TechnologyGetting IT right

Getting IT right

The government is introducing three new initiatives aimed at improving public sector IT projects, after the series of damaging high-profile failures.

Public sector contracts are notoriously difficult to negotiate, and introducing changes after the deal has been signed is a complicated process that often causes delays and overspend.

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) has consulted with industry and now wants to see a single representative from both sides take responsibility for future projects. It believes this would give projects greater flexibility and help resolve any problems encountered earlier.

In future, suppliers bidding for a contract will be asked to nominate a senior executive to take responsibility for ensuring success. The OGC is training civil servants to ensure they have the necessary negotiating skills to deal with experienced IT suppliers.

‘In the past, projects have been run by committee and there was no one to carry the can,’ said an OGC spokesman. ‘Nothing focuses the mind more than having a specific person whose neck is on the line.’

A code of practice governing the procurement process and guidelines for evaluating value for money in complex procurements have also been produced.

The government believes that in the past senior staff from suppliers conducted negotiations. But once awarded, junior staff took over increasing the likelihood of failure.

Now, suppliers will be asked to nominate the senior industry executive responsible at the tendering stage, who will oversee the project.

The initiatives were hammered out by the Senior IT Forum, a joint government and industry body. In the coming weeks an advisory body will be established and begin looking for public sector bodies to nominate projects to follow the new practices.

‘The real litmus test will be getting more projects completed on time and to budget,’ said the OGC spokesman.

Earlier this year the Lord Chancellor’s Department tore up its agreement with Fujitsu Services, which was to have supplied case management software to magistrates’ courts because of spiralling costs.

Speaking after they lost the contract, a Fujitsu Services spokesman highlighted the immense difficulties of negotiating changes to contracts after the deal had been signed.

Similar problems have blighted the introduction of computer systems at the CSA and the Inland Revenue. In May this year, the overspend on public sector IT projects for the previous ten months topped £100m.

‘It does the industry no good at all to have its reputation tarnished by the stories of failure,’ said John Higgins, chief executive at industry group Intellect.

  • More at www.ogc.gov.uk/sdtoolkit/ – Reference/ogc_library/codesofprac.html

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