Whitehall IT boss praises Apple

IT boss wants people to switch to Apple or use open source technology

The IT expert in charge of a Whitehall efficiency drive hopes to break Microsoft’s dominance of office software.

Senior civil servant Ian Watmore said he wanted people to switch to the global giant’s fierce competitor or use freely-available “open source” software to “dramatically” change the game.

Speaking as the Government launched its IT strategy, Tony Blair’s former head of IT also pinned the blame for “fiascos” at that time on policies not technology.

Some ministers ordered new high-tech systems just “to make their policy sound sexy”, he said, also laying into the “big bang” approach of introducing huge national changes on a single day.

Watmore returned to Whitehall last year as chief operating officer of the coalition Government’s Efficiency and Reform Group - which is seeking to realise massive savings.

A former head of Tony Blair’s Number 10 Delivery Unit, he was recruited back to the civil service after a spell as boss of the Football Association (FA).

Grilled by the Commons Public Administration Committee about the use of open-source software, he said he “personally would like to see people move off Microsoft products onto open source or use Apple technology”.

“I use Apple at home. I know it’s not very open but I use it. I love it, it works and I think it is great - I'm Steve Jobs’ best customer.

“But 95 per cent of the business and government world still use Microsoft for its basic desktop products because it is reliable and it works.

“I think we, in Government, have an opportunity to change that game quite dramatically, particularly on desktop technology, by getting greater use of open products.”

Watmore denied that a string of high-profile errors were caused by faulty technology in itself - but was instead down to ill-thought out policy and poor project management.

IT was often ordered as “an after thought... or worse, there were people thinking they needed to have a piece of technology to make their policy sound sexy”, he told the MPs.

He said he had warned against the “big bang” practice of rolling out major policy changes across the country that relied on new IT systems on a single day.

Ministers were told that “if you go down that path you will by definition have a fiasco on your hands”, he said.

Under the Government’s new approach, many contracts will be broken up into smaller chunks in a bid to ensure smaller firms are able to get involved.

In a bid to slash costs by millions of pounds a year, more attention will be given to using existing systems to deliver services rather than duplicating them with new ones. The use of data centres will also be cut by more than a third over five years.

Further information: 

The Government's ICT strategy is available online

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