back to article Councils tout £1.2bn for IT whizkid to grab their backend

A one-billion-pound contract is up for grabs as three London councils hunt for IT hotshots to streamline their back-office systems - handling everything from criminal record checks and financial accounts to the payroll and psychometric testing. Westminster Council is spearheading the search for an IT provider that will service …

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"Simple tasks, such as help desks"

I suspect the above phrase will earn the ire of some readers here who have been on the receiving end of such 'simple' tasks!

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Anonymous Coward

Well, from their perspective a helpdesk is probably a simple task, you ring in or email and problems magically vanish.

I think they may be about to discover the difference between a simple helldesk and a properly run helpdesk. May they receive their desired ITIL standard helldesk which precisely sticks to every process and management fad without the understanding that the point of a helpdesk is to HELP, not just complete processes for the sake of doing so.

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Meh

@AC 11:53

The thing about the ITIL standard is that it contains absolutely *nothing* that will prevent you from building an efficient and helpful structure with a helpdesk as the frontend.

But it's also possible to comply with a lot of the standard while still bodging up the implementation so that it's obscure, obtuse and bloody stupid. (This is why the current ITIL standard has an iterative refinement aspect and introduces the idea of the customer's experience being an important factor, I think.)

I generally find that a lot of the hatred aimed at ITIL around here is misdirected, and would be better aimed at the fools who insist that it's possible to set up an entire working support system and infrastructure over a weekend, with no resources, documentation or decision-making authority.

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Happy

Open a book

More time, money & effort to be squandered as a bunch of numpties attempt to satisfactorily explain what they, collectively, think they want; to be followed by another bunch of numpties drawing up complex contracts to tell the first bunch of numpties what they're not getting.

Can I go down to William Hills' and get odds for the winner? Fujitsu, Capita, anyone? That's an easier path to making money on this.

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As per usual

I completely agree here... There are plenty of smaller companies who could club together and make things work for them. As long as you aren't transferring staff from the council this could be done for a fraction of the £1.2bn they are reckoning!

I reckon it should be developed for that in millions not billions! But hey my devs will never ever get a look in as we are "not a big consultancy". Gee.

Hey ho, back to keeping cogs moving in businesses not councils.

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Anonymous Coward

company size

A small startup can't bid for these sort of contracts because they wouldn't get past the financial stabillity checks in the due diligence process.

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Anonymous Coward

Where did he mention startup?

He didn't say he was a start-up. What he did say was that he thought smaller companies should be able to come together to do this contract for a lot less cash.

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Anonymous Coward

The point stands

A group of small companies just can't get through the due diligence process without having previous track record of dealing with larger projects. I work for a small company, we're going through this at the moment. We get most of our work because it's resold by (large three letter IT corp) who effectively underwrite us. As we produce our product for larger companies, other still larger ones are convinced by our track record that we're a safe bet.

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Anonymous Coward

Small Companies and Local Government Contracts

Declaration of interest. Where I've done local gov work, I have prefered working with the small innovative companies, and have regularly been P*!ssed off by the behaviour and attitude of several of the big players. That said......

Can small companies get contracts with local government.

Yes, I've run the ITT for several systems, where the new innovative company got the contract, because they where better, faster, cheaper than the dominant players, and understood what a customer was, but nobody was going to die if it didn't work at midnight on a bank holiday friday and the 2 support staff where in benidorm..

Have I award contracts for safety critical and critical statutory functions to small companies, sometimes, with a lot of very pointed questions asked of the directors, and a lot of double checking of the sustainabilty of the business model, contingencies, etc.

Where a statutory system is in play, for example Social Services functions, on the official questions is, can the 1 man band cope with the government (or court) changing all the legal requirements, and do a complete re-write, before the new law/interpretation comes into effect. (Crapita can get more staff and throw bodies at it, a small software shop can't)

The unofficial question, is can the vendor turn round to idiot minister, and say, well sorry this will take 12 monthes to change, not the 6 you dreamt up in your pipe dream, and that means 200 councils won't be able to do your new law. Want to change the go live date minister? (and yes this has allegedly happended, although it was probably put across more diplomatically)

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Unhappy

Yet another business change programme under the cover of an IT project.

