How much should a DNS change cost?

Ten or so years ago, the trend in government was to outsource IT. It was perceived that government should focus on its remit—policy-making and serving the UK people—as opposed to worrying about the IT systems needed to support these tasks.

So now, the majority of the Whitehall Departments have a largely single-sourced model. HMRC is supported by Capgemini (under its Aspire branding); Defra by IBM; the Cabinet Office by Fujitsu, and so on. And these deals can last anywhere from five years upwards.

This is great. It means that the civil servants can focus on the task at hand, while IT support is at the end of a phone line, and the blame for glitches in high-profile IT problems can be outsourced to the private sector. Except it’s not that great.

A single-source model sounds wonderful. There’s never any doubt as to who to go to when you have a problem or indeed a requirement. But the problem is that this comes at a price. The largely Tier 1 suppliers enjoy the luxury of operating in what is effectively a monopolistic market for the term of the contract. And for this reason, prices go up. I heard only the other day of a large IT provider charging £28,000 (twenty-eight thousand pounds) to make two DNS changes on behalf of a Department. No matter how you do the maths, it’s incomprehensible to get anywhere close to this number in a rational world.

In the event that the commercial model allows the Department to award business to other providers, competition is introduced. But system integration almost always rests with a lead (Tier 1) supplier, and that Tier 1 supplier has a monopoly over this piece of the pie. So the lower price that might be secured by awarding the business to the competition will likely be counterbalanced by an elevated price for integrating that work into the Department’s IT estate, and so the Department loses out either way.

I wonder whether shame is the answer to all of this. If the general public was made aware how much the Tier 1 suppliers were charging for some of the basic IT building blocks—DNS changes, password resets and the like—would they be shamed into charging reasonable fees for such work? Or would the cost shift to other, less commoditised elements of their portfolio, less easily dissected through the Freedom of Information Act?

To start the ball rolling, who wants to ask the FOI question: Please tell the public how many DNS changes have been made in each Whitehall Department in the last twelve months, and how much was charged for each?


3 Responses to “How much should a DNS change cost?”

  1. Steph Gray on April 15th, 2011 10:02

    It’s a good point. I’ve heard some terrible stuff recently about the process and, frankly, incompetence around fixing little things like A records.

    It’s not entirely the IT firms’ fault, though, I suspect. There can develop an unhelpful relationship between the outsourcer and the organisation they serve when the civil servants gatekeeping the relationship ‘go native’, and/or lack the nowse both technical and strategic to push things through at justifiable cost.

    FOI is a good start though. Just look at the furore about Reading Room’s favicons, and the helpful debate it opened up.

  2. Rob on April 15th, 2011 13:50

    Would be interesting to see if the charge was specifically for making 2 DNS modifications or (and it seems more likely) the charge for service provision that only happened to consist of 2 DNS changes in that period.

    But it’s a fact of life – single sourcing (especially by governments or large orgs where it’s easy to lose sight of fiscal prudence) will almost always end up being a bad deal for the client.

    PS the bill for’s DNS is in the mail … it’s a fraction of the above so you should be grateful 🙂

  3. Simon on May 17th, 2011 16:34


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