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MPs get in a funk over open source

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Conservative Open Source Report Summary - Front Page - Mark Thompson - 27 JAN 2009.pngThe Conservative's open source technology strategy may have reached its culmination at a low water mark with the coalition government's renegotiated contract with Computer Sciences Corporation.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and chancellor George Osborne presented open source software as the antidote to the Labour government's "catastrophic" NHS National Programme for IT - and a recipe for cheaper and less botched government computing all round - when they launched their technology strategy in 2009.

Now four years on, what they have done instead is reconfirm £2bn the £2.9bn contract CSC originally signed under Labour, and dropped that bit of it that would have given them the means to open source the goods.

But the original Conservative tech policy was floated on a stream of opportunistic press leaks and anchored with a fishy tie-in with the then Conservative Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee chair Edward Leigh.

The coalition government's lack of progress since raises questions about whether it is prepared to put its weight behind the policy.

Spin

A party insider told Computer Weekly the NHS element of Conservative open source policy was spun to latch on to then current news about NPfIT - the National Programme, Labour's NHSIT disaster.

George Osborne - Edit.pngOsborne floated his open source policy on 27 January 2009, the same day the Public Accounts Committee published a report warning NPfIT wouldn't be delivered till 2015, four years late and at a cost of £12.7bn, because of BT and CSC in particular.

The weekend before the Public Accounts Committee released its report, Osborne's team did a last minute edit of his unpublished 2007 open source policy backgrounder.
Francis Maude - Edit.pngThe day the committee report came out, Osborne leaked his backgrounder to the tech press.

It had in fact been gathering dust in Osborne's draw for nearly two years. It was now unofficial Conservative policy: open source software would cut IT costs and "free government bodies from long-term, monopoly supply situations" such as its NPfIT contracts with BT and CSC.

A week later, The Times newspaper and Computer Weekly scooped the nethermost reserves of poop from the bottom of the Conservative policy headquarters' mudslinging barrel and slung them right in the then Labour government's bullseye.

It was a big bullseye. IT bodges had been par for the course since Labour took office in 1997.

The Times' had done an exclusive investigation of government IT bodges. But it was old news. The paper had dug right down into the archives, dragged up a clutch of rotten old IT bodges and slapped them up as an exclusive investigation.

Outrage

Leigh was so gullibly outraged he told The Times: "As a result of The Times' investigation I am going to immediately ask the Comptroller and Auditor-General [the head of the NAO] to investigate the whole matter of government IT spending and in particular the contracts highlighted in the paper."

The old dog must have had a short memory, because he forgot to mention he had already handled most of these IT bodges as chair of the Public Accounts Committee. And that's how The Times and Computer Weekly new about them in the first place.

The Times' investigation, published on 2 February, involved simply taking a bunch of old stories about IT budget over-runs and adding up the numbers. It said the total cost of Labour IT budget over-runs was over £18bn.

Edward Leigh and Dog.jpgBut £10bn of that came from the NPfIT cost over-run the NAO recorded in a report it had submitted to Leigh's committee three years before, in 2006. The NAO reviewed the situation again in May 2008 and stuck it in another report to Leigh's committee. After conducting its usual hearings into the 2008 NAO report, the committee then produced its usual report about the NAO report. That's the report the committee had published on 27 January - one that Leigh had been talking about in all the papers.

Now a week later, he was calling for the NAO to produce a report about The Times' report about his committee's report about the NAO report about NPfIT, as though it was the first he had heard of it. It was an outrage. It really was.

More outrage

Most of the rest of The Times' £18bn budget over-runs had come from HMRC's Aspire contract with Capgemini. The NAO had reported on this one in 2007. So had Leigh's Committee. So had the press.

Leigh had said in a 2007 committee press statement "the forecast figure is some £8.5 billion...compared with the original estimate of nearly £3 billion". Now two years on, The Times had reported it again. Leigh was outraged.

