Friday, January 04, 2008

Cat Eats Dinner

Cat 5
More cash on the bonfire
In view of the couple of unpleasant real 'dog bites man' or, rather more usually 'dog bites small child', stories in recent weeks it seems inappropriate to use the usual cliché for reports such as this from the Guardian. Also, items like this crop up with greater frequency than savage attacks by dogs often of breeds wholly inappropriately kept as pets by morons.

Yes, it's another admission of the inability of the public sector's inability to implement a system any more complex than Windows Notepad (Mac users insert name of simplest OSX/Leopard accessory) without pissing a few million up the wall and then writing the system off.

The highlight is:
Joe Harley, programme and systems delivery officer at the Department for Work and Pensions, said the government's £14bn annual spend on IT could be used to build thousands of schools every year or to employ hundreds of thousands of nurses in the NHS.

"Today only 30%, we estimate, of our projects and programmes are successful," he told a conference. "It is not sustainable for us as a government to continue to spend at these levels. We need to up the quality of what we do at a reduced cost of doing so."

Source: The Guardian

Disgusted? Yes. Shocked? Still a little bit, yes. Surprised? Not in the least.

The rent-a-bullshit-excuse line will be for some unnamed civil servant to waffle on about what the measures of success were, and how not all of the under performing systems were completely canned.

As I've posted in the past, I'll be the first to admit that the private sector doesn't achieve 100% success, and when I started out in what eventually became CRM (Customer Relationship Management) around 60% of systems failed to achieve all of their objectives and most overran in terms of costs and time scales, but that was a long time ago. In the real world things have moved on massively while if, and it's a big 'if', there is progress in the right direction in terms of the commissioning of government IT systems then the term 'glacial' comes to mind.

Of the couple of dozen systems I've managed the implementation of, only two ultimately failed to meet the commonly agreed measures of success for the project, and neither overran by enough to even trouble the client's bean counters. I'm ashamed of the two that failed, even if it was largely because I was too young and green at the time to tell the sales person where he could go when he asked me to sign off on the scope document. I'm not sure that a civil servant with a pretty secure job and 'only' tax payer's money to play with would even take away that basic tough lesson from the experience.

Mr Harley is right to highlight the scale of the waste. It's not something we can simply shrug our shoulders at and assume that this level of failure is just the way it is when big business IT interacts with the public sector. More civil servants need to find a career better suited to their limited abilities. Perhaps even more importantly, some large service providers need to spend a very prolonged period on blacklists before they can once again suck at the teat of the taxpayer — I've seen how some keep the billing clock running and it would make a lawyer blush.

The overall spend on government IT will and, in many ways should, continue to grow as new opportunities arise to thereby offer better and cheaper services. It makes it all the more essential that we get these projects right.

Oh, and back to dangerous dogs...Yes I do have sympathy for those affected, but I'm not linking to the stories because I can't bear to read one more '...we never though Tyson would do a thing like that' line, no...really?

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