Biggles and the IT cost conundrum

Oh dear, oh dear. Are our friendly city council senior officer class telling porkies to our politicians again? Or are our politicians just telling us porkies?

An intriguing document arrives in the Blogger’s inbox. Published by Bristol City Council, it’s called, “Information Systems and Technology Strategy” and is dated December 2008.

And what interesting reading it makes, confirming much of what our new Lib Dem cabinet friend Squadron Leader (I kid you not!) Mike “Biggles” Popham told us just last week about the city council’s grand plans for a glorious new era of business school inspired multi-million pound integrated IT systems.

And yes, the council is intending to invest a large sum of money creating a bloody great database. But not to improve services to you dear reader nor to make life easier for the average council employee.

Instead the system’s designed for our new council “strategic directors” on six figure salaries to fuck about looking at statistics. Or obtain better “management information” as they learned to called it on their now desperately outmoded MBA courses. Hurrah!

Now, according to Biggles Popham last week, this business school IT bollocks was going to cost us, the council taxpayer, about £2m.

Not so says the strategy, which very vaguely costs this latest little council officer escapade at between £7.1m – £12m over the next three years. Given that IT projects in the public sector almost always go over budget, we could easily be spending £5m a year on this then.

And remember there’s no guarantee it will work and even if it does, the supply of better “management information” is unlikely to directly impact on services. Will the buses become cheaper? Our schools better? Will traffic congestion disappear in a puff of digital logic? Will more be spent on care for the elderly?

To give you some idea of the sums of money we’re talking about here, at the last budget meeting our clueless and out-of-touch politicians spent hours bickering over the £3m they’re allowed to spend by officers.

Meanwhile unelected and unaccountable Chief Exec Ormondroyd has decided – in a recession – to spend five times that amount on her personal IT requirements without any political oversight or discussion whatsoever. Ain’t life grand?

This is now getting ridiculous. First we’re forced to fork out from our council tax to make a bunch of unaccountable, faceless mediocrities rich beyond most of our wildest dreams and now we’re told we need to pay out 12 million quid for an IT system for them to do their jobs with.

What next? Dedicated staff to wipe their arses for them?

Meanwhile, those in the comments section who believe that this whole IT charade is leading inexorably to an outsourcing deal with Chief Constable Colin Port’s friends at IBM’s South West One may be correct. Here’s some of the last but one section of the strategy:

5.1.2 Partnering
Although we can achieve some incremental changes over the medium and long term by releasing existing capacity, in the immediate future we are faced with the need to make a step-change quickly …

… We can only achieve this step-change in capacity and capability by working with strategic partners …

… We will be open to the potential of partnering for all
these phases – and will consider carefully whether to contract with the same or different partners for each one …

… Partnering need not be confined to commercial providers …

While supporters of open source software will be glad to hear the council are thinking of scrapping their cheapo deal – giving us value for money – with Open Office as they think it is “causing problems with document exchange and system integration”. Hmmm.

Anyway, chocks away! Looks like it’s time Biggles Popham got on the case and found out what’s up with our money, what?

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8 Responses to Biggles and the IT cost conundrum

  1. Bristol Dave says:

    I’ve seen the same document, but haven’t blogged about it. Hadn’t spotted the coded link to SouthWestOne though. I am very, very confident that BCC will join the partnership – as are employees of SouthWestOne at the moment. In fairness SouthWestOne could turn out OK for BCC if they did it right (due dilligence, etc), but it’s kind of a given that they won’t.

    I am reliably informed that since the introduction of OpenOffice at the Council (actually they use StarOffice but it’s the same thing) they have purchased more MS Office licenses than they had before they introduced OpenOffice. A complete waste of time and money.

  2. thebristolblogger says:

    Woodsy did an FoI request on Microsoft at BCC, which seems to bear out your view:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/software_licensing_costs

  3. Steve L says:

    Assuming BCC have kept a fair few boxes in Selective Assurance, MS’s enterprise grade volume discount program, those increases in license costs may not imply an increase in #of licenses, just cost of ownership.

    One big chunk of costs may not be desktop, its the email services behind it: Exchange + Sharepoint in the MS world, other things elsewhere. As well as the servers, you need client licenses, which may apply regardless of who provides the client.

    Stay in the MS camp and you also need to deal with the inevitability of windows vista, which is heavyweight (=obsoletes all existing hardware) and takes training to use =training costs. Same for Office 2007.

  4. BristolDave says:

    inevitability of windows vista

    Nahhhh. They know people won’t take it yet. Most businesses will be reluctant to move from XP for a long time to come, and I think MS will accept this, seeing as businesses make up a large part of their revenue.

    And what’s the alternative to the MS camp? As far as Desktop PCs go it’s the ony viable Operating System. P.S. I run Ubuntu at home on a PC so am not exclusively MS, but seriously, it’s the only option for PCs used by staff in a large corporation. And what’s wrong with that? Windows XP is a good, stable operating system.

  5. woodsy says:

    While supporters of open source software will be glad to hear the council are thinking of scrapping their cheapo deal – giving us value for money – with Open Office as they think it is “causing problems with document exchange and system integration”.

    If that’s true, expect another eye-watering increase in council tax next year. At a conference last year, I heard from BCC’s head of IT strategy that one of the reasons for switching to Star Office in the first place was that renewing the M$ Orifice licence would have increased council tax by 1%.

  6. Acesabe says:

    “And what’s wrong with that? Windows XP is a good, stable operating system”

    Perhaps – but secure? The suggestion or idea that the ‘councils database’ (the info inaccesible to other departments that will cost ‘£7.1m – £12m’+ to be accessible) be available ‘online’, seems to cause minor panic! Why? Because Windows is an inherently insecure system. For this info to be accessible – it will have to be via a network – inter or intranet , either way – still a computer network, and while there are Windows (boxes) connected to this network – the views will be magnificent! Perhaps not the views the council would like us to have…
    Can the council really afford the bespoke security systems that we rely on for online banking/shopping to ensure data protection is preserved?

  7. Bristol Dave says:

    Acesabe – note that I mentioned Windows XP in the context of Desktop PCs .

    For servers I agree there are definitely security issues.

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