Government IT contracts should be more agile

4 March 2011
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Public sector IT contracts should support a more flexible approach to computer projects to avoid repeating past failures in the UK.  

A report by independent think-tank Institute for Government said government projects should be more agile, while at the same time capturing volume spend on commodities, such as PCs, and re-using software where possible.

The report, System error: fixing the flaws in government IT, said current procurement processes in government IT undermined the speed and flexibility of projects in two ways. “First, when detailed specifications are used it can restrict the freedom to innovate. Second, the long timelines associated with the procurement process can restrict the ability to deliver production-ready solutions rapidly.”

To allow the freedom to innovate, procurement should set out high-level rather than detailed specifications to tender. “If the project exceeds the initial scope set out in the OJEU advertisement, the procurement process will have to be repeated [if requirements change]. However, an advertisement that is broad in scope can have its precise specifications defined as the project progresses.”

Government IT should be developed in a more iterative fashion, allowing, for example, software tools to be re-used throughout the sector. This too would require changes to contracting, the report said.

“Government departments should ensure that all future supply contracts could be made to work with a more flexible and iterative approach to development. This should include licensing and supplier-change requests. This review should be led by [central government] in order to avoid duplication at the departmental level.”

The report was published on 2 March and was set to be launched at an event featuring Ian Watmore COO of the government's Efficiency and Reform Group. The study cited the Treasury’s Operational Efficiency Programme report, published in 2009, which estimates that 20 per cent could be saved on the government’s £16 billion annual IT bill without compromising front-line service delivery.

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