The Dutch Central government ramps up its digital transformation agenda, with hit and miss results

Last month, the Dutch Central government chose five parties to help governmental bodies adopt agile and smarter ways of working in a contract worth €24 million and a maximum potential value of €33 million. The agreement dubbed Strategic ICT Customized Advice or SIMA 2022 is the successor of the Strategic Advice Services ICT framework agreement signed in 2016.

Over the next four years, IT providers such as Atos, Accenture, PwC, Berenschot, 1DigitalNL, McKinsey & Co, DiVetro, KPMG, SeederDeBoer, and Verdonck Klooster & Associates will support and deliver ICT customized advice for 21 governmental bodies, including ministries, the Police, National Ombudsman, Court of Audit and others. These services will focus on governance and management, IT strategy, architecture, technology choices, sourcing, cybersecurity, data, artificial intelligence and e-government, leadership development, change management, and culture.

Earlier in 2022, Dutch government bodies, including nine ministries (Ministries of Health, Welfare and Sport, Social Affairs and Employment, General Affairs, the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Defence, Finance, Infrastructure and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat), Justice and Security (Central Judicial Collection Agency) and Education, Culture and Science) and the Social Insurance Bank (SVB), awarded a €200 million contract with a four-year duration to Atos, CGI, Ilionx, VKA, Netcompany, Ordina, Capgemini, Sogeti, and Caesar.

The preferred suppliers will use another 40-50 subcontractors to deliver a variety of services, including cybersecurity services (penetration testing, security audits, employee awareness programs, and technical advice).

Despite the push for digital transformation to deliver better and more secure services to citizens, the Dutch government is notorious for squandering funds on IT projects that bring little to no added value or are dropped due to wildly exceeding its original budget.

For example, in 2021, with the shift to remote working, the Ministry of the Interior (BZK) ordered the development of its own video conferencing platform as it was reluctant to use commercial providers (Zoom, Teams, Webex..). The so-called Dutch Secure Mobile Communication Platform was awarded to X-Systems. The SaaS-based platform built to run only on Dutch servers was digitally archived by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations without ever being used. Other recent ICT project issues include the national and regional GGD services for corona testing (NOS.nl reported a lack of security features putting millions of COVID-19 patient and testing data at risk).

With customized advice and technical advisory services embedded in its latest deals, the Dutch government hopes to clear an image that came to light in 2014 through the Parliamentary Survey of the House of Representatives on the ICT problems in the national government. The survey stated that the Dutch government spends approximately €4-5 billion on ICT projects that end up failing.

Since then, specific issues related to project failure have not been properly addressed. For example, one aspect that is and continues to be difficult to manage and assess is large-scale digital projects across multiple government bodies carried out by multiple vendors. PAC stresses the need for a clear objective to an ICT initiative; there should be quality assessment programs, a focus on short design cycles, better budget management, an agile approach, clear business objectives, better control and oversight, and user involvement, to name a few.