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back to article Official exposes govt IT overlaps

A Cabinet Office official has said the moratorium on central government IT projects has revealed a number of overlapping projects across departments. Bernard Quinn, deputy director and channels lead for the digital delivery team at the Cabinet Office, said that as well as identical IT projects being carried out, marketing …

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News just in....

Government IT projects waste money.

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Re: News just in...

Yes, but you're missing the point. For your average politician, this *is* news.

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Untrue.

"If you can put a form online rather than by post, you're not just saving the postal costs backwards and forwards, but you're also saving the back office processing"

No. You have to support both online and offline form handling, because not everyone has access to online facilities.

That's why online service provision increases costs rather than reducing it.

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Stop

I disagree

If you have the ability to have online forms, and enough people use that instead, then you can reduce the back office staff to a level to handle the now fewer paper records.

Adding online doesn't have to mean increases in costs, and in fact can lead to reduced costs.

I would agree that initially costs may rise, but as people get used to using online services the costs would drop. IF managed correctly. To be fair, thats a big if when dealing with Government.....

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Anonymous Coward

I disagree with your disagreement

You're thinking of the paperless office. Can you hear the laughter?

But seriously, what you need to focus on is creating an efficient process for the results you want, and then pick to the right tools for the job. Not pick the tools and hope that wrapping a process (say, the latest in best-of-breed industry-practice buzzwordy buzz buzz buzzword type) around it will reduce overall costs because of the wonderful tools. Note that with a process well done it hardly matters, in this day and age, whether the initial input and final output is paper or not. So, logically, as long as that matters, you're doing it wrong.

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Because

public libraries are such difficult places to get to, and even then they have no internet access - nor librarians who would help the technologically dyslexic.

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On Line Costs

"Initially costs may rise..."

And there's the rub - once you've budgeted for rising costs, that increase will be fought for in future budgets - have you ever heard of a department lowering their estimates for future needs?

What about the good old local authority mantra "Don't spend it this year, you won't get it next year!"

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Anonymous Coward

Resulting

in reducing access to services in those places where public libraries are open less frequently than the council hall. Of course you can now claim that closing down the public facing form stamping part of council hall would reduce costs though I think those clerks will just be given a different job elsewhere. But the worst of it is that sometimes you simply need to go there and pay every single clerk in the chain a visit to ease your paperwork along. That's the real problem behind slow paperwork: Clerks doing that do what bureaucrats do best.

So, best to split up access to services and processing of service requests; make sure the former comes in flavours that include "usable by anyone" as well as "efficient for the requester", and concentrate on streamlining the latter as that is where the real cost savings are.

If you get stuck looking at the properties of the input and output you're not looking at how the thing actually works and all optimisations and cost savings claims remain superficial make-believe for public consumption. I say I rather prefer savings with substance.

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Anonymous Coward

"[...] and online has a substantial part to play in that."

Wonderful, wonderful. Now, please, can some governmental type explain to me, using small words, to this IT Professional, what does it /mean/?

As a sidenote, the cost of a paper letter is on the order of maybe ten pence for paper, printing, and envelope, and 30-odd pence for postage. With government bulk rates that might even do for first class delivery. So, that's what you're saving. The bulk of the cost, though usually not quantified, is bureaucrat time. I don't know what the average pay for the average letter writing clerk is but the point where the effort costs more than the medium is measured in minutes at best.

By this simple middle-of-the-comment calculation, it should already be clear that cost savings are in efficient office work, and not in requiring /the people/ to have internet connections to "connect with" the government.

And I don't even get paid for this. Quinn, where do I send a nice fat consulting invoice for stating the bleedin' obvious? And no nay saying, you obviously needed that. Unless your core business is empire building instead of *gasp shock horror* actually achieving cost savings through improving efficiency, of course.

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Boffin

AC@13:35

You don't seem to know much about the size of a government form.

