IT debacles could ensure future success of public sector

The report entitled Government IT projects, and compiled by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, provides independent analysis to identify why some government IT projects fail and the effectiveness of measures put in place to tackle the problems.

While the full report is not due to be published until early August, a summary showed that common problems include unclear user requirements and a lack of clear senior management, ministerial ownership and leadership. It has been researched against a background of IT difficulties, which have plagued projects at the Inland Revenue, National Air Traffic Services and the Department for Work and Pensions.

News that EDS, the IT supplier that implemented the disastrous tax credits system, will be chased by the Revenue for financial compensation was confirmed by paymaster general Dawn Primarolo last week. Sir Nick Montagu, chairman of the department, told Accountancy Age as much in an interview more than two months ago.

But prevention is better than cure, and Jim Norton, an external board member of POST, said it was important to view large scale IT projects differently. ‘There is no such thing as a computer project. There are business change projects that involve IT. For projects to be successful, they must consider the people dimension, explaining what is entailed, motivating and training staff and making them aware that productivity will initially fall with the move from the old to the new way of doing things.’

He said that while IT delivery problems occur in the public and private sectors, programmes involving government are perceived as faring worse because they are ‘often announced early, sometimes without considering the full delivery implications’.

Among issues specific to public sector IT projects is rapidly changing technology. The report said government departments may not be familiar with the latest IT, so may be unable to judge whether suppliers are overselling a technology.

Complexity and oversight also contribute to failures, as non-technical management in departments may have difficulty estimating how long a job will take and the quality of software being developed.

Project issues, such as relations with suppliers, are also critical.

The report stressed that, with external suppliers doing most of the work, government departments must be ‘intelligent clients’ when it comes to scrutinising bids and ‘be realistic about what systems are likely to deliver’.


  • Lack of a clear link between the project and the organisation’s key strategic priorities
  • Lack of clear senior management and ministerial ownership
  • Lack of effective engagement with stakeholders
  • Lack of skills and proven approach to project management and risk management
  • Lack of understanding of, and contact with, the supply industry at senior levels in the organisation
  • Evaluation of proposals driven by initial price rather than long term value for money
  • Too little attention to breaking development and implementation into manageable steps
  • Inadequate resources and skills to deliver the total delivery portfolio.

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