On July 3rd, 2002 I gave a presentation to a team from BT StepChange – a unit that was created to work on e-government (and, presumably, to make a large change, upwards I imagine). Their web address, found through google at http://www.egovernment.bt.com/, shows only a 404 error so maybe they’re done gone with their changes.
I’d already worked with a lot of suppliers, inside and outside of government, by then and was more than a little jaded. Every time there was a new project, a bid team would pitch up staffed with some of the brightest people you’d ever met, they’d have references galore for all the great work that they’d done. You’d poke around and find that the team in front of you had:
(a) never worked together before
(b) hadn’t actually worked with the clients that were referenced and, when you took up the references informally, things weren’t as great as they’d been painted
(c) wouldn’t actually be available for all of the work after the bid, if they won because, of course, they’d have to go on to the next bid.
Maybe I was naive in thinking that such things would and could change.
BT had worked with OeE on the ukonline project which had resulted in UK government’s second consolidated web portal (the first was open.gov.uk which, whilst loved by many, was despised by just as many – those who loved it were, inevitably, much louder than those who didn’t).
If I remember correctly, BT were also running the Small Business Service’s businesslink.gov.uk or were perhaps still pitching for it during an open procurement.
My jaded self wanted to deliver a few messages about the potential for e-government in the UK and how we shouldn’t mess it up …
Some other frustrations were espoused in a slide with these two bullets:
1.The number of technology solutions implemented by departments for identical problems quadruples every 12 months
2.80% of the money on e-government solutions to date was spent on things that the customer never sees
I wanted suppliers to step up, to make step changes perhaps, by bringing new partners to the table who could work together to exploit new technologies and new routes to market – to counter the traditional big supplier tries to do it all and moves like a constipated dinosaur.
I also wanted suppliers to recognise that there was no need to keep building things that had already been built. Indeed, only today, I read how another department is creating yet another internal staff directory for the intranet. That will be about the 800th, maybe the 1000th, possibly the 95,000th (globally) that has been created so far. They’re available on the web for $99 and under. Buy one get one free.
Of course, the jadedness also arose from the fact that all was not well in the world of government IT as it hadn’t been for some time – and suppliers were definitely part of the problem (but, of course, not all of it). Some press snippings I collected at the same time (April/May/June 2002):
A full five years on, I’m not sure that the headlines are any better. There are exceptions, but if you look at the slide above, you’d be hard pressed to say that any of them were completely false – although I’d say that Self Assessment has long since gone out of the headlines, except for reporting once a year how many million tax forms were processes. That said, I do think much progress has been made:
– Government routinely insists on a “key personnel” schedule in the final contract. Those who were on the bid team are often held accountable through this contractual device (it doesn’t stop them leaving the company of course). It’s a toss up, of course, whether all of those people are the right people to deliver, but it’s better to have a team start on day one than have an empty organisation chart to fill. Suppliers often have to hedge their bets on whether they will win the bid (or any others) and will fill several bids with the same people – their winning more than one bid in the space of a couple of months can really hurt your attempts to establish a solid key personnel schedule
– A full implementation plan is usually insisted on before contract signature is reached, with a very detailed plan for the immediate aftermath of signature (at least giving the delivery team the chance to hit the ground running)
– Detailed risks and issues with the plan are asked for, usually with cost consequences and owners against each so that the government department can figure out (a) how good the supplier is at thinking about alternative scenarios and (b) can see if there’s sufficient contingency in the appropriate budget. That doesn’t mean that the list is comprehensive or that anyone does anything about them, but before contract signature is a better time to find out what the risks are than afterwards
– Default contracts include templated liabilities, liquidated damages, parent company guarantee and other clauses that help ensure that the risk is borne in the right place.