Tower of wrong

Nicky Stewart takes aim at critics of Alex Holmes at the Government Digital Service, who recently announced the government is moving away from the tower model for running ICT services.

It has been a little over three weeks since Alex Holmes’ controversial blog on the demise of the tower model.

Reverberations continue in the trade press even now. In the furore it is easy to lose sight of Holmes’ simple, but important, message: “It is time for government to put user need first and take back control of its ICT”.

There was outrage at the way Holmes made his points: a blog! Its content hadn’t even been discussed with industry. How dare GDS announce policy changes in such a gung-ho way?

The collective amnesia is staggering.  The tower model is not, and never was formal government policy.

It was never articulated, even implicitly, in any published government ICT strategy, or in the GDS Technology Code of Practice.

The tower model was only ever an attempt to break supplier monopolies, introduce competition, remove duplication of multiple systems operating across multiple agencies within the same department, and enable departments to get a better grip on their ICT spend.

The tower model served its purpose but should be seen for what it is – the first step on a long journey towards government wresting control of its ICT, and casting off the shackles caused by decades of wholesale outsourcing. It was never the end game.

Curiously, amongst the noise there has been a deafening silence.

The vendors with the most vested interests in the tower model have been unusually quiet. They have a lot to defend.

Holmes’s blog strikes at the heart of SIAM – precisely where the incumbent vendors have been re-positioning to ride out the changes of the last five years: digital by default, G-Cloud, and the SME agenda.

SIAM is fundamental to any multi-sourcing model, but has become an artefact crafted by industry, for industry.

Little wonder then, that their trade associations and analysts are working very hard for their subscriptions by calling into question government’s ability and capability to take back the control of its own IT, and are even suggesting that a move from the tower model could dissuade investment in the public sector from companies of all size.

The “good in-house IT capability” that Holmes writes about is as potentially huge threat to the SI as it is a huge opportunity for government.

Holmes’s blog sets out government’s strategic intent. Government doesn’t need to have lengthy discussion with the industry to agree policy and set strategy.

It has had enough experience (mostly painful) of wholesale outsourced IT, to have a thorough understanding of the issues, where it needs to go, and what it needs to do to get there.

Government as a Platform is the next stage of government’s digital journey. It is high time that the industry put the needs of its customers, their users, and the taxpayer first, and got behind Holmes, GDS and government to make it happen.

By Nicky Stewart, commercial director of Skyscape Cloud Services

Colin Marrs

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