There are some recent development in government IT management, mainly outsourcing of services. It makes IT technical work for civil servants easier, but places more responsibilities on IT management.
At the end of 2005, the government introduced the arrangement of Standing Offer Agreement for Quality Professional Services (SOA-QPS) for the provision of professional services to undertake IT projects in the government. This new arrangement replaces the ITPSA arrangement mentioned in my previous article, which expired by the end of 2005. The scope of the new arrangement is expanded. 22 companies are awarded agreements. The number of standing offer agreements increases from 23 under ITPSA to 40 under SOA-QPS. There are four main categories of IT services: Category 1 pre-implementation & independent programme /project management services; Category 2 on-going services; Category 3 implementation & full system development life cycle services; and Category 4 information security services. These in effect cover almost all types of IT projects, and are restricted only by monetary value. I note from the project list that many departments made use of the previous ITPSA for the implementation of small office systems such as upgrading of email systems, small database management systems and eLeave, etc. SOA-QPS will provide them with more flexibility and support. Any manager tasked with an IT project could just invite proposals and tenders under SOA-QPS and assign it to an appropriate contractor.
One point of interest is that the government agreed to opening up the intellectual property in government IT systems developed by contractors for commercial exploitation. I do not know how this works. But it seems the government is willing to let contractors make use of the system design and program codings they developed under a government contract for business with other parties. It will surely encourage better participation and innovation by contractors, but it has far-reaching effects in terms of patent and security.
Central Computer Centre
Another development is that the government has contracted out services of the Central Computer Centre this month. A contract has been awarded to a private company to provide hosting services for a number of government information systems. Under the contract, the service provider is responsible for providing the computer hardware, system software as well as operation, management and support services for operation of the departmental information systems for seven years.
The central information system hosting service at the central computer centre is an attractive arrangement for IT managers. Just imagine that a department is no longer required to have a large computer room with file servers and application servers. Everything is placed in the central computer centre somewhere out of sight, with someone else taking care of the tedious task of hardware, software and data maintenance. Coupled with SOA-QPS under which system development is also contracted out, the IT managers can just simply manage.
However, when the central information system hosting service was first introduced, some departments felt uneasy for an entire IT system to be moved out of their control. The major concerns are system security, communication security, data security and service quality. It seems that these worries have been overcome as even the central computer centre is now in the hand of a private company instead of the government.
It was announced that this outsourcing project will achieve some 20 to 30% savings on the government’s total investments on the relevant data centre facilities and operating costs in its seven-year contract period. As professional HR managers, we will surely ask what is the impact to manpower. Yes, same as other outsourcing exercises, there will be surplus staff. The government will launch a Targeted Voluntary Retirement Scheme (TVRS) through which some computer operator grade staff may apply to leave the civil service on voluntary retirement. They may be employed by the contractor, but they will lose their status as civil servant. Haven’t we see similar cases in Housing Department and in PCCW?