DVLA tech chief heading back to GDS after landmark move to bring IT back in-house

"This is the start of regaining control of the IT estate," says outgoing DVLA digital chief Iain Patterson, as agency moves services back in-house

By matt.foster

22 Sep 2015

The DVLA's chief technology officer is heading back to the centre of government after overseeing a major project to bring the agency's IT back in-house.

Iain Patterson was seconded to the DVLA – the Department for Transport agency responsible for driver and vehicle registration – from Government Digital Services in 2013.

The DVLA's 'Partners Achieving Change Together' (PACT) contract with outside suppliers IBM, Fujitsu and Concentrix came to an end this month, and the agency opted to transfer more than 300 staff in-house in a bid to bring down costs and regain full control of its IT. The contract had been in place since 2002.

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Patterson – who will now return to the central GDS team in Holborn – told Civil Service World that the DVLA's move would save the agency £225m.

"What we've done in DVLA is the start of what can happen across government," he said.

"It doesn't mean you totally in-source everything. There are different models you can use. But it means this is the start of regaining control of the IT estate. Not only that but you're regaining control of your contracts and your supply chain."

He added: "Now we've got to this position where, whoever comes on board now [...] can see the supply chain, they can test fully end-to-end through that supply chain as well, and make sure things are done properly. They own the architecture, the design of those solutions. So things should be faster, things should be far more robust. And we can build things that align to the government's strategy, not just the suppliers' strategy."

DVLA chief executive Oliver Morley told CSW that new approach marked the first time in 22 years that the DVLA had been "in proper control of its own IT".

"This is really the third part of the big transformation we've gone through over the past two years," he said.

"So abolishing the paper counter-part to the driver's license, abolition of the tax disc, and then this IT transformation, basically unlocks the digital transformation of DVLA in a way we just haven't been able to before."

But the DVLA chief acknowledged that the decision to move in-house carried its own risks.

 "On the upside we have complete control," he said. "On the downside we have no-one else to blame!"

The move to transfer the former contractors – who were already based at the DVLA's offices in Swansea – to the public sector has been backed by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union.

"Our position is that there is no place for profit in the delivery of public services and on this basis the transfer of private sector workers to the public sector is welcomed," the union's DfT group president Paul Williams said.

"For many of our members it is a return to the public sector that they were transferred out of against their wishes some 20 years ago."

'A different world'

In their wide-ranging interview with CSW – to be published in full next week – Morley and Patterson also discuss the need for a "healthy tension" between GDS and the departments, the DVLA's push to "get rid of boring jobs", and the agency's hopes that the new IT model will allow it to attract the best digital talent.

"If you look at the past, you would be working for a systems integrator, on change on a mainframe. and everybody would basically be getting at you because the system wasn't working or whatever," said Morley.

"Whereas the future is working on some of the most interesting technology, with a direct line to the CEO and CIO, and with a direct impact on 37m customers and being able to get feedback almost instantly. So it's quite a different world as a technologist. It's actually quite convincing as a job offer."

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