The clue that these councils have no clue is that they want this massive (by most *normal* standards) project up and running so fast when the only way they will cut those costs is by *converging* the separate councils processes (manual and computer) to eliminate all those special cases.

That takes understanding *of* those processes and negotiation, along with a willingness to accept the best process might not be *yours*.

That needs things like *trust* and time.

I smell another trough for the usual suspects followed (*much* later) by the usual report from the Public Accounts Committee ("Badly spec'd. No clear idea of what was wanted. No clear way to measure if they were achieving it. Unrealistic timescales. Poor buy in from senior managers etc").

Call me cynical but this sure smells like the same old bucket with the same old contents.

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Anonymous Coward

And not just the public sector

If it's any consolation (actually, it isn't) the private sector is just as capable of similar cock-ups. Even when you know exactly what you want and can nail down the service provider, you're still handing over your crown jewels to a third party (assuming that IT is a vital part of your infrastructure, which is the case for almost everyone these day). A true story (been there, done that, got the t-shirt):

A large multinational was looking to outsource its IT infrastructure. We got the usual suspects in, but one quote was far lower than the others. As head of IT for EMEA, I doubted that the figures they were providing could be achieved. We sat down with their CEO and he assured us they could meet the price and make a profit. We had some very good procurement guys who drew up a watertight contract defining our service requirements. I was still unconvinced and told our CIO: "you do realise that once we've handed over all our infrastructure and staff, they'll have our balls in a vice". I was told in no uncertain terms to shut up and that if I voiced my concerns to anyone else it would be 'career limiting'.

After a couple of years they announced that they couldn't make any money on the existing contract terms and they were unilaterally withdrawing support for any further changes. We indicated the watertight contract and told them we'd pointed this out at the beginning. They said (in effect): "sue us". Of course, suing them would have taken years (and cost untold millions) and meanwhile we couldn't make any IT changes. Replacing them would also have taken time and a substantially increased cost. Long story short - there's a new contract on 'enhanced' terms. The senior management responsible have been promoted and/or moved on to pastures new (aka 'the next sucker'). None of this has been made public or could be ascertained from published information. I'm sure it has happened innumerable times before and will happen again.

I don't usually post anonymously, but those who know me could probably identify the company (those who still work there definitely could).

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Coffee/keyboard

"psychometric testing"

Well they can drop that useless idea for a start.

That's gotta save at least a fiver.

My invoice is in the mail.

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Flame

This'll end well!

Public sector organisation wants to save money so they bring in a company to deliver services as well as make a profit. It is this kind of thinking that gives both the public sector and IT a bad name, for the record, yes, I work in both.

The tender documents will be written by people too far removed from the coalface and signed off on both sides by bean counters with no idea what any of the words mean but are still impressed by claims of "industry leading products"- which translates as "other councils are already struggling with these and you'll be in the same mess in 6 months".

Then it'll start, the customisation, as council A has to fulfil a need that mega-joined-up-software-package called something functional yet dynamic like syngress currently doesn't fulfil so a contracting programmer will write a work package, this picture illustrates what happens next: http://zanematthew.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/project_management_swing.png

The next step is for the people who originally signed off this brave new world to either be replaced or get itchy feet over how much this whole thing is costing and pull the plug on the funding just as the project is nearing the critical phase. The good people working on the project start to get worried as they know which way this is heading, these are the people who have devoted the long hours to ensuring that stuff may actually work as well as it can do. They've faced the slings and arrows from both sides, made "the business" as well as the implementation team realise concessions need to be made on both sides and progress is almost being made towards delivering a usable product.

