What’s the problem with public sector IT projects?

Met Police LogoIn times of austerity, as government budgets effect public services, it’s only right to expect that the public money that is being spent is being spent efficiently. But is this happening? Our police force, health service and benefits system have all recently been shown to be failing to manage IT projects properly.

Following a review of the Metropolitan Police  IT strategy the London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee has reported that:

The Met spends a lot of money on ICT, but most of it goes on maintaining old systems…

Failing to invest in new technology in turn means that the force is not working as productively as it could. Perhaps more uncomfortable though is that:

The force has not had a coherent ICT strategy for years and senior leadership in this area has been lacking.

This not an uncommon problem in with IT projects. Many people take pride in being luddite, wearing IT illiteracy as almost a badge of honour. This attitude is changing given the proliferation of gadgets like smartphones and iPads which are gently nudging people towards greater confidence with technology in general.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also has problems according to the National Audit Office who points out that DWP wrote off £34m spent on implementing IT for the Universal credit system, and that in handling the project DWP was beset by:

…weak management, ineffective control and poor governance…

and that:

Throughout the programme, the department has lacked a detailed view of how universal credit is meant to work.

If you don’t know how a business process (in this case, Universal credit) is meant to work, should you really be building IT systems to support that process?

My final example comes from my home town of Reading, where a hospital booking system for Royal Berkshire Hospital:

…has been plagued with problems, taking staff up to 15 minutes to navigate their way through multiple screens to book routine appointments and leading to severe backlogs on wards and outpatient clinics.

What’s the problem with public sector IT projects? Thanks to the transparency of Government we know the problems include spending money maintaining dated systems, not defining requirements properly and building systems that don’t meet needs. That’s what’s wrong with public sector projects. Not all that much different from some private sector projects then?

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