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The UK government has published a Playbook for digital projects and programmes, which includes guidance on managing legacy IT and opening contracts to SME suppliers. The DDaT Playbook, which is mandatory for central government, has been welcomed by some but others question whether public sector bodies will follow its guidance.

The DDaT Playbook aims to make UK public sector IT projects more cost-effective. But will departments follow its advice? (Image by berkozel / iStock)

What is the Digital, Data and Technology Playbook?

Published this morning, the DDaT Playbook aims to help public sector bodies “get it right from the start” when setting up digital projects and programmes.

According to the Cabinet Office, the Playbook brings together expertise from across government and industry and looks to create better value for money. It says that £46bn is expected to be spent on digital projects in 2022 and that the guide will “ensure taxpayer money is better used and supports the Levelling Up agenda”.

“This Playbook will draw on the wealth of digital expertise at our disposal to produce better services at lower cost,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency. “This will go hand-in-hand with a new procurement regime that takes advantage of our position outside the European Union, offering more opportunities for small businesses to bid for government contracts, encouraging greater innovation in public services and ultimately delivering better value for taxpayers.”

The Playbook is “mandated for central government departments and arm’s-length bodies (ALBs) on a ‘comply or explain’ basis”, the Cabinet Office said, and is “expected to be taken into account by the wider public sector”.

The Playbook advises public sector bodies on managing legacy IT and technical debt. “Where contracting authorities are aware of services which may become legacy, risk should be allocated so as to incentivise suppliers to address this and, where appropriate, transform rather than maintain the service,” it advises. “Contractual provisions should be put in place to ensure suppliers review, report and act on the status of any current and potentially future legacy IT risks with appropriate regularity.”

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It calls on public bodies to “maintain a level playing field” for SME suppliers. “Although SMEs have a wealth of experience to contribute, they may not always have the capacity and/or commercial capability to engage to the extent and scale that larger suppliers can,” it says. “It is important during the initial phase of the project
or programme, that we acknowledge this and adjust what we ask of them accordingly.”

DDaT playbook: incentivising due diligence

Antonio Hidalgo Landa, chair of the Consulting Specialist Group at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, welcomed the Playbook. He told Tech Monitor he is pleased to see the UK government addressing technical debt and the cost of legacy IT, while encouraging departments to allocate enough time and resources to transition away from legacy products and services.

“DDaT solutions are often complex and have many transformations during the product life; use cases evolve, and new features are required,” he said. “Technical debt takes a huge stake in the industry. A high technical debt causes a slow down in the software development process, making it very costly.”

Landa added that while it is easy to empathise with companies that prioritise having a new feature earlier to be more competitive, they need to recognise that the cost of maintaining or improving the solution is what truly makes it competitive. “The consultants who do the due diligence and account for the expiry, extension, transition and termination of our DDaT products and services will see their profile elevated, especially when building long-lasting relationships,” he concludes.

‘Departments are going to ignore most of it’

Whether or not public sector bodies follow the DDaT playbook’s guidance remains to be seen. “I think departments are going to ignore most of it,” says Rob Anderson, principal analyst, public sector, at Global Data.

“I know it says it’s mandatory for people to follow these guidelines,” he says. “But I think it’s been an exercise for the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) to produce something that won’t necessarily actually deliver any step change in procurement.”

While the Playbook encourages departments to engage with SMEs suppliers, many are still pursuing large multi-year outsourcing contracts that are not viable for small suppliers.

“We’re seeing a lot of contracts being looked at in more of the traditional prime supplier set-up,” he explains. “[Departments] encourage those winning the contracts to engage SMEs in the supply chain, but not necessarily mandating them to do so.”

On Friday, HMRC awarded two multi-million contracts to consultancy firms Capgemini and Accenture.

Capgemini was awarded the “Core Business Platform Support and Maintenance Services” contract for three to five years and will provide business application support and maintenance services for a set of business-critical legacy HMRC applications. The contract includes the option to provide decommissioning and application modernisation services for the applications in scope. The IT consultancy firm has worked with HMRC for 18 years on its IT systems, with its original contract expected to end in June 2022.

Accenture was brought in for the “NPS Operations, Maintenance and Modernisation Services” five-year contract. The intent of the modernisation service is to disaggregate the NPS solution into a number of components in preparation for going to market in future, according to the Contracts Finder.

Both contracts state that they were not suitable for SMEs, saying “the opportunity was not advertised, because, for example, only one supplier is capable of delivering the requirement, or due to extreme urgency brought about by unforeseen events.”

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