Police Product Insight magazine (Feb-March 2014) featured my Viewpoint article: Why the angst over IT. There has been much debate and consternation in policing circles, and more widely, about having joined up IT and systems that support end to end processes. It is an old issue that predates my spell as Director of Criminal Justice at the Police IT Organisation.
I have long advocated a rapid, incremental approach to systems development and business change. I developed the ideas in my book, The Information Edge (Pitman/IMgt, 1997) where I argued that traditional legacy systems could be hidden behind a much user friendly and agile layer that protected end-users from the complexity of old systems and the changes as the legacy was replaced.
From the continuing debate it is obvious that lesson has still not been learned, most notably because of the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) created by vested interests of traditional suppliers of major systems and senior managers who worry their knowledge will become irrelevant. However there are glimmers of light from surprising quarters – the UK government.
The Government Digital Service, driven and supported by the Cabinet Office, are pushing a Digital First services agenda. They have created a Service Design Manual that adopts an agile approach to delivering services to customers. It has achieved significant gains with exemplar projects and it is supported by new approaches to procurement; the G-cloud and Digital Services Framework make it much easier for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to win work from the public sector, especially central government.
It is those SMEs that are now starting to drive innovation and reduce the cost of government IT. Initial figures from GDS suggest where G-cloud has been used it has reduced the cost to about a quarter of the budgets needed for traditional approaches. GDS too comes up against the same barriers and entrenched opinions as I found as a senior IT manager in government but with the backing of the Cabinet Office and senior ministers it is making progress. It is highly encouraging to see the UK government being a thought leader and to a large extent ahead of the private sector, albeit at just a small scale so far.
As part of my article I interviewed Darren Wood, a founder of enCircle Solutions. enCircle is an SME that has been beating at the doors for ten years with a similar viewpoint and has products to support the approach. They have made modest inroads especially with police forces but since the new procurement frameworks they have started to gain government business and contribute to the development of new light and fast approaches to process automation and business systems. So the government’s new strategy is working to produce both innovation with reduced costs and to open markets to wider and fairer competition.
I take comfort that my long held ideas are being vindicated and that there are suppliers out there who share that vision. I hope I will continue to have a role bringing them to fruition. You can read my article at Viewpoint article(pdf) or visit the Police Product Insight website and download the full magazine; it requires the reader to register but it is free. There is also an earlier article on a similar theme, Rapid Incremental Development.