Then the migration starts, not migrating data from legacy systems to the new one, the migration of the talent. As funding quickly ebbs away the talent sees which way the wind is blowing and sensibly jump ship whilst their reputation is still intact, when "I'm currently delivering a £30 million project for council X and Y" still looks good on a CV as the snafu hasn't been revealed yet. Once the flight of the competents starts the project is officially doomed, no one on the techie side is left with an understanding of the work of the council or a commitment to make sure the product fits, the people who have been working between the techies and the councils to change processes and help the councils implement the new system aren't replaced so no one is left telling either side that the decision they have just made on that relatively tiny aspect of the system actually has far, far reaching consequences.

It is at this point that the project manager leaves, they have already become semi-detached from the project as they have had to shoulder the burden of other people's incompetence and are now in the cross hairs of everybody. They leap before they are pushed. They are not adequately replaced as we are almost at implementation and we need to save every penny, "besides, we're nearly there, we don't need a project manager now, we've only got to get through the implementation. Almost steady state."

And then we have the implementation, or to more accurately name it, the new systems are thrown over the wall to people like Betty, Brenda and Alan to not use properly as that 2 hour training course they went on 4 months ago has been forgotten, besides, due to the customisations and cost cutting that occurred in the final weeks "that bit has changed now." Then the load balancing testing is proven to be flawed as the systems grind to a halt, local staff revert back to doing things "the old way, cos it works, isn't that right Margaret? This new thing is crap."

With no funding for the implementation these "teething troubles" don't get resolved and the brave new world doesn't get realised, departments cherry pick which bits of the the new systems are used leading to a more fractured environment than was present before the project started. £millions are wasted and then the press can write their reports of white elephants and reports of waste and inefficiency at council A.

Meanwhile the people who make the shocking decisions that lead to the failure of the project are promoted, the project manager is assigned all the blame and the whispering campaign about their shortcomings gathers pace as the ass-covering phase starts.

The provider company departs with a truck load of cash and the public sector body is left with a system not fit for purpose, unable to fall back to their legacy systems, half the organisation has reverted to local systems and the rest are in some twilight halfway house.

tl;dr

Not fit for purpose solution underfunded, under-designed by know-nothing imbeciles is implemented badly, under resourced and fails to meet unrealistic demands. Daily Mail enjoys, IT is besmirched, again and service users suffer.

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You mised something

The people who wrote the bid solution are never allowed to move to the implementation phase because the bid costings use the lowest possible labour rates allocating tasks a level below competancy, to meet the budgetary enverlope and win the business.

Actually the solution team probably costed +/- 5% of reality witht the correct resourcing, but had the above imposed by Sales and Seniour Management through "Cost Challenges" and "Win Prices".

Naturally the solution team who are competant, are not allowed to move to implementation because they are far too expensive, and better used winning more business.

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J P
Coffee/keyboard

"industry leading products"- which translates as "other councils are already struggling with these and you'll be in the same mess in 6 months".

But be fair to them; they never specify where those products are leading the industry to...

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Coat

Here's a thought..

Why not create single (distributed) competency centre, say in the deprived areas of the UK, that provides all of these services so we keep them in the UK, employ UK people, reduce the risk of exposing data to foreigners, upskill UK staff and make ALL councils use that same services thus saving costs?

Why does every Council have an HR department, IT support, CRB check team......?

So what if it is not the absolute cheapest option but invests in the UK.

Mine's the one with the spend UK tax payers money in the UK proposal.

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Anonymous Coward

Why can't public bodies provide these services in a cost effective manner?

Why is it they always have to "outsource" to get a better deal?

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Anonymous Coward

There is a perceived inefficiency in public bodies

Whether that is deserved or not, I don't know, but when I worked in a borough council it was clear that the low pay (at the time, a couple of decades ago) meant that those who could get better paid jobs moved on, and those that couldn't, stayed.

This left the council with people who often could do the job they were doing jut about well enough, but were completely lacking in imagination and drive to innovate, or in some cases adapt to imposed change. All good people, don't get me wrong, but somehow, um, limited (I hope this has changed, but I doubt it).

In this environment, the necessary process changes to keep current will not happen or will happen very slowly. The in-house people are reluctant to embrace change, and soon get regarded as being people bound, expensive, and not moving with the times.

