NAO slams Whitehall over IT failures

It will take another 30 years before Whitehall can successfully deliver major
IT projects unless fundamental changes are made, says a leading adviser to the
National Audit Office (NAO) report on public sector efficiency.

Endemic problems in the civil service mean IT delivery failures will not be
solved and the eGovernment Unit’s Transformational Government (TG) strategy is
‘hype’, according to Colin Talbot, Professor of Public Policy at Manchester
Business School.
‘The strategy reads like technology is a cure-all, which is massively over-hyped
and doesn’t square with the record of large-scale government programmes,’ said
Talbot, who regularly provides expert evidence to House of Commons committees
and advises on NAO reports.

Whitehall’s preference for the ‘gifted amateur’ means senior civil servants
lack hands-on experience, and recent appointments from the private sector, such
as TG author Ian Watmore, are not enough, says Talbot.

‘We won’t get over these problems until there are root and branch changes,’
he said.

‘At the current rate it will take another 30 years for there to be any
significant impact.’

Institute of Directors senior policy adviser Jim Norton says Talbot’s
concerns are valid but unduly pessimistic.

‘It is about people and processes, not technology, and the mechanisms are
there to fix the problems,’ he said.

All projects should be recognised and budgeted as business process change
using existing structures such as the Gateway review system, says Norton. ‘TG
can be delivered, but does need some cultural change,’ he said.

Some public sector organisations are already working on plans in line with
TG’s emphasis on shared administrative systems to help meet efficiency targets.
The Prison Service’s national finance project starts this spring, and up to 10
Whitehall departments are considering collaborating on human resources.

Professor Patrick Dunleavy from the London School of Economics public policy
group said: ‘The current strategy is more feasible than most but I am
pessimistic about shared services unless is it part of a mixed economy that
gives assurance departments will get good service levels.’

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