J.F.D.I! Why the G-Cloud's original program director still finds public sector IT unacceptable

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan February 9, 2015
Three years on from his parting declaration that government IT was "unacceptable", former G-Cloud program director Chris Chant was on fiery form at the Think Cloud for Government conference.

Election 2015

In 2011, the outgoing programme director for the UK government’s G-Cloud initiative Chris Chant slammed “unacceptable IT” in the public sector in a blistering speech that sent him off into semi-retirement with his Twitter handle of @cantwaitogo giving some hint about his feelings. (You can check out exactly what he said here. )

Today at the Think Cloud for Government conference in London, Chant let rip with Unacceptable 2 - the sequel - and as before, there have been no prisoners taken, with particular opprobium reserved for the Crown Commerical Service (CCS).

In his opening remarks, Chant emphasised that this was differnet to his earlier speech in that many of the issues raised there had been or are being addressed. What Unacceptable 2 is about is all the things that are still getting in the way!

So what does Chant find unacceptable in 2015? Grab a cup of coffee, it’s a long list.

It is unacceptable he said that:

  • Some organisations in central government seem to be ignoring [Minister for the Cabinet Office] Francis Maude’s cloud first mandate.
  • Organisations are still letting contracts over, way over, the two year G-Cloud limit when it has been proven that regular competition trumps term commitment for best total value.
  • Organisations are still buying before they have designed what they need to do.
  • We don’t have data on IT spend in the public sector.
  • We are still only rarely truly working out loud.

Chris Chant and Jan Joubert.
Chris Chant and Jan Joubert

It’s also unacceptable that:

  • The public sector still asks suppliers to “smooth” payment profiles, creating lock-in and a change-control bonanza.
  • Some commercial and procurement teams are still wasting almost half a year on technology OJEU procurements.
  • Processes are being invented to make it necessary to have procurement teams even for straight forward catalogue purchases.
  • Some are still working with suppliers in contracts that don’t allow experimentation and iteration around user needs.
  • There is not a way for buyers and buyers and suppliers and suppliers to openly collaborate “out loud" on the “art of the possible".
  • The public sector is still paying many different lawyers to continually re-invent the wheel for technology purchases.
  • We have broken Ministers promises to pay SMEs promptly.
  • The public sector leadership, especially in central Government, haven’t recognised this is about a change in public service not just IT and is still seen turning to old school organisations to lead their leadership change activity.
  • We have insufficient technology change happening out loud in public sector organisations - bravery is rare.

Then there’s CCS and its relationship with the Government Digital Service which leads Chant to declare that it’s unacceptable that:

  • We let CCS mess up the Digital Services Framework. This is evidenced by the poor take up and low spend. Why is this not with GDS?
  • The CCS old world influence is still seen in new G-Cloud releases and new frameworks like the dysfunctional Digital Services.
  • There is still not some sort of pipeline of what the public sector needs, opening up opportunities to the wider market. CCS publish what they are doing, but every organisation should be working out loud on this.
  • Some CCS-let pan government frameworks still have hurdles that unnecessarily exclude small innovative suppliers and are let so infrequently that suppliers are locked out for long periods.
  • We have allowed GDS to lose the binary cultural argument with CCS about frameworks. Rather than routing around it and making suppliers do the same, some brutal honesty is needed internally. It's not like GDS to duck a crunchy discussion.

No surprise then that Chant declared of CCS:

Frankly that organisation has not been itself disaggregated and rebuilt and led in a manner fit for whats needed by users now. You remain in the way, step aside.

The Crown Commercial Service should be scrapped.

Chant's colleague at Rainmaker Solutions Jan Joubert joined in the call for change:

Surely it is CCS’s responsibility to support this cloud first policy. Because if it is, we are seeing little or no evidence of it. Have you tried finding G-Cloud or mention of it through the CCS website?

We have nowhere near enough new style technology leadership supporting the change sought by new Chief Digital Officers.

We are not propagating [the] message widely across Government. Still too many LAs, Trusts, PDs, schools, universities etc in the dark about G-Cloud and the Digital Agenda. We must support and encourage GDS to do the right thing and go broadly across the whole of government and go loud.

All of which takes us to Chant's stark exhortation:


My take

I wish he’d stop sitting on the fence and tell us what he thinks.

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