The most senior civil servants – often Permanent Secretaries – were sent a ‘Dear accounting officer’ letter by Treasury Officer of Accounts Brian Glicksman.
It instructed them to ‘ensure, from the date of this letter, that all mission-critical and high-risk projects do not suffer from any of the common causes of failure, as identified by the Office of Government Commerce and National Audit Office’.
The existence of the letter, sent out eight months ago – was revealed in an NAO report, Improving IT Procurement, which warned that despite a crackdown and ‘positive actions’ by departments ‘other projects continue to falter and fail’.
The NAO said: ‘Sometimes this occurs within the same department, and accounting officers must determine why one project succeeds where another fails.’
The NAO report follows several other attempts to bring home to departments the need for action.
Key issues for improving IT procurement for accounting officers include a requirement issued by prime minister Tony Blair to ensure risks to successful delivery are adequately considered before policy announcements are made.
They must ensure departmental boards take all possible steps to manage risks, see projects pass the Gateway procedure under which they are vetted, enable departmental centres of excellence make a difference, insist board scrutiny is effective and make sure close links are maintained with suppliers through a commercial director or equivalent.
The NAO said: ‘The history of such IT procurements has not been good, with repeated incidences of overspends, delays, performance shortfalls and abandonment at major cost.’
The report said intractable problems were shown up repeatedly, ranging from skill shortages to the need for better communications between all those involved, and better risk management.
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