The government has unveiled a new information and communication technology strategy designed to save money by making the use of IT services more efficient.
Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude outlined the strategy on Wednesday, explaining that it focused on cutting down duplication and waste, and promising an initial reduction in datacentre use by 35 per cent in five years.
"For too long, government has wasted vast amounts of money on ineffective and duplicate IT systems. We need to ensure that frontline services have the tools to deliver effective public services," he said.
"We will cut out duplication and wastage by sharing more of our assets across government and using common systems."
To do this, the government intends to encourage the sharing and reuse of ICT through a common infrastructure and online applications store. This will help public sector organisation reuse business applications and components which have already been paid for.
Additionally, there will be a push to enable interoperable ICT on common and open platforms in order to create cross-government standards based on application programming interfaces.
Maude also announced that the government intends to see through its commitment to open up the market for contracts in the public sector to small firms.
"We will end the oligopoly of big business supplying government IT by breaking down contracts into smaller, more flexible projects. This will open up the market to SMEs and new providers," he said.
The government will publish a toolkit for those who procure ICT systems to help evaluate the use of open source software and develop civil servants with IT-related skills.
John Higgins, director general of Intellect, welcomed the proposals, arguing that the government owed it to the public to make better and more efficient use of ICT.
"UK taxpayers should expect the best from their public services, and this strategy provides a clear direction for how technology can help deliver better services for less," he said.
"By adopting innovative approaches and opening up opportunities to SMEs, social enterprises, charities and other new providers, we will see a dynamic supplier ecosystem and greater benefits to the taxpayer."
Martyn Hart, chairman of the National Outsourcing Association, welcomed the government's plans to level the playing field for government IT contracts.
"It's worth noting, however, that contracts with big-name suppliers are not necessarily a bad thing. Many established names have a solid, established infrastructure which allows them to deliver projects in a timely, efficient manner," he said.
"However, by pledging to free policy makers from the multi-billion pound contracts they have been tied to, and creating a ‘presumption against' IT contracts in excess of £100m, the government is ensuring that public sector procurement for IT is more cost-effective and competitive, which is good news for the outsourcing industry and the public sector as a whole."
Elwyn Jones, vice president of public sector at government outsourcer Mastek, also welcomed the plans.
"I welcome today's announcement as another important step in the right direction to give SMEs the opportunity to directly contribute towards the cost challenge facing government today," he said.
"Every measure that reduces the cost and/or simplifies the process of government procurement improves the opportunity for SMEs to directly showcase the innovation, agility and cost savings that they can bring."
The government was criticised over the way it procures and uses technology during several public affairs committee hearings examining the use of ICT within government.
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