Government riddled with "unacceptable IT" says tech chief

One of the UK government's most senior IT bosses has said that government hasn't "come nearly far enough" in its battle against wasting money on technology.

"Unacceptable IT" is pervasive in the UK government according to Chris Chant, programme director for the G-Cloud project.

Government is still battling against a legacy of paying over the odds for unnecessarily bespoke IT systems and signing lengthy contracts weighted in the supplier's favour, Chant wrote on a civil service blog.

In the 30 years since government first developed in-house IT systems "we haven't come nearly far enough", said Chant, who will leave his position as programme director for G-Cloud at the end of April.

Chant has been instrumental in developing the government CloudStore, an online store where government bodies can buy software as a service, infrastructure as a service and platform as a service offerings from more than 250 companies.

Explaining the slow pace of change in government IT Chant said: "Real progress has been blocked by many things including an absence of capability in both departments and their suppliers, by a strong resistance to change, by the perverse incentives of contracts that mean its cheaper to pay service credits than to fix the problem and by an unwillingness to embrace the potential of newer and smaller players to offer status quo-busting ideas.

"CIOs across government, including me in various roles at the centre of government, have been guilty for too long of taking the easy path. We have done the unacceptable and thought we were doing a great job."

According to Chant these unacceptable practices include signing contracts with single suppliers that led to both poor service and high costs, a failure to use "innovative smaller suppliers", developing over-engineered and expensive purpose-built IT systems and using security as an excuse for outdated IT equipment in government.

"CIOs across government need to recognise what has changed and stop hiding behind the comfort blanket of what has always been done before," Chant said, adding that big suppliers "can no longer rely on delivering poor service for big money and get away with it".

The government has renegotiated contracts with all of its major suppliers, which delivered £800m of savings across suppliers and will deliver a further £140m.

Saying that government departments are "no longer going to have an easy ride" Chant says there will be pressure to break up large IT contracts into smaller pieces more suited to SMEs and services from the CloudStore and to design public services to be "digital by default", a shift that he says "will cause a wholesale upheaval in organisations across government".

To make it easier to for more small and medium sized companies to win government IT work the administration is limiting most tech contracts to no more than £100m and is making it easier for SMEs to meet with government. Future IT contracts will also include more frequent break points to allow government agencies to swap suppliers more easily.

Chant said there had been "real signs of change" in attitudes towards government IT over the past 18 months, praising public sector for no longer being willing to put up with poor service delivery, a move towards "customer-centric" delivery and a willingness to move away from being locked into long contracts with large suppliers.


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.


I have worked in both private and public sectors. The bottom line is that contracting another organization to develop software for your organization is a loosing proposition. I have seen the analysis in both private and public sectors and the result was that eliminating contracting for software development saved money and improved quality in the long run. One example: Contractors developed a software system for $5M over 5 years. When employees started to maintain and extend the system, they found that the entire system had to be scrapped. None of the old code could be re-used in the new system. If your organization is contracting for software development, you are in big trouble. There are unusual circumstances where contractors are justified such as helping to introduce a new technology or augmenting an existing development team for a short period (6 to 12 months).

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

further than ones sponsored by the UK government, literally a catalog of failure. Never worked in it, and unless there's a dramatic change probably never will, so I'm not familiar with all the problems they have, but given how many they've pulled after literally spending billions on them , all I've got to say Mr Chant is "Did you just wake up"?


Just wondering how G Cloud is any different - Buying Software, Infrastructure or Platform as a service. This is just modern obfuscation mumbo-jumbo for buying stuff from a supplier. Infrastructure as a service - A WAN is one of them. As with many things, a funky App store or eProcurement isn;t going to made a sod if difference to systems integration, burget constraints, constan shifting sands of legislation and the incompetant morons in government IT. What is part of the problem is the turn-over in staff, noted than Chant seems to be bailing a few weeks after cloudstore has gone live with it's first offerings.. Do any Exec's these days have an ounce of loyalty these days, or is this the main Unacceptable Practice in Government IT.

Marc Erickson
Marc Erickson

I hope that his attitude migrates to this side of the pond!

info 1 Like

Having done work for and with the Canadian Government in the past, that about sums it up. They've got it pretty easy compared to life in the private sector...

HypnoToad72 1 Like

Most people in government IT that I know of don't like being tethered to one small job duty because unions won't let employees use skills other than what they are precisely hired for. And the lack of training and upward mobility opportunities... I could go on... But go talk to a few of them in real life before making such snap misconceptions. You might be wrong. And as for the private sector: (too many of our own seem willing to bend over backwards to effectively enslave ourselves with lower wages and higher stress... just sayin'... I mean, there is more than one point of view to consider, yes? )

sissy sue
sissy sue

Thanks for the link. It was very informative. "'Job seekers that take severe pay cuts in order to secure a job today may find it extremely difficult to recoup forfeited wages once the economy recovers,' said Patrina Campbell, a spokeswoman for Next Steps Career Solutions." Anyone who takes a pay cut rather than a layoff is really selling themselves short in the long-run. Call me cynical, but expecting one's pay to be restored "once the economy recovers" is like expecting a "temporary" tax to be rescinded. It just won't happen.


I WAS one... Didn't get in deep enough to become 'entrenched' before the department I worked in at the time experienced cut-backs. Yes, they think their lives are so hard and stress-filled. They do about 1/10th the work a private-sector IT person does, and that's BEFORE that private-sector person hits 'overtime' and 'stress'. The sense of entitlement to their jobs is unbelievable. I would have loved to have stayed with them. The laid-back work ethic, guaranteed job security and awesome vacation and retirement benefits outweighed the slightly lower paycheque and played right into your 'we work ourselves too hard' statement. Face reality. These days everyone needs to do more with less and if we 'worked to rule', we'd price our employers so far into the red they'd run back to 'pencil, paper and phones' so fast our heads would spin... Besides, there's plenty of people just as good as you waiting on the sidelines to take your job for 3/4 of your pay, even if you think you're indispensable. The problem is if you ran Government like a business, you'd suddenly have all of these people on the Social Assistance/Unemployment support systems that are basically unemployable. It would cost us more money than it would save.

You can't run a government like a business because there are too may oversight rules attached to pots of money. I work for a small government agency that gets money from several different sources and the rules and compliance reports for every pot of money is different. In the private sector you can just say that person needs a new computer and buy it if there is money. In the public sector you have to determine what pot of money pays for that person and then determine if there is sufficient money in that pot to purchase equipment. That's the easy part too. When it comes to shared resources such as servers and network equipment it is necessary to determine how much a person uses a resource so you can charge that pot of money for a percentage of the cost. It's easier to purchase a dedicated server for a three person office that it is to purchase a server to share across 60 users that are paid out of 20 different sources even though it is more cost effective to do the second option. Then come the audits to determine if we are spending the money correctly. We have to show that we properly spent and followed all the rules for every income source no matter how small. This means that someone has to know all the rules, develop policies to enforce them and then ensure that the policies are being complied with which is a lot of man hours and is a very specialized (because each pot of money is governed by a different regulation). Bill

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