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Forget London Bridge: the Tower of SIAM is falling down

Paul Barton
12/03/2015
There is a new tune being whistled on the streets of Westminster and it is knelling the last for the "Tower" model of running IT services in Whitehall.First highlighted by Government digital chief There is a new tune being whistled on the streets of Westminster and it is knelling the last for the "Tower" model of running IT services in Whitehall.

First highlighted by Government digital chief Mike Bracken in September of last year, a recent post by Alex Holmes (Deputy Director of OCTO) on the Government technology blog has made it emphatically clear that moving forward the Tower model is "not condoned and not in line with Government policy". This may come as a surprise to many in the industry; however the Government had stressed that the Tower model was never designed to be a long-term technology strategy.

In essence, under a Tower model large-scale IT contracts are broken down into component services, with each individual service provided by a different supplier. The resulting separate contracts are then re-integrated into a homogenous structure by either an in-house team or a third-party service integrator. In the public sector, this process is usually co-ordinated by a Services Integration and Management ("SIAM") Contractor, who will manage the delivery of the services by the Tower contractors and act as the customer's agent in relation to any commercial issues that occur across the various Towers.

In his post, Holmes criticises this type of arrangement for creating "a situation where the customer buys a number of incompatible parts and then asks a SIAM provider to put them together and make it work". He states that the Tower model arose in the public sector due to a procurement-led solution in response to the termination of large legacy contracts, but that it has ultimately resulted in an unsatisfactory and incohesive piecemeal outsourcing of Government IT. He stresses that the Tower model has failed due to a lack of consideration of which services are required by the user and how they fit together and he emphasises that additional difficulties occur as a result of the outsourcing of service accountability, architecture and management to a third party.

To rectify these issues, the Government is keen to utilise multi-sourcing and to break down its requirements into a number of different contracts to be let to smaller, specialist suppliers rather than big suppliers. To achieve this end, the Government has also developed its own framework, the G-Cloud, through which it aims to reflect user needs, rather than relying on a "one size fits all" methodology. The Home Office has embraced this approach in its move away from two large outsourcing contracts (IPIDS with Atos and IT2000 with Fujitsu).

So far, multi-sourcing programmes used in the Cabinet Office, DCMS and Crown Commercial Service have shown 40% savings and have been described by Holmes as "transform[ing] how people work, quickly". Reflecting the trend towards "on demand" utility computing, the G-Cloud also offers a framework for Government to purchase services as and when it needs them, rather than tying Government departments into long-term, inflexible contracts. This system should serve to reduce costs and inefficiencies by ensuring that outsourcing contracts can accurately reflect the needs of the user and allows the flexibility of entering into new contracts to match evolving needs.

Finally, the Government hopes that by moving away from mega-outsourcing deals with big suppliers, it will encourage more SMEs to bid for contracts. This should serve to increase competition and further reduce Government IT spend. However, if the recent response posted by TechUK is anything to go by, it is clear that many big IT suppliers are likely to put up a fight in response to these changes.

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