'Worrying' cuts hit public sector IT

Public sector IT managers have met the challenge of doing 'more with less,' but will only hit heftier savings targets if their outfit's tech spending is immune to further cuts.

Delivering the warning, based on a survey of local authority IT departments, Socitm said organisations should be steadying their tech budgets, or even increasing them.

Already ICT spend per user has fallen by 16 per cent since 2008, and by 19 per cent since 2006, representing a "worrying" decline in spending, the group said this week.

However its annual report also found that, overall, user satisfaction is up, indicating that smaller budgets have not led to poorer internal ICT services or functions.

But further cuts mean state-run bodies will not be able to invest in many IT-centric business processes, such as shared services, capable of returning "larger," long-term savings.

The onus was said to be on ICT managers to not only protect such processes, which include flexible working, but also to boost the yield of those which they currently run.

"Of course, political pressures dictate that ICT must take its share of the current budget cuts," conceded Martin Greenwood, a manager at Socitm Insight.

"But we advise the ICT function to focus its savings on its 'business as usual' capability, and to maintain or strengthen its capability to tackle transformational projects."

Seeming to recognise this as a tall order, Socitm said executives would probably need encouragement to adopt such an approach, which also hinges on support from rank-and-file IT staff and users.

The group said: "Blaming ICT when a service fails to get the benefits it promised from a project saps the credibility of the ICT function, militates against investment in new ICT-enabled transformational projects, and limits the organisation's ability to deliver savings without cutting front line services."

Meanwhile, the society is advising IT managers in response to the coalition government's policy of publishing data on all contracts (and spending) over £500, which comes into force for all public sector bodies from January 2011.

It expressed hope there would be an upside for smaller IT players: "Suppliers able to see the value of existing contracts will be better able to provide competitive bids for new business, while the exposure might embarrass some incumbent providers."

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