And most of the rest of The Times' £18bn came from the publication just 18 days before of Leigh's own committee report into the Ministry of Defence's Defence Information Infrastructure. That was about £5bn over-budget - a terrible state of affairs, really. But The Times' had learned about it from Leigh's committee, and they had both got it from the NAO about six months before. Now The Times was regurgitating it again, and Leigh was outraged like it was the first he'd heard of it.

Most of the rest of the £18bn came from Leigh's Committee's 2003 report into the Courts Service Libra project. Libra's cost had more than doubled to £400m, said Leigh in 2003, drawing from NAO numbers given him earlier. The cost had more than doubled to £500m, said The Times in January 2009, drawing from Leigh's earlier work. Leigh was outraged.

The rest of The Times' investigation regurgitated old news about three cancellations: a DWP benefits processing system from 2006, and police and passport websites from 2007. Ah and there was the National Offender Management Information System - then still work-in-progress for the NAO. Leigh was outraged.

Investigation

Leigh was so forgetful that no sooner had he called for an NAO investigation of The Times' investigation of the committee report on the NAO report than the whole idea of an NAO investigation was forgotten, like it had never even been officially proposed at all.

It hadn't. The NAO recorded no official request from Leigh for such an investigation. The NAO in fact never conducts general studies. So it says. So Leigh's committee would have been surprised if the NAO had done a general report into government IT bodges, because it has for the last 30 years worked to a Standing Order by which it examines about 40 of those non-general NAO reports every year.

This was all nevertheless important enough for Osborne to pitch in with a commentary in The Times on 3 February.

Osborne said: "Yesterday's report in The Times that government...IT is running nearly £19 billion over budget was genuinely shocking".

It seemed nobody had read any of Leigh's old committee reports. Or they were so far back on his shelf that everyone else had forgotten about them as well.

But at least Osborne had an answer to this old problem that he had known nothing of till The Times regurgitated it.

The solution, he said, was to stop handing out big IT contracts to the same old big suppliers and break them up into manageable chunks using open source software and open standards. Maude, then head of the Conservative Party's Implementation Unit, was to lead the work.

Now nearly four years on, the coalition government has still to reach a significant milestone on either its open source or open standards policies.

The big departments of state have continued to sign large contracts with the same old large suppliers. The same old large suppliers have opposed the coalition's open source and open standards policies, just as they oppose the contract transparency the coalition government promised as well.

The Tory top team may have been so desperate to put nails in Labour's coffin in 2009 that it would have said anything to get the vote - even that it would use open source software. The two parties were clambering over one another to make the most convincing noises about IT bodges. Labour's own open source policy had been gathering dust for years.

Soldiers nail data for agile offensive on $6bn cock-up

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afghanistan-graveyard-of-empires.jpgThe US Army has started pinning wayward data down to prevent a new payroll system joining a gargantuan pile up of military IT disasters.

The effort is part of an emergency reform of IT projects using agile methods, on orders issued by the Department Defense last year after 11 major computer systems went $6bn over budget and 31 years behind schedule.

The US Army applied the DoD's 'agile' systems development methods to its Integrated Personnel and Pay System (IPPS), to prevent it becoming another failed military IT venture. Due to handle $68bn in pay to more than one million soldiers by 2017, the system has been put on a White House list of most risky IT systems and is being rolled out in cautious increments.

"For this approach to work, the first increment is focused on the creation of authoritative data," a US Army spokeswoman told Computer Weekly.

"Subsequent increments will field applications utilising the authoritative data," she said.

Auditors had blamed data problems for wrecking the US military's ambitious plan to rip out pay and logistics systems and replace them with all-encompassing Enterprise Resource Planning systems by vendors such as Oracle and SAP. But with hundreds of different systems being merged, nobody had ensured their data would be compatible.

The Army spokeswoman said it had adopted the agile approach spelled out in the DoD's Business Capability Lifecycle, an emergency measure it published last year to reform systems procurement and development. The BCL insisted software developers should work closely with users to define their requirements. These would be prioritised and reviewed, and developed in increments that were approved formally.

