Tech vendors to get 18-month insight into UK govt IT spending

Playbook on how to sell into market worth tens of billions

The UK government has published a guide to public-sector technology procurement which promises to offer vendors insight into forthcoming technology spending in the £46bn ($60bn) market.

The Cabinet Office, which oversees cross-government initiatives, has published an 11-point "playbook" on sourcing and contracting of information technology in the UK public sector.

Aimed at commercial, finance, project delivery, and other professionals across the UK public sector, it said that "publishing commercial pipelines enables suppliers to understand the likely future demand across government."

"By sharing early insights on planned activities," it said, "we can expect to achieve wider participation and greater diversity in our supply chains, including SMEs, and support capability-building for the longer term. Effectively signalling upcoming demand across government will drive better innovation and enable the market to respond effectively."

The idea is that commercial pipelines should look a minimum of 18 months ahead but preferably three to five years. It is similar to an approach taken by UK construction. For more than 10 years, the government has published forward-looking pipelines of planned projects and program in economic and social infrastructure. It is not clear whether IT-related spending plans will be collated centrally in the same way.

Introducing the Digital, Data and Technology Playbook, Alex Chisholm, chief operating officer for the civil service, said its main objectives are to take an "outcome-based approach" focused on user needs, not specific solutions. It also wants to "avoid and remediate legacy IT and tackle technical debt", "ensure cyber security to maintain operational resilience", and "enable innovation from continuous improvement to transformative new products and services."

Its other objectives are to "drive sustainability in our environment, commercial practices and economy" and "level the playing field for SMEs to enable economic growth, employment and investment opportunities."

The set of policy reforms sets out how the government plans to assess, procure, and manage products and services in IT. Areas it wants to address include online public services, business systems, back-office systems including finance and human resources, and infrastructure.

The guidance promises that contracting authorities should follow a "proportionate, evidence-based process" to decide whether projects should be done in-house or outsourced, or a combination of the two.

IT outsourcing and contracting is an area where the UK public sector seems to come unstuck. Speaking at a Westminster Forum event earlier this month, Yvonne Gallagher, digital director of public spending watchdog the National Audit Office, said engaging commercial partners on major IT projects was "problematic on all sides."

"We found in large scale programmes that, before things start for real, [there is] insufficient thinking, analysis, architecture and design. Often this is actually skipped over," she said.

Meanwhile, contracts tended to be created on the basis of outline business cases for projects "without a very good understanding of the requirements." ®

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