Thus, when some consultant points out the conservative nature of the departments, and say that twice the work can be done with half the people by implementing new systems and practices, the upper management jump at the opportunity, especially when their budgets are being squeezed.

Unfortunately, it is easier for management to trust expensive consultants who appear to have some creditability (even it it is not actually deserved) than to develop and keep their own in-house skill to a point where they rely on them, and once on the slippery slope, it is difficult to stop sliding down to the bottom with a fully out-sourced solution.

This is not only in public bodies, but large companies as well. It's endemic in the system now.

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Anonymous Coward

Real Reasons for "outsource"

(1) In smaller public bodies, yes there are economies of scale that can be achieved by an external vendor, or maintenance of skill issues (classic is provision of pen. testers)

So yes, you can outsource certain functions in certain circumstance, it cost the council less, and the vendor makes a profit for providing the same or better service.

(2) The other "effeciency" outsource activitiy, is the council has a problem (e.g. non-user friendly CIO who only ever gives execuses as to why it can't be done (both percieved and real situation)), so the directors get together and decide to "outsource" the problem. This usually gives them an expensive problem.

(3) Prize Wally and Cockup (et al), send the Uni-Kid they call a consultant around to the Chief Exec, and with no knowledge of the subject, get them to buy into the latest management fad (this case outsourcing)

1 saves money, 2 and 3 are what you read about in private eye or the reg.

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Facepalm

Logic...just not Spocks version

Yes, it all makes sense. Lets blow 1.2bn on something that's worth 30% of that, and claim it as a cost saving.

Because spending money = saving money.

In a related act of stupidity, I blew my week's lunch money on a tiny sandwich at the Ritz for today's lunch, so I don't have to spend any money on lunch for the rest of the week. I'll save money, but there's something nagging me...

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Step one

Define some open standards so that the various tools and departments can interconnect and various modules be re-used.

Whoops! Not allowed to do that!

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Facepalm

Obviously! - you've obviously never worked with these public bodies. Just one meeting with them will tell you all you need to know.

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Mushroom

Jesus.........

You guys (or gals) are a bunch of cynical bastards (or bitches). Surely there must be large-scale IT projects which run to schedule and budget? Somewhere? Anywhere? Hello? Oh dear I seem to be on my own here......

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Anonymous Coward

@FunkyEric

Yes, because you only hear about the failures, no-one bothers write articles about the successes, therefore lots of people are of the opinion that all outsourced IT is a failure.

Sad really, because the sort of people who read The Reg are the sort of people who should have better critical thinking skills, however it seems just like the rest of the 'net, they just love to slag stuff off really.

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Unhappy

AC@13:09

"Yes, because you only hear about the failures, no-one bothers write articles about the successes, therefore lots of people are of the opinion that all outsourced IT is a failure."

Which suggests one of 2 things.

1)The people who pitch outsoucing do not *care* about it's bad reputation as the decision makers do not *read* those stories.

2) The number of *successful* outsourcing operations is so small that the people who run them find they are a *major* strategic benefit and don't want to talk about it .Besides it's better to stay in with the group with "We're doing an outsourcing excercise too and it's hell" like everybody else, rather than "It was tough to get the framework right but it's saved us 20% of our costs and we can afford a complete infrastructure refresh".

In the UK few things are more hated than being successful, especially if its in a difficult are.

It *might* enjoy a better reputation if there were more positive reports which had *independent* confirmation of the improvements they were getting and named the which companies had bungled which project.

HP, Capita, Logica etc they must have *some* specialty or market sector they are good at. A good start would be knowing who can do something well.

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Anonymous Coward

£1,200,000,000 ?

That's £19.35 for every man, woman and child in the UK.

How much fkg processing do these people have to do? And how come so many things (eg: London Transport) worked perfectly well before computers existed? I wonder how many U-boat codes you could crack for £19.35!

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Another project Athena - 0/10 for originality

That's at least six current or just completed government projects called Athena, that I know of.

