Nobody Knows Anything

Many have already commented on last week’s publication of the PASC IT report, including Dan’s excellent “on the money” (or not) how much does my breakfast cost.  11 years on from my arrival in government I was struck by how little we still know about what things cost  The committee’s report recommended this:

The poor benchmarking of central government’s IT expenditure is unacceptable. Without this information it will not be possible for the Government to advance effectively its cost reduction agenda. We recommend that the Government should investigate the claims of overcharging put to us and seek to identify reliable and comparable cost benchmarks, and collect accurate information from departments in order to compare with those benchmarks. The Government should use independent and specialist advisers and the NAO to assist with identifying objective benchmarking measurements.

I’m pretty sure I was the first person to come up with the “Government IT costs about £13bn a year” quote – sometime in 2001 or maybe early 2002.  I did that by asking a lot of people what each department spent, adding all the numbers together, adding some fudge factors to cater for projects with “known unknown” costs (so we knew there was going to be an NHS IT programme but had no idea how much it would cost; by 2003 it was clear of course – 10x more than anyone thought for 1/10th of what was wanted).  My £13bn would have struggled under the most elementary challenge, but it is, I fear, still a number in widespread use.  More recently I’ve heard at least one senior government person state that this number may be as high as £20bn if you include all of the staff that government retains to manage their IT (and I know I didn’t include those first time round) – one department, many will recognise straight away who, reportedly has some 1,500 staff managing the 3,000 staff that their outsource provider has.  Were that to be replicated across government, I could well imagine £20bn.

It all reminded me of William Goldman’s quote “Nobody knows anything”.  And still we don’t.

We know, of course, more about some things than we knew then.  In 2001/2 we couldn’t figure out how much departments were spending on the web – we relied on round robin parliamentary questions (which suffered, as the price of desktops today, from the breakfast problem) or just by asking.  Now, at least for a bit, we have the annual COI report – what a shame it would be if that disappeared with the organisation that created it.  I still suspect there is something of the breakfast problem about that report.

But ask a similar question – how much is spent on rules engines, how much on ERP, how much on EDRM, what is the average log in time first thing in the morning (ask almost any central department user that question and they will hold their head in their hands so you know you need ask no more), how much is spent on Oracle licences across central and local government, even how many data centres do we have / what is the PUE of each / and how much do they spend on electricity and you will quickly fall short of answers.

And that leads to the better question, “so what’s the plan then?”

Interesting times ahead.

Government ICT Strategy PAC

From the PAC’s 40th Report – ICT in government.

Conclusions and recommendations

1. We welcome the direction and principles of the Government’s new strategy for ICT (the Strategy), but it is very ambitious and short on detail about how it will be delivered. There is a long way to go before government can say it is living up to its claim that there is “no such thing as an IT project”. This can only be achieved when ICT is embedded in departments’ business and government reform programmes have ICT at the core – key objectives of the new Strategy. The following recommendations are intended to help Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) to tackle some of the challenges that lie ahead.

2. The Strategy lacks a baseline or metrics to measure progress. Simply listing actions to be achieved within two years is not sufficient. The Strategy implementation plan, due to be published in August 2011, should include a small number of measurable business outcomes, or direct indicators, to enable government and this Committee to evaluate success and whether the Strategy is delivering value for money.

3. The Strategy cannot be delivered by the Cabinet Office alone – its successful implementation relies on its new principles being adopted across the government ICT and supplier communities, Chief Information Officers and by policy makers in the wider civil service. The Strategy envisages a small but powerful capability in the ERG, which can control and intervene in departments’ projects. To be effective and successfully deliver its strategy for ICT and major projects, ERG should use its new powers selectively and be able to demonstrate that it has achieved buy-in from departments and suppliers.

4. ICT-enabled projects have been too big, too long and too ambitious and we welcome the move to shorter, more iterative projects. ERG is introducing ‘starting gate reviews’ for new ICT projects to test whether projects are small enough and deliverable. It should publish its ‘starting gate reviews’ and other significant reviews carried out over the life of the project.

5. Value for money in ICT procurement relies on a mixed market of suppliers. The Strategy includes an aspiration to open up the government ICT market to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). ERG now needs to set out what the Government will do to encourage more involvement by SMEs, and how it will measure success.

6. The Government plans to move more public services online and, rightly, to stress the importance of designing services around the needs of the user. However, approximately nine million people have never used the Internet, and they must not be excluded. ERG and other relevant departments should withhold sign-off of additional online services until they are satisfied that the service is designed for users. ERG should also continue to ensure that online services are accessible through libraries, post offices or other alternative means. When new services are launched, these alternatives should be well publicised.

7. The Strategy only makes one reference to cyber-security. This is particularly concerning given the move to more government services online. The Government has committed to increase the use of new technologies and sharing of information, which rely on the Internet. ERG should clarify in its implementation plan how cyber-security will be integrated into its strategy for ICT.

8. Government has not yet assessed the number of ICT people it has or the capacity and skills it will need in the future. In preparing its Capability Strategy for ICT, ERG should establish the size and capability of the existing government ICT workforce, including the number of cyber-security professionals, and build a model to help predict future demand.

9. There are no proposals in the Strategy to address the longstanding problems of high turnover of Senior Responsible Owners (SROs), their lack of experience and their lack of accountability. While we recognise that shorter, more manageably-sized projects will help, the ERG should make proposals to keep SROs in post for longer where possible, and raise and maintain their level of skills, in line with the Government’s advice on accountability. The identity of SROs should be available on departmental websites, along with their dates of appointment.

UK Broadband Penetration

How many people have (or could have) broadband in the UK? I needed to know that data – as well as the growth path over the last 10 years – this week. Google pleasantly surprised me. I googled “UK broadband penetration” and up came this handy graph. right there in the search results:

Clicking on the graph brings up a more detailed chart that allows comparison with other countries in the EU. We are, apparently, 7th in the list – behind Holland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany and France. The source data is also available.

So there’s one measure – connections per 100 inhabitants showing 30% penetration. Unhelpfully the next few entries only confuse the matter:

1) Of users connected to the Internet in December 2008, 95.1% are on broadband connections (the rest are (or were), it seems, on dialup.

2) In September 2009, 63% of households had broadband access (that is are connected to the broadband network rather than just have the potential to have such access – not immediately obvious from the text)

3)The UK ranks 5th for the number of fixed line broadband connections out of 33 countries with 18,827,500 subscribers. The US, Germany, Japan and France are ahead of us (who left out Holland, Denmark etc?)

4) The UK has 32 fixed broadband lines per 100 people, above the European average (and already higher than the google search result returned first), as of June 1st 2011. Indeed, between 2007 and 2010, connections above 10mbps went from 0 to 44.8%. One in eight has never used the Internet (Go, go race for online 2012!)

5) Ofcom said on 23rd August 2010 that “UK Broadband Penetration” was at 71%

6) In 2007 the UK was again 6th in a table with the US, China, Japan, Germany and South Korea ahead. Back then we had penetration of 23.1% or 13,957,111 subscribers.

Anyway … I went with the first one.

Yes I do. No I don’t.

I’m very grateful to the Telegraph – they got me a place in the Royal Parks Half Marathon when I’d exhausted every other route. I ran the race the first year but failed to get a place in each of the two subsequent years.

But this time they’ve confused me. They’ve offered me a chance to win a kindle. This is a screen grab from the competition page:

So, by entering I am agreeing to receive marketing spam messages. But I can also tick not to receive those messages. Ummm …