I do enjoy it when I see articles in the Guardian that seem surprised about the level of failure and cost of Government IT projects. This morning they have "revealed" that the Government has pissed £2bn up against the wall on IT projects that have been cancelled or failed. I put "revealed" in quote simply because what they mean is that they added up the figures in the public domain already. The way they have suddenly woken up to things that techies like me, Computer Weekly, The Register and others have been banging on about for bloody ages is a tad irritating though.
The thing is the evidence for these complete balls-up have been around for ages. For a start few people will actually know that this financial year alone the Government will spend £12.4bn on IT projects, new, ongoing and cancelled of which a significant percentage will go to consultants. Failure is not really news to many of us though. For example, last September it was revealed that 87% of all the projects in review stage were were in jeopardy of overspend, delays or cancellation.
Then there is DEFRA who spent £13.6m on a pilot project that was not even fit for purpose. It failed in the design phase and yet they pushed ahead with spending on it anyway, built a pilot and then decided it wasn't worth it. Probably now is a good time to remind people about LIBRA, the court system that was in pilot for 16 years, has cost billions, didn't even have a project plan by late 2006 and by February 2007 no one was sure how much it had cost anymore.
Of course there is also the ill-fated NHS Connecting for Health too. In fairness this is one IT project whose failures have been well documented. Yet the lies of the Government have never really been put under the spotlight. Back in 2006 the National Audit Office reported the project cost had doubled by £6bn, meanwhile the Minister responsible said it was on budget and on time and that the "NAO has confirmed the cost has not overrun".
The Department of Work and Pensions, as the Guardian notes, has been one of the biggest wasters of money though. In March 2007, Parliamentary questions revealed that they had wasted almost £300 million on two projects alone that were cancelled. The signals of endemic failure have been flying around for so long it's amazing so few have noticed. Of course the real winners are the consultants. From 2002 to 2007, the DWP managed to spend £2,14bn on all its IT projects (ongoing and cancelled) and 24% of that figure went on consultancy fees, but they are usually off-balance sheet.
Then you have the DVLA, who had a contract with IBM that almost doubled from £287.3m to £437m in an ongoing project called, "Partners Achieving Change Together" that started in 2002 with the intention of lowering costs! Remember that it's not just cancelled projects that waste money though, sometimes the Government proposes IT projects, spends money and then nothing actually happens.
The thing is though, it's not like the Government doesn't know what's going on and hasn't been forced to say or publish indicators that the mainstream media have ignored. There is evidence that the Government has been actively shredding documentary evidence of its own failure for a start. In June last year, just before Gordon Brown left the Treasury, it was revealed by Computer Weekly that an order to shred Gateway Reviews of IT projects was made. These are documents that chart the progress and success of an IT project - a hug story really but one that remained largely in the IT World.
As far back as 2006, the then Environment Secretary David Miliband admitted, live on Radio 4, that the Government did not have "fame for competence with IT projects". Did anyone really pick up on yet another moment of honesty from a Secretary of State? Then there was Jack Straw who admitted that the Government gets ripped off and are rubbish at technology. He told the Commons Constitutional Affairs Select Committee that in everywhere he had worked in Government, IT projects "end up over budget and over time and are not quite up to spec".
It's good that the Guardian has given prominence to the IT failures of Government, it's just a shame that it had to be when the figure of waste had reached an astronomical level first. The endemic failure of IT projects over the past ten years, along with the recent failure in data security, makes the case for an a formal IT Ministry dedicated to dealing with technology across Government has never been stronger.