Government Projects – why they fail

The UK government’s record on IT projects is not very good. So says Computer Weekly in a recent article where it lists 13 IT projects that have not delivered against the original objectives.

Now, it is all too easy to criticise governments for failing to deliver (yes, I have fallen foul of this one) but, what can we all learn from the catalogue of errors? Some of the learning points come from within the article:

  • Magistrates Court Case Management System – “a key lesson from this project, according to the National Audit Office was; do not build IT to support existing ways of working – revise and simplify the process first”
  • Passports Service – “a failure to assess and test adequately the time needed by staff to learn and work the new passport processing system”
  • National Programme for IT (Health Service) – the initial plans proved wildly optimistic. The original 3 year plan is now a 10 year plan
  • Rural Payment Agency (RPA) – “risks and complexities involved in delivery had not been fully appreciated. The RPA underestimated the amount of work involved…”
  • Criminal Records Bureau – “officials ignored warnings from potential end users of the IT based vetting service…”

These are all clear learning points and I do not want to lose sight of them.

Some of these projects are ground breaking, “at the cutting edge of technology”. New ways of delivering services have been identified with IT seen as a major part of the solution. But according to the article: “labour has shown itself to be beleaguered by information and communication technology”. The article also pointed out that at the recent part conference in Manchester; politicians admitted their government had run into “considerable problems” with major IT projects. Technology was to be their saviour, but this has not been the case.

Why is the government record so poor? The answer which is hiding behind criticism of project management is politics. Large scale IT projects are part of a process for helping support the government’s change agenda. Efficiency and effectiveness are seen as bi-products of these huge risky projects. But, politics gets in the way!

So, the messages are be careful when politicians get too involved in projects and of companies who say they can deliver when the technology is untried and untested!

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