Three different IT workspaces for the Dutch national government

Recently I discovered that the Dutch national government uses no less than three different IT workspaces. With IT workspace I mean the software environment (operating system and applications) where public servants can log in through their computers to do their work. It appears that most ministries, namely Domestic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Infrastructure and Water Management, Social Affairs and Employment, Justice and Security and Health, Welfare and Sport use the workspace provided by SSC-ICT. SSC-ICT stands for Shared Service Center ICT and the largest IT service provider within the Dutch government. Two other ministries, Economic Affairs and Climate (abbreviated EZK in Dutch) and Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (abbreviated LNV in Dutch), use a different IT workspace provided by DICTU, another IT service provider for the national government which is probably second to SSC-ICT in size. Finally the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences (abbreviated OCW in Dutch) uses its own IT workspace.

The situation with OCW won’t last long because it started a temporary migration to the IT workspace of one of its executive organizations, DUO. When complete, it will start a migration to the workspace provided by SSC-ICT. Apparently OCW was very slow to migrate to SSC-ICT’s workspace because all the other ministeries already migrated in 2009. The cause of this delay is not clear to me. This is not the case for DICTU however. Initially EZK and LNV did intend to join the SSC-ICT workspace, but in 2014 SSC-ICT didn’t have to capacity to provide it to those ministries. As a consequence EZK decided to develop its own workspace.

This situation reminded me of the ideas of the economist William A. Niskanen, which I became familiar with during my master in Public Administration. Niskanen thought that bureaucracies would function more efficiently if they would have to compete with each other. I never had much confidence in this theory. Maybe it could work for some governmental organizations, like the Korps Commandotroepen and Korps Mariniers, respectively the special forces of the Dutch army and navy, competing with each other. It’s hard to image that competition would be favorable in this case of SSC-ICT and DICTU though. An IT workspace requires high startup costs for software development, infrastructure and end user support after all. It only becomes efficient when a sufficient scale is reached.

What seems to be the case here is that there was no vision or leadership from the level above the ministries to force them to collaborate on one IT workspace. The lack of commitment and unilateral decision making of a few ministries has led to the inefficient situation. It is unclear to me what the right of existence is of the DICTU workspace and why EZK and LNV can’t use the SSC-ICT workspace.

The interesting question is how it came to be this way. I spoke with a manager who had been working for some time with DICTU already about the issue. When I asked him why the capacity of SSC-ICT wasn’t expanded to serve EZK and LNV as well, he didn’t know. It would be interesting if a journalist or investigative committee could delve into this.

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