Northgate has just won one for Police IT, which makes it involved in two projects called Athena, in the Police market,

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Emj
Facepalm

Crapita bash

Ok, I know I am a grumpy old man but can't help by thinking "Noooooooooo, another looking IT.gov failure", especially if Crapita get the grubby mits on one of the contracts. Look at a certain southern IT outsource deal by a council very near Southampton & Portsmouth - 1x day consultancy for a server reboot.

@AC - 24/01/152 13:09

Yes, we love slagging stuff off. IT.gov procurement though is well deserved of a good bashing.

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Holmes

Outsourcing is good

if you are benefiting from economies of scale.

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Anonymous Coward

£1.2bn - they are going to have to let an awful lot staff in London go to cover that bill.

I just hope the back office eventually ends up somewhere useful like the North East of England or South Wales or rather than the North East of India or New South Wales.

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Anonymous Coward

Political animals

Having observed more than a few large IT projects over the years I have to say the key to success is having a client who's own organisation is not wracked with political strife.

Sadly, this therefore precludes pretty much every government project... and no small amount of commercial ones too, but of course the fallout from those is never generally made public....

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Thumb Up

The Brazilian backside was nice, the British one more so!

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This post has been deleted by its author

Anonymous Coward

No...

It was another shot of a sexy woman's arse, it's never a bloke and it's insulting to the men who read this publication to think that we're all the sort of people who snigger and say "ohh, the headline said back end and and they're showing a woman's bum!".

Grow the fuck up Reg, you're supposed to be better than this.

When I want porn, I go to a porn site. When I want news, I don't expect to have T&A thrust at me, it's childish.

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Paris Hilton

National flags ?

Is this really such a boring topic that we need to have the thumbnails of various national flags to get us to click on it?

Worked for me though! which flag's next?

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Anonymous Coward

£1.2 billion? Seems fair.

It's such a shame that the responsibilities of recruitment, performing criminal record checks, managing the payroll, keeping accounts, and supporting Windows/Office/Exchange desktops are just so different between councils that every single one needs to engage an IT supplier to build them a massively bespoke custom solution at the expense of billions of pounds. Still, I'm confident the project will come in on time and on budget, and that private-sector businesses with similar requirements up and down the country are doing exactly the same thing and aren't finding cheaper ways of doing it. I mean, what's £1.2 billion when you have literally thousands of employees to support?

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Anonymous Coward

I know, I know...

It's the sense of... *unreality* in looking at that figure. Even if it was for the entire country. This is not real time analysis of multiple radar signals, it's one more piss-ant accounting/database system for people who count beans very slowly.

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The budget will be blown...

...trying to get the requirements.

Been there done that.

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Anonymous Coward

Daily Fail must be ..

sharpening their acid word processors already. Oddly, local government has not had quite the same set of problems as central government to date. I agree with all the above comments. There is one other observation though.

Now, lets see. A unified local government administration across the entire metropolitan area. We need a name for it. Hows about Greater London- No! Shit! Not Red Ken again!

AC for reasons that must be obvious.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm not insulted

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Anonymous Coward

Hang on....

I'll look up the number for the local Geek Squad

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Anonymous Coward

One Size Fits all vs Democracy

So the proposal is one set of IT systems for 20 councils.

So, what if the voters in Kensington want to be SMS'd when their planning application has been approved, but the voters in Fullham thing that's an expensive waste of money?

Current process, voter tells councilor, councilor tells Cheif Exec, Chief tells IT, IT go "what a waste of money", councilor says "do it, I'm up for re-election, here's the cash", voter gets to whinge to his councilor why his tax has gone up at the next election.

Unless it is one size fits all, there will be no "econ. of scale", and if it is one size fits all, then the tax payers & voters of fulham get to pay for the stupid whims of councillors in Kensington.

Can anybody see a problem occuring?

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Anonymous Coward

No. I can't see that any problem should occur.

'Features' like that should be cheap enough to implement. They can be switched on or off in different localities according to whim. The only sensible answer would be one system for all councils. Anyone who thinks that £1.2 billion is a reasonable figure has clearly never had to deal with anything truly complex or difficult.

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