I don’t get my shoes re-heeled at Tesco

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, government made an active move to outsource its IT.  Huge requirements matrices were drawn up and each department invited the market to bid.  In the main, a single-source model was used, whereby a single supplier was accountable for the entirety of the IT estate, irrespective of whether they passed on the responsibility for delivery to a third party.  Suppliers lapped up the opportunity.

In the main, this model continues to this day.  Each Whitehall department can name their big IT provider.  And in the main, they’re still responsible for the entire suite of IT services.

But just as I don’t get my shoes re-heeled at Tesco, departments shouldn’t be buying their entire IT suite from a single provider.  The world of cloud has opened up significantly since the outsourcing heyday, and more and more services that might previously been provided by an outsourcing provider can now be offered off the shelf in a cloud environment.  There is little, if any, need for system integration, and all that’s required of the main outsource provider is a decent network connection and a relatively recent and standard browser.  (Unfortunately, neither of these requirements is a certainty.)  If Tesco told me that they’d stopped stocking South American wines, I’d take that part of my business elsewhere.  And I would be responsible for the service integration at my dining table.

Many service providers openly admit—or in some instances mistakenly admit—to certain technologies and platforms not being their area of expertise, their area of competence.  So instead of being forced into a using a substandard technology, or a bespoke offering where a generic one would suit just fine, go and buy one direct.

Government departments need to push the boundaries of their IT contracts, understand where their boundaries lie, and become much, much more comfortable in exploring these boundaries.  I’m not suggesting that things should become a free-for-all.  There needs to be control in investigating and venturing into the multi-supplier landscape—service management will need to be carefully managed.  (That’s not to say that an “over my dead body” from Service Management should not be seen as a challenge.)  But if there are tools out there that can do a better job or can do the same job but cheaper, then they should be evaluated and explored as a viable option.

All too often, contracts are waved as a reason for something not to be done.  And all too often, the conversation ends there.  Instead, rational thought should be used in prescribing solutions, after which point everyone involved—commercials included—should figure out how on earth they can make it happen.

Let’s push the boundaries and see where that takes us.


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