Government IT teams must avoid vendor lock-in by shunning customisation of tools and instead commit to using standard platforms, the head of IT reform within Whitehall has said.
Tariq Rashid leads the strategy and change in the government's IT Reform group and said wherever possible departments should ignore the temptation to customise IT solutions as doing so means they can easily become locked-in to a particular IT supplier.
"Many suppliers will try and offer you some kind of added value, and as a customer you need to think about whether it's worth taking that value and being tied into that specialness," he said at the Open Gov Summit 2013 in Westminster, hosted by Zaizi. "Or you decide to not engage with the bells and whistles of an IT suite, but then not be locked in."
Rashid said the government mentality needs to shift from the drive to lower IT cost to thinking also about creating "sustained value".
"We have been very good at shaving off the amount we spend on IT, but low-cost solutions do not always create sustained value IT. We need to shift our view beyond the point of purchase and think about the opportunities five years down the stream," said Rashid.
"Think about what an IT buy now will lock me into in the future, or lock me out of," he added. "And realise an integrated user experience does not mean you have to have overly integrated IT."
Rashid said he believed departments need to consider their IT solutions as simply commodities, and nothing more special than that. This will allow departments to put pressure on suppliers by threatening to move their IT solution to a competitor. If a particular area of IT lacks numerous suppliers and competition between businesses is in short supply then a department needs to consider adjusting its needs, and doing without that specific solution.
Rashid said almost all IT solutions can be viewed as commodities, such as virtualisation and intranet. However he said the exception is ERP solutions and HR solutions, which cannot be viewed as commodities, as both markets do not contain enough choice.
"So we need to recognise that and handle buying ERP and HR solutions with care. We need to think about the safest approach in buying [the solutions] and using them."
Currently the government is considering whether to move ahead with its device standardisation programme, revealed in February 2012, which will force departments to standardise end-user devices being provided to staff in an attempt to save the whole public sector around £500m.
HMRC recently told V3 that it had successfully completed the trial of the programme and expects to now save £16m over the next five years.
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