10 August 2000 | Cathy Hayward
IT suppliers are due to meet senior government officials next month to discuss problems with public-sector IT projects.
They will attend the first meeting of a forum, organised by IT trade body the Computing Services and Software Association (CSSA), which has been specifically set up for the purpose.
To be chaired by Peter Gershon, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, the meeting has been arranged as a direct response to two recent reports on public-sector IT.
Getting IT Right for Government from the CSSA and Successful IT - Modernising Government in Action from government body the Central Information Technology Unit both recommended that a discussion group be set up to create a climate of co-operation.
"They show that working on public-sector IT projects is not always a mutually beneficial experience," said Gershon. He acknowledged that there was a general industry perception that government departments made purchasing decisions on lowest-cost grounds, instead of value for money.
There was also a government perception that companies made low bids in order to win contracts and then took every opportunity to make money on post-sales services, he added.
"The forum will allow both parties to find out what is causing these misconceptions and then decide what actions to put in place," said John Higgins, the CSSA's director-general.
The government's IT buying has come under scrutiny recently after the failure of several high-profile computer projects, including the Passport Office fiasco last summer. The introduction of a new system lead to long delays in the issuing of new passports across the country.
Gershon dismissed claims that the forum is merely the latest in a long line of government IT initiatives. Ministers recognised that if action was not taken, then the government's e-commerce agenda would fail, he said.
Money gained through improvements would be reinvested in the relevant government department, and not returned to the Treasury, added Gershon. This would allow for continuous attention to be paid to the implementation of recommendations.
He said that although the forum could only advise departments on best practice, the Treasury could withdraw funds from those that fail to make the right changes.
Robert Royce, director of software firm Sanderson MSL, said there were some excellent examples of best practice in public-sector IT purchasing that could be used as benchmarks.
One such example was the NHS Supplies' competition for IT resellers five years ago. It resulted in excellent value for money for the NHS, he said.