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It would be funny…

It would be funny…

If it wasn’t so tragic. Mark Hall, who is Deputy Chief Information Officer at HMRC, has been praising the performance of their Aspire programme, which is the outsourcing deal between HMRC and Cap Gemini brought in to replace its tragically inept EDS precursor.

Mr Hall is claiming that they are on track to delivery £1.2bn of savings across HMRC’s total IT spend by 2017. This, if true and if actually achieved, will be something to celebrate. If it happens, that is: you will forgive me for being just a little bit sceptical.

For one thing the contract was let in 2004 and was for a ten year deal. By my sums that means it expires in 2014, so why Mr Hall is talking about a success planned for 2017 is a little unclear. Surely the point is to appraise the deal in 2014, at the end of its natural life, to see if it’s worth continuing to 2017 and beyond? (Actually OGC rules say that high value contracts need to be re-evaluated after five years and re-tendered after seven, but let’s not dwell on legalities, shall we…)

Secondly the original contract has already been renegotiated three times, in 2006, 2008 and 2009. This last one resulted in a significant saving, which is good, but you have to worry about the quality and accuracy of the earlier negotiations if it takes four goes to get it right.

And finally the £1.2bn would be a little more credible if the total savings to date were a little more than £152m. I’m not clear if that is from the original start date or from the 2009 revision, but neither would appear to indicate the final figure is any more than an Aspire-ation (sorry…).

So I’m sorry, Mr Hall, close but no cigar.

Some of his other statements offer a worrying insight into the mentality of HMRC management as well. It seems to be a source of some pride that their website is the third busiest in the world on filing day, handling over one billion transactions. From my knowledge of capacity planning that is not actually something of which to be proud. The infrastructure to support that level of business costs a lot of money. For eleven months of the year it will be twiddling its thumbs waiting for the January rush to start. Wouldn’t it be better to work out how to spread the load across the year? Who knows, you might even find you only need half as much hardware in the first place.

As an aside, HMRC are looking at moving the year end away from Aril; 6th. They have come up with two dates, March 31st, which is actually a little more sensible, or December 31st, which is utterly barking. But in these days of self-automating iXBRL-based online filing systems, hasn’t anybody considered spreading the load across the year? Oh sorry, that would mean HMG would have to rethink its annual issuing of departmental budgets and that would never do. I mean, the Departments would have to think about what they were spending rather than simply ensuring they’d spent everything by April so that they get the same budget for the next year (I believe one MOD team bought futures in coal supplies to use up their fuel budget, despite there not having been any coal-fired ships in the Navy for some fifty years. Heigh ho…)

Mr Hall talks about these savings being a necessary part of reducing the government’s deficit. Can’t argue with that. But he goes on to say “The reduced budget is a driver for efficiency, not a blocker. We need to do things differently.” Yes, Mr Hall, let’s give that a try, since what you do now clearly isn’t working very well at all.

And the other thing: Mr Hall witters on about is improving the “customer experience”. Look, let’s be clear, your sole aim is to collect what I owe you. I am not your customer and you do not provide me with a service. Robert Heinlein used to caution against excessive consumption of alcohol on the grounds that it made you shoot at tax collectors and miss. I think he had a point…

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited<

Image: Thats just how the cookie crumbles by JSFauxtaugraphy

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