"No system within the Army better exemplifies this approach than the Integrated Pay and Personnel System," said the spokeswoman.

The IPPS system was started in 2010 as a clean slate on another spoiled clean slate. It replaced the DoD's previous attempt at an ERP pay system, the Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System, after 12 years work that had cost $1bn. HR system Contractor Northrup Grumman, the fifth largest US defence contractor, was kept on to develop IPPS.

The forces are anticipating more reforms this Autumn when Elizabeth McGrath, DoD's deputy chief management officer, is expected to issue a more refined set of agile orders. Other troublesome projects have already been disciplined.

Supplier Computer Sciences Corporation finished the US Army's 1999 Logistics Modernization Programme last year, six years behind schedule.

LMP went on the record as being done on budget after the Army accepted an offer on a $2bn compensation claim it had against the supplier. After seven years of contract arbitration in which CSC filed $861m of counter claims against the Army, CSC settled the matter with a $269m payment last year. The settlement also cleared another $1.2bn of outstanding contract complaints, said the Army spokeswoman.

McGrath defended the DoD's efforts to resolve its data problems at a US Senate committee hearing about the ERP failures in April.

"In terms of passing the data from the legacy environment into the ERP, we do not have standard data across the enterprise, and so it becomes evident in the implementations," she told the Armed Services Committee.

"It requires just to bring forward all of the legacy practices and change them so that when we are implementing these ERPs, we do have a holistic approach to the data and the systems," said McGrath.

Senator Claire McCaskill, committee chairman, said the common problem for all these problematic systems had been "data standardisation and interface".

Robert Work, chief management officer of the US Navy, told the committee it was developing data standards to allow it to aggregate information from all its information systems after being pulled up to explain its own IT disasters.

He said the Navy had finally deployed its troublesome Marine Corps Global Combat Support System after over-running by $808m and three years. It's ERP upgrades would all be complete by the end of the 2013 fiscal year, he said. They were already serving 66,000 of 71,000 target users, while the Navy had shut down 55 of 96 systems scheduled for scrap by 2016.

CSC finance director exits as fraud probe hits UK

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A CSC finance director has quit, while a number of his peers face disciplinary action intended to stamp out accounting problems that have drawn the attention of US regulators.

It emerged last week that a year-long investigation, which has already lead to purges of finance departments in Denmark and Australia, has now focused on the UK and engulfed CSC's troubled NHS contract.

The Cabinet Office has meanwhile extended negotiations with CSC over the NHS contract until 31 August, a year after the coalition government said it had resolved its NHS IT problems.

Neil Malcolm, CSC director of finance for manufacturing, chemicals, energy and natural resources, quit the company on 4 April.

He told Computer Weekly he had not been involved in CSC's troubled NHS contract. He said he had not been implicated in any fraud investigation. He declined to say whether he had been implicated in a wider investigation into accounting irregularities at CSC.

"I left CSC on 4 April. It wasn't disciplinary. It was my choice," he said. "I had nothing to do with the NHS contract."

"I'm not prepared to discuss this," he said. "I'm not going to comment on that at all. I'm not going to be drawn into an issue that's internal to CSC. That's between me and CSC."

He said he had been a director of finance for the UK.

CSC refused to discuss the nature of his departure. A CSC spokeswoman said: "It is company policy not to comment on internal matters or matters relating to staff departures."

Nothing had indicated that Malcolm had been involved in fraud. Andy Thomson, vice president of international finance at CSC, refused to confirm whether Malcolm's departure was related to any fraud or other accounting irregularities. He refused to answer any questions on the matter.

The majority of CSC's accounting irregularities, which are being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, were unearthed in its Managed Services Sector (MSS) business unit, and primarily in the Nordic region, the company said in a financial statement last week.

Irregularities were later discovered to have also involved CSC businesses in Australia and the Americas, as well as the NHS in the UK.

