5 things broken in Government IT, and how to fix them

by Joe Curtis| 01 August 2014

CTO Tom Read examines the challenges in updating Gov technology.

As the Cabinet Office tries to improve government IT, it's been visiting civil servants in various departments and locations, inviting them to air their concerns over the state of technology they use every day.

Over Newcastle, Bristol and London, Cabinet Office CTO Tom Read canvassed staff views, and found a list of common complaints.

They're outlined below, and go some way to showing the scale of problems the Government faces as it tries to implement a technology transformation programme at the end of August.

Printers

One team told Read that they send files to be printed at 4pm every day, and don't expect them to be printed out until the next morning.

Slow computers

Civil servants are so sick of slow laptops and PCs that they've resorted to carrying around pens and paper instead - that's their definition of mobile working. One said it takes him 45 minutes to log in to his PC every day.

Support

Staff having to travel three hours to London to get a computer fixed was "not uncommon", according to Read.

Blocked internet access

Much of the web is blocked off to users, ostensibly for opaque security reasons.

Phones

Waiting for a snazzy new iPhone upgrade from your IT department? Using your own device for work? Spare a thought for civil servants using blocky old Nokias that call, text and - er - that's about it.


However, Read has plenty of thoughts on how to remedy this state of affairs, with the civil servants he spoke with chipping in with their own thoughts, too.

More in-house support

Instead of having to travel to London, more departments need their own on-site IT teams.

Make contracts cheaper and more flexible

IT teams should strive to get better deals. This goes hand-in-hand with the Government's current attempts to cut down on costly contracts with large IT suppliers and seek shorter deals with smaller suppliers.

Consult the users

IT teams should listen to users and ask them what tools they need to do their jobs better, before buying stuff that doesn't do the trick. In the private sector, a failure to consult users can lead to a lot of shadow IT, and companies can get avoid this simply by talking to staff about what IT problems they face, then work with them to find the best solutions.

Buy more modern kit

Read says costs shouldn't be the main factor, rather if something needs updating, it should be updated. Buying older equipment can be a cost-saving fallacy, anyway, because while it's cheaper, if it's out of date then employees won't be able to work as efficiently.

Keep it simple

Staff everywhere are used to easy to use technology at home, so why should it be different at work? The consumerisation of IT has changed people's expectations of technology in the office, and IT needs to match them.

Read says change is happening already, and says 250 users will move onto new technology services by the end of this month, while the Ministry of Justice is looking at cloud solutions for staff (after a failed £56m IT project) while the Department for Transport is distributing smartphones and tablets amongst its workforce.

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