Whitehall wonks need to change the way they buy tech gear
Chant said another problem is cultural – that government IT buyers and their suppliers must change they way they’ve done business.
“It is a challenge,” Chant said. “You are used to doing something one particular way then someone comes along and says wash it away and do it differently. That’s happened to me dozens of times."
This is compounded by the fact strategy often changes in government, so people might be holding off perusing G-Cloud's wares because they reckon it'll be reorganised in the near future. Who can forget years of outsourcing being the new black or the now discredited public finance initiative to spread payments for big projects?
People will change, he said, but over time as existing IT contracts expire.
“It’s not some 20,000-person organisation to change - it’s a six-million-person organisation to change and that ain’t easy and that ain’t quick, so people will come to stuff at different times," Chant said. "This will be an ongoing process of education: they are used to managing a contract in a particular way and as that contract comes to and end they will to think about things differently and manage in a different way.”
The famously plain-speaking Chant, a long-running advocate for reform during his 30-plus years in government, urged civil servants to stand up to suppliers and “do the right thing”.
“You just have to say when stuff is shit and not sit there and let it happen,” he said, adding:
I’ve never had any criticism from people senior to me about what I’ve said and done. People need to believe in their own capabilities and view of things and say it as they see it. We are all users of this stuff, we see what goes on every day. We shouldn’t be frightened about 'who will think' or 'who will say what' or 'what will happen to me if I say it as it is'. That’s lesson we all need to learn.
“We need to work iteratively across policy and process as well as technology. It’s not about setting a path in IT for three years and define it in such a tight way when you know it’s going to change," Chant said. "We need to flex when things flex. Services we can’t see today will start to appear when there’s a demand for them."
He also indicated G-Cloud might become the default option for picking IT suppliers. Right now, it’s not mandatory for government users to purchase through the framework and so far there’s been a lot of early interest but low sales.
He was tightlipped on whether the government would eventually make G-Cloud and Cloudstore mandatory, but noted simply: “Increasingly as everybody has to get their IT approved centrally now and increasingly the question is being asked: Have you looked on G-Cloud and what is there on G-Cloud to do this?” ®