"In the course of the Audit Committee's expanded investigation, accounting errors and irregularities have been identified. As a result, certain personnel have been reprimanded, suspended, terminated and/or resigned. All of these investigative activities are ongoing," said the statement.

MSS accounted for 41 per cent of CSC's $16bn revenue in 2011 when the first irregularities were discovered. MSS houses CSC customers in sectors including aerospace & defense, chemical & natural resources, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, retail and telecommunications.

$24m of "Intentional irregularities" were found in the accounts of CSC's £3bn NHS IT contract after a year-long investigation by independent auditors, said CSC.

"Certain CSC finance employees based in the United Kingdom were aware prior to fiscal 2012 of the aforementioned errors, but those employees failed to appropriately correct the errors. Therefore, the Company has classified these errors as intentional. As a result, certain personnel have been suspended and additional disciplinary actions are being considered."

The errors had overstated CSC's income from the NHS contract by $24m after failing to account for costs.

Investigators had found other accounting problems with the NHS contract, on which CSC wrote off $1.5bn last year after its continued failure to meet a 2007 deadline to deliver computer systems to health bodies over two-thirds of England. The investigation was ongoing. CSC did not expect further revelations would involve amounts large enough to dent its financials.

The US SEC probe, which is also ongoing, led to a string of revelations about intentional accounting errors in CSC's Nordics, Australia and Americas businesses. CSC Denmark CEO Carsten Lind resigned as details of the accounting problems broke last Autumn. Hundreds of redundancies have followed in the wake of a major Danish public sector IT failure and the loss of CSC's largest private sector customer in the region, the telecoms firm TDC, to Indian outsourcer Tata.

CSC is making approximately 1,100 redundancies in the UK, thought to be about 15 per cent of its local workforce, as it stands down teams that had been working on the NHS contract and absorbs the shock of financial results that recorded a $4.3bn worldwide loss last week.

The majority of the loss was attributed to the NHS write-off and a $2.7bn loss of goodwill over numerous acquisitions CSC had made in the last 10 years. $269m was attributed to a settlement CSC made with the US Army over its Logistics Modernisation Programme, one of 11 ERP projects that caused trouble for the US Department of Defence.

Southwest One emits hot air after near-collapse

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Failed IBM outsourcing venture Southwest One became a cause célèbre in Somerset last week, with the council leader damning it so loudly he almost sounded like he might do something about it.

But it was all hot air. And it had the stink of opportunism, what with Somerset being in the middle of renegotiations over its 10-year Southwest One contract. Southwest One was nevertheless forced to respond. But when it did, it merely gave a blast of hot air as well: giving the same assurances that it has been giving Somerset for the last four and a half years. Yes, there was a right pong hanging over Somerset last week.

It all started letting off after Computer Weekly exposed the terrible state of the IBM venture's finances.

Southwest One had appeared on the verge of bankruptcy in the 2010 accounts that Chairman Derek Pretty signed off just last month.

CW asked SW1 whether IBM had saved it from bankruptcy with the £10m mortgage it extended last month. It ignored our questions.

Council leader Ken Maddock had meanwhile used his annual budget statement before a full council meeting last Wednesday to give SW1 a dressing down.

SW1 had been a failure, he repeatedly told councillors. His words reverberated around the county. He called SW1 a failure no fewer than eight times in his brief speech. SW1 had failed to give the people of Somerset value for money, good prices or flexibility, he said.

So he was presumably going to cancel the contract or at least do something more convincing than what Somerset had been doing over the four years in which SW1 consistently failed to deliver on the promises IBM made on its behalf in 2007? No, actually.

"We [will] continue to do all we can to make Southwest One work," he said.

But there is one thing Maddock will be doing after his speech. He'll be back to renegotiations over the SW1 contract. The media squall that followed his outburst will have done Somerset's negotiating position no harm at all.

