of. to paraphrase George Orwell:

      Private sector good, public sector bad

      Whereas I'm more inclined to agree with his ultimate conclusion

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Why quote the word "workers"

        What would you prefer? "tea drinkers" "sick-leave takers" "excuse creators" "facebook updaters" (stop me when I'm getting close).

        My personal experience of the government machine (having consulted at both houses of parliament as well as a few departments) is that nothing must be done without long consideration. No action can be performed without reference to superiors and approval from above. Every possible outcome must be researched (except of course, the blindingly obvious ones - which is usually what happens most often and is expected least), weighed, considered and prevaricated upon. It's better to do nothing than to make a mistake - even when the biggest mistake is to do nothing. All decisions are shared so blame cannot be attributed, or those responsible found out. Everyone must be given a say - whether or not they are qualified to contribute, in case they feel excluded - and those views taken into account and cannot be rejected out-of-hand.

        However the worst part of government is the complete lack of any sense of urgency: either in ensuring that the correct choice is made, or that a response is timely. In fact the opposite appears to be true - the longer something takes to produce, the more valuable and important it ias perceived to be.. While government workers have deadlines, just like the rest of us, they appear to be masters of the loophole. Being able to deliver something that means nothing, where the true meaning only comes out weeks or months later and bears little relation to the questions asked or the practicality of a request.

        When Microsoft released Vista, I recall someone being shown the product and they were told it had taken so many years and so many $Bn's to develop. Their response was "and this is all we get?". I feel the same way about government processes. I can't, for the life of me work out how a 5 page position paper - that a subject matter expert <ahem> can knock out in an uninterrupted morning can take 10,000 civil servants 4 months, only to be so full of fundamental misconceptions as to be useless. So for all the spending on government: is that all we get? Hence "workers" - does that answer your question?

  4. adnim

    Employ procurement staff

    who have experience of purchasing IT services/products for large business.

    Is it so difficult to find people who are actually capable of performing the role for which they will be employed? Perhaps fingers should be pointed at HR rather than the ill suited staff they hire.

    1. Jay42
      Coat

      It's a one oneupmanship game Gov can't win

      Private companies will always recruit and train contract makers / negotiators at a level that Government would find hard to compete with. It's an arms race it pays them to win. Thinking that you can get good terms on a 500 page proposal document that someone else engineered is wishful thinking.

      Gov needs another approach. Possibly open protocols and contracting for smaller jobs to provide component parts that fit into the system could promote real competition, controllability and prevent Mega-Projects. e.g. based on http://www.cdisc.org/ could specify "CDISC Datastorage of 200TB" and connect up to separate "CDISC MRI Scanner" purchase, etc

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge
    Grenade

    The Treasure that is Secured in the Tower is QuITe Divine, N'est ce pas?

    Who is the Cyber Security Operations Centre SME..... Delivering Virtually Active Virulent Programs, Mr Maude. ....... for Special Event Operations?

    Is that a vacant position open to contractors? There are those who would care to dare know.

  6. Eddie 4

    They always want "best of breed"

    How many times have I heard local govt depts say they want 'best of breed" software, regardless of the actual requirement.

    They start with a general requirement, that gets fed into a requirements committee (that usually has someone from Information Management who has a corporate "information strategy" that pushes up costs enormously) produces a wish list that means any "off the shelf" system needs substantial customisation, & they they then appoint the biggest supplier who naturally has the best sales people.

    The then get a bookend system that is so particular to the one dept that it can't be used by other depts (yes, I know of a dept EDRMS that couldn't be used by any other dept), that adheres to the "information strategy" but uses proprietary protocols/api that mean it can't be integrated with other systems.

  7. Hollerith 1

    What is he smoking?

    "Maude said both suppliers and civil servants would need to change."

    Civil servants...need to change... no, those two don't fit in the same sentence.

    I worked for a Govt Dept for about a year. The career civil servants played on the internet all day, some blatantly researching their next holiday, and the work was done by contractors. The manager was actually a clued-up bloke who had clearly lost the will to live. I have seen granite boulders more capable of change than civil servants.

