Centralise Government’s IT procurement, urge top techs

26 Oct 2004

Increased centralisation of the IT procurement process, greater flexibility for individual departments and a move in the direction of open standards in Government departments are some of the recommendations for the Irish Government by the senior management of five of the largest technology multinationals in Ireland, siliconrepublic.com has learned.

Responding to questions about the performance and issues facing multinationals in Ireland today, the five senior executives from Dell, Microsoft, Intel, IBM and Oracle agreed that defining appropriate standards and architectures will facilitate the move towards decentralisation.

At present, all funding for Government IT purchasing is either controlled or in some way influenced by the Department of Finance’s Centre for Organisation and Management Development (CMOD). This department has a significant influence on the allocation of funds for specific Government IT projects, such as the Department of Health’s proposed €500m technology revamp.

However, purchasing decisions on varying technologies still remain at Departmental level, resulting in varying and disparate systems being rolled out that ultimately are unable to communicate with one another.

Nicky Sheridan, general manager of Oracle Ireland, explained: “The best approach to public sector IT procurement is to ensure that there is a coordinated strategy, including appropriate standards and defined architectures. We need to facilitate individual departments to purchase against these standards and architectures. This will facilitate decentralisation and the movement of people and skills into different roles. In the future it will help to facilitate future consolidation of public sector IT infrastructures and will ultimately lower the cost to the public purse.

“Central procurement, skills certificates and interoperability facilitate collaboration in a decentralised environment. We need to certify peoples skills in the IT sector so that we can ensure appropriate standards but also facilitate the movement of people and skills in the future,” Sheridan said.

Backing the argument for centralisation of IT purchasing within government departments, IBM country manager Michael Daly said: “Technology has a huge part to play in how government operates, particularly in a knowledge economy. I strongly support the centralised IT/Systems approach being adopted by the Department of Health and I believe it will help underpin the Health strategy.

“I am disappointed that the budget for the Department of Education schools information communications technology (ICT) programme has yet to be released. Education and the quality of education has a huge part to play if we are to continue to progress. With regard to procurement processes, I believe that government should develop procurement policies that promote interoperability, in particular by purchasing solutions compliant with open standards developed and supported by industry.,” he added.

Daly also believes State organisations should be vendor neutral in the procurement strategies. “Public administrations should aim to operate highly flexible, vendor independent, inter-operable ICT architectures, which are responsive, open to new technological developments and value-driven. They should evaluate open source solutions on an equal footing with commercial software solutions.”

Jim O’Hara, general manager of Intel Ireland, told siliconrepublic.com that he believed the delivery of e-government needs more than just centralisation of procurement but the creation of a dedicated Minister of State with responsibility for e-government initiatives across all departments.

He also called for “a coherent policy position on e-government and detailed implementation plans including centralised e-purchasing to maximise leverage of scale rather than individual entities negotiating on a project by project basis of IT equipment.”

Centralisation of IT procurement was also encouraged by Microsoft Ireland general manager Joe Macri, who cited Northern Ireland’s ambitious schools IT programme. He said: “We work well with the people managing the IT Procurement process and feel that it is run in a fair and transparent manner.

“In terms of deriving additional value, there are examples where central procurement models can deliver efficiency and value. One such example is the model used in Northern Ireland for the procurement for the educational system. All purchasing is done centrally which ensures that there is compatibility of technology across the system and efficiencies of scale can be derived. This is something that may be appropriate to look at within certain departments here in Ireland,” Macri said.

Dell’s Tim McCarthy argued that e-procurement as a strategy should be one pursued by the Government. Citing Dell Direct as a model that works, McCarthy said: “We are committed to e-procurement, which is an integral part of our business and built around a commitment to quality, service, cost and management.

“Not only does e-procurement reduce costs and cycle time for customers, it also removes geographical barriers which will be a major benefit for Government if decentralisation takes place,” McCarthy concluded.

By John Kennedy