A new report published today examining the first year of the government's new ICT strategy, established in March 2011, suggests that while progress has been made, many of the changes made so far have been peripheral.
The report highlights how much work the government will need to do in order to drive genuine change in ICT across government.
The new strategy was established in a bid to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of ICT across government after a string of expensive IT disasters.
"Much of the business on which the public depends – the payment of benefits, collection of taxes, provision of online services – proceeds unheralded and largely without a hitch. [But] there remains concern about the extent of the government's ICT spend, and about the areas that do go wrong," wrote Sir Ian Magee, senior fellow at the Institute for Government, which produced the report.
"The government approaches towards ICT development are rooted in the distant past," he added.
He continued: "A different way forward would concentrate on a shared and strong 'platform' to drive down cost and reduce duplication, together with a much more innovative modular and iterative approach to ICT projects, which we described as 'agile', towards future development."
An earlier report by Magee and the institute had highlighted the need for a "platform" for a shared, government-wide approach to ICT that could reduce duplication, establish common standards to support inter-operability and, therefore, to drive down costs.
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At the same time, the institute recommended the rollout of "agile" development methods that would establish a more modular and iterative approach to ICT projects across government. This would provide early "wins" for projects, while also raising the alarm should these more modest, but shorter and more regular deadlines, be missed.
Although half of all departments of government report adopting agile development, this has been largely in minor projects on departmental fringes and, in many cases, projects have been labelled "agile" without genuinely changing the way in which they were run.
"[Government] CIOs should question whether they are genuinely improving the ways that they are working in areas such as agile, or whether they are just attaching a label to projects to get a tick in the box," says the institute.
"There are stronger incentives to change than in the past owing to the creation of the chief information officer (CIO) delivery board; clear accountability for specific strands of work; the use of the spending controls process; and, strong ministerial support."
Furthermore, these leaders – and government ministers – are aware of many of the shortcomings highlighted in the report and are already starting to address them.
In particularly, the government recognises that it has not produced sufficiently robust mechanisms for measuring the success of its ICT strategy. It also needs to align departmental interests and resources behind it.