The Public Accounts Committee has just published its report on Delivering successful IT–enabled business change. Don't let its boring title mislead you: this is a journey into the very heart of government.
The Committee has been finding out why government IT projects are almost always expensive fiascos. Of course, it's done that many times before, but nothing ever changes.
The report says that central government currently spends £12-14 bn pa on "some 120 mission critical or high risk IT-enabled programmes and projects". And as we know from the NHS Supercomputer, the ID cards scheme, etc etc, they place an awful lot of trust in successful completion.
So you'd figure that they'd make the management of those projects a top priority, wouldn't you.
But incredibly, that's not the case.
As the report says, government routinely fails to follow the three golden rules of successful IT management:
- Ensuring senior level engagement- "board level engagment with major programmes and projects has been found wanting, resulting in a failure to identify and act on immiment risks to delivery"
- Acting as an intelligent client- "Departments have not always shown themselves to be intelligent clients, with poorly defined requirements and a lack of capacity to engage effectively with suppliers"
- Realising the benefits- "only a minority of programmes and projects have carried out final Gateway Reviews to determine if they have delivered the benefits they set out to achieve"
Let's just consider "senior level engagement".
Now OK, the Secretary of State in that case was the abysmal Margaret Beckett, but as the PAC report makes clear, that kind of senior managerial detachment is by no means an exception:
The big flash decisions may all get made at the top, but all too often the politicos don't want to know about the tedious and difficult stuff involved in actual implementation. That's down to the the civil servants.