The government has always faced criticism that its IT is slow, unwieldy, inflexible, unnecessarily complex and overpriced. It’s one thing when you face this criticism from your rivals, the press or members of the public – but you know you’ve reached a dire point when it’s your own chief operating officer (COO) twisting the knife.
The government’s new COO Stephen Kelly posted a tweet on Wednesday morning, highlighting the decrepit nature of government IT systems. However, by Thursday the video had been removed, no doubt after Kelly was taken to task by his seniors for posting a video showing his PC logins, and yet again criticising public sector IT.
The tweet followed comments made by Kelly at a government spending review attended last week by V3, in which he shed light into the world of technology at Whitehall and across the public sector.
“I came into the office and I pressed my PC and it took me seven minutes to boot up,” he told attendees. “That’s government in the old world, that’s three days of the year I waste of my time booting up.”
As soon as I heard these remarks I was reminded of another example of ‘government in the old world’, as highlighted at the Department of Work and Pensions, where anyone wanting to claim certain benefits has to use a PC running nothing newer than Microsoft Windows XP or Internet Explorer 6. So the reliance on slow-running and old machines within other areas of government is nothing surprising.
Aside from the huge waste in productivity outlined by Kelly, the government seems to be throwing huge amounts down the drain maintaining this outdated kit. The COO said he thought the cost of a single desktop PC was around £6,000 per year – for which he could go and buy 10 Apple iPads.
Far be it for V3 to quibble in affairs of the state, but I feel that either Kelly is misinformed over real-world IT costs or has got his sums mixed up. Firstly there’s the minor point that for £6,000 you could actually get hold of as many as 22 iPads if you went for the mini version, or 15 of the cheapest full-size tablets, if you opted for 16GB WiFi-only models. I’m guessing the government’s COO has more expensive tastes though, and takes the attitude that only a £579 32GB WiFi+4G model will suffice.
But then there’s the more concerning issue of the £6,000 a year Kelly thinks is being spent on each public sector PC per year. This is a ludicrous amount, unless the government happens to be providing all staff with a 3D-enabled desktop and printer, or their very own IBM Watson.
According to my estimations – verified by a CIO – this figure should be less than £1,000 per year taking into account the cost of the hardware, office suite, and support and server costs over a three-year period, so it looks like the government is getting completely swindled by their PC supplier – or Kelly needs to go back and re-sit his maths GCSE.
Kelly went on to say that as the government is such a big spender, it should be demanding a better service, and hence lower costs, from its suppliers. I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment, but have to question whether Kelly is best placed to lead this charge. Surely the UK government needs someone who puts a £600 figure on annual desktop costs and let suppliers try to work up from there, rather than downwards from £6,000.
Madeline Bennett is editor of V3 and The INQUIRER. Previously, she was editor of IT Week. Prior to becoming a journalist, Madeline was an English teacher at a London secondary school. Madeline is a regular technology commentator on TV and radio, including Sky, BBC and CNN.