It can run 40 pages and include hand written mult-page notes written (or hopefully printed) by the claimant. Staff time *could* run into hours given social security benefit rules in detail (they run to 10 *volumes* in the UK). Failure to provide full information can result in a re-send (back to start) and change of circumstance forms can be as long as the original (and hence as long to read, even though most sections are blank).

The only cost I have off hand are based on the justification for Electronic Data Interchange in industry to transmit electronic versions of standard business documents between companies (popular with car companies and virtually mandatory for *any* supplier that wants to deal direct with them).

At the time the estimate was done $70 to process the *average*paper document, 63c to process a properly integrated e-document into the back end software.

Basically *eliminating* human intervention for normal processing.

Now what proportion of the claimants *need* to do it on line before they can start re assigning those staff to something else (or laying them off) *is* debatable.

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Anonymous Coward

And of course it's me that "doesn't understand". Verily.

Sounds a bit like comparing apples and oranges to me. Who says that all electronic documents are properly integrated? How did they get to be that way? Why isn't that the case for paper documents? Why does a single request need to be that big anyway? And of course, bluntly giving back the entire stack of paper with a "try again" because something, possibly trivial, is missing, is not helpful. It's burdening someone else ("the client") with bureaucratic obstinacy.

Note that your example mostly demonstrates that once you've moved heaven and earth to create something fit for your back-end, the price drops dramatically. But that pushes the burden of creating it somewhere else. And conveniently forgets that doing the same thing for a different back-end might've been cheaper. It's not entirely honest bookkeeping, but great to splash around publicly. Lookit, cost-savings! Except that somebody else now gets to shoulder comparable costs. Fair? Honest? Hardly.

Given what the average government "website" costs, blithely assuming that "going online" will be a large part of the solution to "savings", implying a shutout of those who aren't "online", doesn't smell like win-win to me. Something else, rather.

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A genius in the making

Come on within, Come on without, you'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn.

Government systems overlap, well stack me, I thought that one came out in the Modernizing Government paper, which suggested that there's a whole raft of interactions with the government that need only be done once, and that all the systems should be joined up to enable that.

At the same time eGIF and GITS stated that people should have the ability to contact the government through the channel of their choice and not be forced to use any particular technology, so you can use the browser of your choice, the language of your choice for some things, the channel (Phone, Post, eMail, on-line, face-to-face) of your choice. All of which is expensive, but necessary, not everybody has, or can use a computer, nor do those who can, actually always want to use one. The UK population is surprisingly diverse in its capabilities, and its disabilities.

The main reasons that we haven't seen these systems merged are:

- Public dislike of large government databases

- Data Protection Issues

- Data Aggregation Issues

- DWP won't share with HMRC who won't share with and so on because they, unsurprisingly, don't trust each other with their data.

- Security

- Governance ( Who owns and has the right to change data, who is responsible for ensuring its safety )

- Commercial dependency, just how much of the UK government's IT do you really want in the hands of large IT providers, who probably aren't British, and for whom UK Government is 0.01% of their worldwide revenue, so they don't really give a toss.

- Centralization, the fewer systems you have, the easier it is to bring it all down, or for that matter find it, if you're not entitled too.

I could now go on about digital divides, inflexible workflow driven process management, lets just finish by saying Democracy is expensive, and citizens are unpredictable, if you want cheap and efficient government IT, there's a despot to the east I can recommend, very hi-tech, very modern, very nasty.

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IT Angle

Electronic Forms?

"If you can put a form online rather than by post, you're not just saving the postal costs backwards and forwards, but you're also saving the back office processing,"

Not if you are the tax man. The HRMC way involves putting the form online but then the tax payer is expected to fill it out on their PC, print it off and post it in. Presumably someone at HMRC is then employed to either scan or type the form contents back into the tax system. Another half assed attempt at government efficiency...

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Thumb Up

So stopping *all* new projects has flushed some boondoggles out of the woodwork

Good work.

Now *what* will be done about them?

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Anonymous Coward

You have to ask?

Hire new Highly Paid Consultants to be Project Manager on a slightly differently named "successor" project. What else?

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