Tuesday, 16 December 2008

On why government IT projects go wrong

Over on the Skeptics Forum, the question has been asked as to why government IT projects go wrong, see here.

As the use and abuse of government contracts and "public procurement" is to become a new theme for this Blog, I thought this a good moment to make a start.

In my experience, the key problems are:

1. the civil servants start off with an aspirational IT specification, requiring a great deal of bespoke development work, when they should instead adopt a Commercially Off The Shelf (COTS) package;

2. the elaborate and expensive "public procurement" process has a bias towards established government service providers who can deal with the many formalities and can afford to lose two bids in every three;

3. the service providers then put a bid in with a commercial and technological model which will require lots of lucrative post-contract development work;

4. in the meantime, the civil servants that launched the process will not be the ones who manage the project post-contract;

5. the government lawyers will (usually) not be commercial specialists and so will not ensure that the service contract has the contractual protections and appropriate allocations of risk; and

6. once the project is clearly going wrong, the government will throw money at the service provider because of the underlying public interest in the services being provided.

In my experience, it is the lack of realism and expertise in the government department which is as much at fault as the hapless contractors.

And, to declare an interest, I used to advise the government on IT contracts...

1 comment:

Northernsoul said...

Good points, particularly on bespoke software solutions and I don't think these problems are unique to the government. All to often private businesses are sucked in to developing bespoke software and are then tied in to a system that only the developer understands.