Energy department slams criticism of new IT system

by Joe Curtis| 20 June 2014

The Government department’s computers are “fine”, despite claims of slow email and internet.

A Government department has hit back at criticism of its new IT system after cabinet officials reportedly complained that Whitehall's policy to procure IT from SMBs has backfired.

Business secretary Vince Cable and the energy department's Ed Davey both told the Prime Minister last week that their officials' computers have been brought to a standstill, according to the Financial Times, citing anonymous sources.

The ministers allegedly blamed email failures, slow internet and network connections on the Government's cost-cutting initiative to break up single supplier contracts by handing more contracts to smaller IT firms.

But the Department of Energy and Climate Change today told CBR that while there were initial teething problems after switching to a new supplier from Fujitsu in early May, the system has been working fine for weeks.

A spokeswoman said: "It was a big IT change and there was a bit of a perception of a few problems but it's working fine now. Everyone's emails and access to internet were fine throughout [the transition].

"It's quite a normal sort of thing to happen when you change IT systems when they're slow to start off with, but it's fine now and everything is much quicker and we haven't really noticed any problems for a few weeks."

She did not disclose the names of the new suppliers, but said the migration took place over a six-week period to ease staff onto the new system.

The Government is keen to cut Whitehall's reliance on large suppliers, and under Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has upped IT expenditure on SMBs, with an eventual goal of a 25% spend with smaller IT firms.

The business and energy departments used to share a computer system that was provided by Fujitsu under a 15-year contract worth a reported £19m.

The new system, using several suppliers, is set to cut running costs by 40% over five years, according to the FT.

Central Government spending contributed 80% of a £191.5m total spend via G-Cloud since 2012, recent figures revealed.

The framework allows the public sector to procure cloud services from SMBs rather than large providers, though the energy department spokeswoman said she had not heard of the initiative.

A Cabinet Office spokesman offered a robust defence of the project to use smaller suppliers.

"Civil servants need modern technology to do their jobs so we are replacing the expensive, inflexible and out-dated contracts which we inherited in 2010," he said. "Our Government IT reforms are saving taxpayers' money and ensuring SMBs can compete alongside bigger providers. Departments remain responsible for their own technology and services."

The business department did not respond to CBR before its publication deadline.

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