Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why Government Is Crap At IT

Tell me all about your fascinating job...

Many years ago, when Tyler was a very junior and naive Civil Servant, he went to a party with Doctor Crippen. It was full of medical students joking hysterically about the lastest horrific cock-ups they'd perpetrated on the sick citizens of South London. Steadying his nerves with a brace of stiff ones, Tyler sought out another non-medico, who happened to be a most delightful young lady. Which was nice. And most gratifyingly, she hung on his every word, laughed at all of his jokes, and was totally smitten with the tedious details of his work.

It was only later- amid a departmental leak enquiry- that it transpired she was a journalist with Computer Weekly. And she'd reported in full Tyler's serious misgivings about a major IT project then underway in the department. Fortunately, Tyler's boss was an understanding sort of chap, and in exchange for a full confession, he commuted the capital sentence to a flogging on the quarter-deck.

Ever since then I've taken Computer Weekly's commentary on public sector IT projects extremely seriously- if anyone knows the truth, they do.

So when CW's executive editor, Tony Collins, tells us why government is so very very crap at IT, we should listen:

"Why do projects fail regularly to meet expectations? Each project runs into trouble for complex and sometimes unique reasons, but when projects are looked at over decades, it is possible to see some common factors emerging, particularly a lack of accountability and transparency.

Last year a senior civil servant, a chief communications officer, put his finger on one of the main causes of IT related failures in government: nobody tells it like it is.

This may be at the heart of the difficulties faced by the Government when it tries to introduce hugely ambitious schemes such as the NHS’s National Programme for IT and the technology that supports ID cards: government is set up to publicise its successes and to suppress its failures."

Mr Collins has put his finger on it. Lack of accountability and transparency is endemic to government (which is precisely why we'll be proposing a Transparency and Accountability Act in Conservative Home's 100 policies). And government always has an unerring ability to fool itself about underlying realities.

But it's his final point that's the real killer: government- especially this government- government is set up to publicise its successes and to suppress its failures.

We should all cut that out and stick it on the wall.

PS Today also brings- again via CW- the latest news of problems with the NHS Supercomputer: "HOSPITAL operations and consultations are being delayed across England because the new NHS computer system suffers almost one “major incident” failure every day. Patients have been left waiting on operating tables and others have had appointments cancelled. More than 110 major incidents have been reported by hospitals and GPs over the past four months, Computer Weekly magazine reports today. Reported problems include failures of the system used by surgeons to see X-ray pictures on a computer screen in wards and operating theatres. On some occasions the system has crashed during an operation, forcing the surgeon to suspend the procedure while a hard copy of the X-ray is found."


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