    @adnim: I currently work for a very big company, and the procurement people here remind me of civil servants. Where are these brilliant private-industry procurement wizards?

  8. The BigYin

    Wait, what?

    "open source where possible"

    All the big-vendors need to do is say "Open source is not viable here". The Civil Servants don't have the knowledge to know whether or not that's true. If they did have that knowledge, then they wouldn't have signed such crappy deals over the last few years.

    Not that Open Source is the answer in all cases (nor is it always free, as some people seem to think), but if Drupal is good enough for the Whitehouse...

    One thing it would be nice to see is the government to stop forcing MS Office on schools. For teaching word processing, spreadsheets, basic databases etc; LibreOffice (and others) are more than up to the job.

  9. Graham Marsden
    FAIL

    I'll believe it when I see it...

    ... People who go into Government work have little experience or knowledge of the real business world which is why they constantly get shafted (and, by inference, get us shafted) by wily businesses who create massively unbalanced contracts where all the value goes to the business and all the costs go to the Government.

    Of course it doesn't help when even the people who *should* know better (Alastair Darling comes to mind) sign contracts with massive penalty clauses which mean that it's cheaper to throw more public money into them than try to cancel the worthless contract.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    Lets see....

    ..."Big suppliers have been able to insist on such secrecy as a pre-condition of bidding for contracts"

    Dear Big Supplier,

    there will be no secrecy, so either deal with it or fuck off.

    Yours sincerly.

    Gov Dept.

    1. Bluenose
      Thumb Down

      Bit of Francis Maude approach I think by Lost all faith

      Let's see no secrecy so I am a supplier to govt and won the work on the back of a good price but hey ho no secrecy so lets give all my competitors a view of my pricing that will help make the market competitive. I also agreed to some clauses around limits of liability, acceptance of claims, etc that I normally don't give my customers so lets publish that information as well. The work involves implementing security systems for an important part of govt so we can publish all that as well, can't help but assist the crazies in planning their next attach.

      Contracts are confidential for a purpose and no business big or small likes to let its competitors know what it has agreed to as it will potentially a)make that business less competitive next time round; b)breach competition rules since it could lead to price fixing by companies in the same market; c)increase monopolies by allowing large firms to price in such a way as to prevent competitors from entering the market or competing for similar work.

      The reality is this is a damm sight more complex that the Govt makes out but then again politicians react to and base policy on generalisations; e.g. everyone on benefits is a scrounger even if they are suffering from a cerebral palsy, everyone on housing benefit is ripping off the taxpayer even if forcing a 12 member family into a two bedroom property is reminiscent of the slums of the Victorian era. Instead of going and figuring out the issues and looking for ways to improce what happens they lauch spin and headline grabbing policies that will simply result in a worse result than the current one.

      1. Chris Miller

        @Bluenose

        There's a big difference between a commercial contract between two businesses and a government contract. Keeping all the costs confidential prevents me forming a view of how well my money is being spent, which I believe I should have a right to know.

        I don't see how publishing pricing after bidding has closed is particularly anticompetitive. And if you don't want details of special Ts&Cs to become public, then you don't have to bid for government business. As for revealing information that would be useful to terrorists, that's just silly. I'm hardly expecting to see detailed network diagrams or firewall firmware revisions included in the published information.

        On a broader point, I would expect government to be in a better position in negotiating outsourcing contracts than a typical business. Most businesses will only negotiate such arrangements every few years, when they end up dealing with teams from the suppliers who are able to devote the whole of their time to this topic. It's not too surprising that, 9 times out of 10, the supplier can run contract rings around the poor old purchaser. Government teams are involved in such negotiations every day and ought to have access to people who are just as much subject matter experts as those on the supplier's side.

  11. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    All the civil service's fault?

    So the decision to give a non-cancellable contract to build a couple of aircraft carriers to a ship yard in a certain Scottish constituency was purely down to civil services incompetence then ?

    These contracts never have any political significance ?

  12. JaitcH
    Happy

    All potential contracts should be advertised with a ...

    period to allow expressions of interest, followed by proposals / RFQ's and a public opening of bids.

    This will force tenderers to sharpen their pencils and for competitors to tweak / optomise their quotations.

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