PASC reporting

Having posted on what I thought was the Public Administration Select Committee report under Measure the Outcomes and their publication of ‘Public Accounts Committee – Fortieth Report: Information and Communications Technology in government‘, (which was as it says the Public Accounts Committee), more recently on the 12 July saw the Twelfth Report ‘Government and It – “A recipe for Rip-Offs”: Time for a New Approach‘ and this is the one I actually provided evidence for (being the Public Administration Select Committee)! For all that, there’s not much difference between these reports and any other probably produced in the past dozen years.

There are complaints about the “oligopoly” of suppliers, which I can’t disagree with, but this has been brought about not by the IT but the market created by the legislative body itself. Drafting complex legislation that is then expected to be delivered electronically is a dark art creating a limited field of suppliers, that gets smaller as the suppliers eat each other.

The recommendation for replacing legacy systems demonstrates the limited experience of the committee and its advisors. I’d like to know how many banks and building societies are still running ancient mainframe applications with sweet front-ends pretending to be MS Windows ones, there are quite a few I know of. Without Parliament generating the opportunity for complete rewrites of the archaic rules and regulations they expect civil government to operate under, this won’t happen. I recently berated one major government supplier for their pretend wizzo application that was in fact an old Unix-based one with some smarter screens – it’s requirement for shed-loads of computer power and the dreadfully archaic control of printing gave it all away.

Perhaps a key recommendation is number 13 – “Government should ensure that the IT implications of new initiatives are properly considered near the start of the policy process on a par with the legal and financial considerations. This should simply be an extension of thinking about how the policy will be implemented in practice. We recommend that analysis of these issues be included in all policy submissions to Ministers”.   Hear-hear! That should save a few train-wrecks of application development!

Similarly recommendation 31 – “It is self-evident that the people using systems, be they frontline officials or members of the public are best placed to provide suggestions on how to improve them. User feedback should be directly integrated into the design of new systems and the development of existing systems and processes to ensure continuous improvement. We recommend that Departments exploit the internet and other channels to enable users to provide direct online feedback both in the design of services and in their ongoing operation and improvement.” This again something that local government has started to do, but is as much a cultural change throughout the organization, as a technical one. It was also the main conclusion of my academic research.

Importantly, in this age of outsourcing, offshoring and partnerships, is the 33rd and final recommendation that “Government will need to address issues of liability for the external delivery of Government services. Moving to a model where third parties provide online Government services will require clarity about where citizens should turn for help when they encounter difficulties, as well as clarifying who is accountable for service delivery.” Let us hoped this warning is observered.

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