UK Government Fails Its First Big Procurement Test
Published 11:06, 01 February 13
As regular readers of Computerworld UK know, the UK government has repeatedly said that it wishes to move on from the past patterns of procurement that have seen the UK spending far more on IT than comparable governments elsewhere. For years the UK has been the IT industry's dream: a rich but gormless customer that believes everything it is told by suppliers, and happy to pay through the nose for projects that consistently fail to deliver, assuming they are even completed. Indeed, the UK government has become proverbial in the IT world for its inefficiency and incompetence in this area.
This would all change, we were told. In particular, two things would change: there would be a shift to giving contracts to SMEs rather than the usual big suppliers with their big fees and profit margins, and open source would be a key part of the strategy. Of course, fine words butter no parsnips, and so we waited with bated breath to see how this would translate into action. Now we know:
This month the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a pre-tender notice for Oracle ERP systems. Worth between £250m and £750m, the framework will be open to all central government departments, arms length bodies and agencies and will replace the current “Prism” contract with Capgemini.
It’s an old-style centralised framework that, says Chris Chant, former Executive Director at the Cabinet Office who was its head of G-Cloud, will have Oracle popping champagne corks.
As Tony Collins goes to write:
It seems that Oracle and the FCO have convinced each other that the new framework represents change. But, as Chris Chant says, it is more of the same.
If there is an exit door from captivity the big suppliers are ushering senior officials in departments towards it saying politely “you first” and the officials are equally deferential saying “no - you first”. In the end they agree to stay where they are.
Now, you might cynically have expected that the UK government's commitment to opening up procurement would diminish as time wore on, and people got bored constantly pushing for it, and the media onlookers moved on to something else more exciting. But the last thing you would hope to see would be the new policy not only being ignored the first time it is put to the test, but being ignored in a massive £750 million contract.
If the Cabinet Office can't even get a token victory at the start, what hope is there for anything to happen thereafter? The signal has clearly been given that if departments kick up enough of a fuss, they can just stick with their chums in the big companies, who will kindly provide them with the vastly-overpriced, poorly-functioning systems they know and love, rather than contemplating the possibility of doing something new that actually works and costs far less.
As for the idea that the UK government might be serious about deploying open source at the heart of its operations, rather than just around the edges, I think we can just forget about - yet again. What an utter disgrace.