Saturday, January 05, 2008

IT Gusher Still Blowing

Thar she blows! And we're paying

An interesting piece in the Gruaniad about the cash wasted on abandoned IT projects. According to their survey, the known cost of projects abandoned by Whitehall since 2000 is now £2bn. They highlight:
  • Downing St led projects- "the much-derided £486m computer upgrade at the Child Support Agency (CSA), which collapsed and forced a £1bn claims write-off, and an adult learning programme that was subjected to extensive fraud"
  • Department for Work and Pensions- "responsible for squandering more than £1.6bn by abandoning three major schemes — a new benefit card which was based on outdated technology; the upgrade to the CSA's computer which could not handle 1.2m existing claims; and a £140m streamlined benefit payment system that never worked properly"

The article doesn't detail all the abandoned projects, but notes that £2bn will be a significant underestimate of total costs. That's because there is no official record covering everything, and also these figures exclude the cost of unworkable systems that are not abandoned per se, but which incur huge modification costs to coax them into some stuttering form of life. Examples include the hopeless NHS Supercomputer, and the hopeless system for the Rural Payments Agency (see many previous blogs for both). The Grauniad figures also exclude the newly abandoned Police Portal blogged here.

(HTP Joan W).

Meanwhile over at Commissar Balls' State Child Directorate, they've decided to do some more Simple IT Shopping. Senior Wally Schools Minister Jim Knight (yes, he's still there- see many previous blogs) has been put on the case of negotiating a good deal for broadband with public spirited ISPs like BT, Virgin Media, and Sky.

Knight reckons a million poor kids don't have access to a computer at home, and they need one for all the usual arm-waving education reasons. So the commissars are going to force all parents to get one, along with broadband. But the cost will be split three ways between the parents, the internet providers and yes, you guessed it, us taxpayers.

Now, see if you can guess what proportion of the cost will be borne by each. In an entertaining article, the Register gives us some clues. Under the excellent headline "Schools minister touts 'one interweb per child' pork barrel", it reports:

"The minister said he reckons the negotiations will be "crunchy", but that the government will effectively recruit millions of new customers for broadband providers. Which is jolly sporting of them.

The Department for Education, Schools and Families said it could not provide any more information on the talks, their schedule, or anything else about the plan. "There might be something more next week," a spokesman told us.

A spokesman for BT told us that it "keenly welcomed" the talks, but said they were "at a a very early stage", and refused to comment further."

We'll just bet he did.

And what's more, as the Register points out, it's only a month since Balls was blaming too much time spent on computers for our abysmal showing in the recent OECD reading tests (see this blog). Plus, there could be "child safety concerns in households where parental supervision might not be A-1".

There's more. Knight promises: "Technologically we can deliver the ability of parents to be able to log into a school intranet, be able to see what homework has been set or look at lesson planning, whether the child is attending, see what the timetable is like, all of that is possible."

Reg says: "Possible, but is it likely given Westminster's track record on massive IT pork fests? If the Knight and co. can bring down the cost of IT to even anywhere near private sector levels, they'll have succeeded where dozens of projects have failed before them.

Still, with the stock market headed south, we're sure the industry will be very glad to be handed the public purse again."

We couldn't have put it better.