2013 – A Year Of ICT Stasis?

The next 12 months are going to be a very busy period for government ICT – both client side and supply side.  At the same time, not much will change; it will be a year of stasis.

There is so much procurement activity scheduled for 2013 that the best people throughout departments and in industry will be sucked into writing requirements, managing procurements, responding to requirements, defending existing contracts and showing how it can all be done better.

All of that probably sets up 2014 to be a year of transition – and again, not much happening because everyone will be busy getting from where they are today to where they want to be under the new model.  Transformation may be as far away as 2015.

Some of those happening in 2013 are:

MoJ (already underway and will complete in stages during 2013)
FCO (already underway)
UKBA Border Systems Procurement
RPA (reworking of the Common Agricultural Programme systems)
MOD DCNS (perhaps)

Few, if any, of these are going to be simple “one lot” or “single prime” procurements – this government has, rightly, done away with that approach preferring breaking up the lots so that there is more transparency, reduced margin on margin, more SME involvement and, overall, hopefully better responsiveness to business needs, cheaper delivery and improved performance.  The jury is out on whether that will actually be the consequence, but they are certainly the right aims.

In the old model, these 8 procurements would have resulted in 3-5 suppliers being taken through the main process, eventually reducing to 2 and then to the winner.

In the new model, there can be anywhere from 5 to 10 lots (indeed, there is rumour of one procurement being broken into more than 50 lots so that SMEs can fully participate).  Each lot could easily have 2-5 suppliers competing for it – and so rather than running 8 large competitions, there may be as many as 50 or 60 smaller ones during 2013.  That will be a large overhead for suppliers and for departments – hence why I think it will be particularly hard to make change happen.  Not to mention the upcoming complexities of transition, integration and ongoing management.

Yet somehow, during all of this procurement activity, each department needs both to reduce its ICT costs (ahead of the completion of any procurement) and keep their business and citizen customers happy perhaps by delivering mobile pilots, by adopting simpler security models (T1), upgrading away from Windows XP, supporting greater remote working, meeting new commitments, refreshing old equipment, making good on the digital by default commitment, committing 50% of their new spend to G-Cloud and so on.

As we come into 2014, the big departments will be closely evaluating how these procurements have gone as they ready for their own renewals from 2015 through to 2018.

Saving Money, Saving Lives

The Dft recently announced initiatives aimed at reducing delays caused by accidents. They include screens to surround accident scenes, 3D lasers to map the scene and, somewhat oddly, smartphone apps to alert drivers.

Accidents on the strategic road network alone apparently cost the economy some £750m per year. Worse, there are some 1,900 road deaths per year (2011 data).

Improving the time it takes to document and clear an accident scene is plainly a good thing but I can’t help think “Door. Bolted. Horse. Shut. Stable”.

As I sit in the passenger seat in a car travelling along the M4, I marvel at the vast ineptitude, outright incompetence and sheer idiocy of drivers in other cars. Not for the first time, I think that many drivers should not be allowed on roads.

Rather than clear up accident scenes faster, we need to do something to improve driving skills.

My proposal is that we:

– Introduce a requirement to take a new driving test every 5 years, including a specific test on motorway driving. We’d start with both the oldest drivers and the most recently qualified.

– Develop driving simulators that put drivers under increasingly stressful road situations (that are difficult or impossible to replicate on the roads) and assess their performance under such conditions. Simulators would be used ahead of road tests wherever possible. I don’t see these as being much more complicated than Xbox solutions with steering wheel controllers initially

– Drivers would need to take lessons ahead of each test, including simulator time. Drivers who failed the test would be banned from driving until they passed the test

To my mind, this would have several benefits:

– Improved skills leading to reduced accidents

– Reduced loss of life on the roads

– Lower cost to the economy as a result of lost productivity from delays caused by accidents

– Increased jobs in the driving instruction sector as well as in developing accredited driving simulators

I’ll volunteer to go first. Because something needs to change.