Tuesday, October 07, 2008

UK government's unlucky 13 IT projects

Tony Collins at Computer Weekly has been compiling a list of UK government IT disasters. He thinks the failures are down to politics.

"In 2000 the Cabinet office published "Successful IT", a worthwhile guide to avoiding not-so-obvious traps. The Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have published many reports for more than a decade on what tends to make projects successes or not.

As well as these, the Office of Government Commerce launched the "gateway review" scheme early in the new millennium which is supposed to filter out flawed projects and programmes before their defects become manifest to MPs, the media and public. Impressive government CIOs including Ian Watmore and John Suffolk have tried to pre-empt high-profile failures.

But still the high-profile calamities drown out the successes: the IT fiasco over SAT tests, delays of four years in the "Scope" system to help combat terrorism and other threats by linking intelligence services and provide interfaces with the MoD and government departments, the anger among junior doctors over the failed MTAS applications system, and some local implementations under the NHS's £12.7bn National Programme for IT which have seriously disrupted patient care and operations and appointments. These are only a few of New Labour's IT embarrassments.

Why is its record on large projects so bad? The failures, we believe, have more to do with politics and culture than technical architectures and project management methodologies.

Building a bridge from the US to England may seem a good idea in theory but it is not practical. Yet ministers embarked on the technological equivalent with the NHS's £12.7bn National Programme for IT because nobody they would want to listen to told them it was fanciful.

One reason so many large public sector projects fail is that executives from some IT suppliers regularly propose to government unrealistic but ostensibly credible and beneficial solutions to problems civil servants did not know existed until suppliers explained what could be achieved with new technology."

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