I recently shared comments from outgoing federal CIO Vivek Kundra, who told the nation's top science advisers that overly complex procurement processes have created "almost ... an IT cartel within federal government." Interestingly enough, witnesses testifying before a public administration committee also used the "cartel" word (along with "oligopoly") to describe the UK government's reliance on a group of about 18 large IT vendors.
As the Financial Times reports (free registration is required to read the story), this reliance routinely results in the government paying far above the going market rate for IT products and services. The chairperson of the committee believes the government pays between seven and 10 times more than standard commercial rates. It's difficult to determine, however, because (wait for it) the government does not collect the payment data necessary to prove (or disprove) this estimate.
This is a perfect illustration of the importance of metrics. Last fall when I spoke to Mark Tauschek, director of IT research for Info-Tech Research Group, about metrics, he told me, "If you wait until you're asked and don't have an answer, that's problematic." The members of Parliament sitting on the public administration committee are obviously quite displeased with the government's poor IT track record, with the chairperson using words like "obscene" and "inexcusable" to describe the practices that led to such poor visibility into the government's 16 billion (U.S. $26 billion) annual IT spend.
The committee also notes there are few new recommendations to get more IT bang for the buck. Indeed, many of the recommendations mirror those suggested by Kundra in his IT reform plan for the U.S, government. Some of the UK government's recommendations are well meaning but don't seem to address fundamental underlying issues. A proposal to limit the value of government outsourcing contracts to no more than 100 million (U.S. $163 million), for instance, strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction that will do little to improve the management of relationships with service providers.
The committee hits the nail on the head, I think, when it mentions "a lack of effective cross-departmental working and IT governance across Whitehall." More collaboration and a focus on governance among government agencies, in both the U.S and the UK, should result in fewer IT redundancies, improved interoperability and improved project success rates. I've written before about the need for agencies to identify opportunities for joint investment - and more importantly to actually work together on them. Unfortunately, doing so goes against decades of ingrained cultural practices.