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Government IT chief slams Apple security as 'appalling'

24 May 2012
Phil Pavitt is chief information officer at HMRC

The chief information officer for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has slammed Apple's security on devices such as the iPhone as "appalling" and ruled out letting staff use the devices for government work.

Speaking to V3, Phil Pavitt said this was just one reason why the department would not be embarking on the government's bring your own device strategy (BYOD).

"We would not let staff use Apple devices because the security is quite simply appalling," Pavitt said.

Nevertheless, Pavitt said his department was focused on its users' needs.

"Our role is to support, and this takes the pressure off the IT team."

V3 spoke with Pavitt at a conference hosted by analyst firm Ovum, where he was asked during a panel discussion what he would change about HMRC's IT policies if he could.

"We need to handle risk better. Remember we are the authority that lost the child discs and that is burned into the psyche of the organisation," Pavitt said.

Pavitt also warned that its was not always wise to slavishly follow technology trends.

"Sometimes it's not bad to be slightly behind the head of the curve," he said.

Meanwhile, Pavitt described IT innovation in government as "the worst experience ever".

"The government has been guilty in the past for big answers [to questions] that no one is asking," said Pavitt.

His role at HMRC is to make IT straightforward and simple for the 38 million customers using the department's services.

"Innovation for us is about making IT frictionless," he said.

Pavitt said most devices in the HMRC are standardised, particularly in the case of desktops, where there are only four models in the organisations. According to a Freedom of Information request in 2009, the HMRC employs 81,872 people, although this number could have changed since then.

The HMRC is currently working to standardise 1,000 applications, used by these staff as part of its overall standardisation agenda, which will soon go government wide.

The standardisation programme was launched in February this year, with the government claiming it could save up to £500m by forcing departments to standardise the computers, tablets and smartphones being provided to staff.

Meanwhile government deputy CIO Liam Maxwell announced a BYOD strategy in at the same time as the standardisation announcement, in order to lower government IT costs and improve efficiency.

In related news Pavitt revealed that next week HMRC will launch a mobile application for people to calculate their tax online.

"Ministers are excited as they think that younger people will especially enjoy the transparency of understanding what taxes they have to pay and what they're spent on," he said.

As an interesting anecdote, Pavitt also revealed that when he was working as the Transport for London CIO, staff lost around 40 BlackBerry's a week. The week of the iPhone launch, he said, this number grew to 400 a week.

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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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