And there was something else he would do: more outsourcing. He had embarked on a review of what other things the council could outsource to joint ventures like SW1.

"Almost half our most vital services are carried out by private sector or not for profit organisations - we will look to increase this where appropriate," he said, failing to note the unbelievable irony of it.

SW1 answered Maddock by claiming it was still on track to make savings for the council.

"We have negotiated contracts that will deliver savings of at least £71m for the partners over the next few years, of which they have implemented £15m to date," it said.

But it had been repeating this statement during the four years that its directors were forced in January to write-off as an accounting loss.

IBM had in 2007 promised £192m of over 10 years. SW1's failure to deliver these savings had been apparent to critics in 2009. It answered them by claiming it had "identified" savings of £65m.

"It has claimed an early success in procurement, identifying £65m in savings and declaring that it is on course to deliver £200m over the 10 year life of the contract," said The Guardian after an interview with Somerset chief executive Alan Jones in 2009.

An internal review commissioned by then newly elected Somerset council leader Ken Maddock found in 2010 that SW1 had delivered just £2m of its promised savings. The earlier identified £65m savings were nowhere to be seen.

SW1 reassured councillors in 2010 it had identified savings of £45m. It had accumulatively identified savings now of £110m.

But SW1 admitted in its statement last week it had actually delivered just £15m. Identified savings were now £71m.

Little appears to have changed, apart the now wide acknowledgement of SW1's failure. SW1 may refuse to admit it in statements to the press, but its directors were forced to admit it in not so many words in its 2010 accounts. They had been forced to tear up its business model and start again.

Its bankruptcy was also apparent. It couldn't pay its debts. Its directors doubted it would cover them by the time it had reached the end of the 10-year outsourcing contract into which it had been spun-off from Somerset County Council in 2007. It was about half-way through its £0.5bn term and its directors couldn't even foresee how to cover its £17m start-up costs.

SW1 directors had been so embroiled with their troubles they were four months late filing their accounts. They only did so after IBM had given them a £10m mortgage. They said they had a new business model. This time it would deliver. They didn't say what it was.

Cosy cloud coterie snuggles into top nob govIT jobs

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Mmmmmits snug at the top. Especially if you're Julian David, IBM's top UK salesman, who last week was picked to be Director General of Intellect, the ICT oligopoly's trade association.

It's only three years since David bagged the sale of the century, getting the Cabinet Office to re-badge IBM's cloud computing slogan as HM G-Cloud. Now he's not only got the cosiest seat in the business, but Andy Nelson, his apprentice on the G-Cloud programme, has been appointed government CIO at the Cabinet Office, the most senior job in government IT.

Imagine how made up David was when, chuckling over his cognac at the Intellect hearth, he learns that Nelson, Ministry of Justice CIO and senior responsible owner for HM G-Cloud, would be his opposite number in government.

How cosy it will be round the fireside when the pair are joined by Cabinet Office permanent secretary Ian Watmore, who was Nelson's colleague at Anderson Consulting (later known as Accenture) for seven years after they joined the 1980 intake.

How quaint last March's government ICT strategy now seems, with Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude vowing to "put an end to the oligopoly of large suppliers that monopolise [government] ICT provision".

Julian David - IBM - Intellect.pngAll that puff and bluster for aught

David moves into office at a crucial time for IBM. All his work promoting the G-Cloud is about to come to fruition. But it will need an extra push to get public bodies around the country to swallow it, close all their data centres, sack all their techies and give all their computer systems over to IBM or whichever branch of Acme Data Corp. they happen to buddy. That's what the G-Cloud promises.

David's just the man for the job. For though his 28-year career at IBM was officially terminated in 2010, he has an unrivalled track record selling IT industry fads.

He was there in 1998 as IBM's European Marketing director, flogging the Year 2000 bug fix to a terrified public, telling them it would be "the kiss of death" to anyone who didn't fix it.

He was there again flogging disastrous Enterprise Resource Planning systems in the millennial boom years.

The fateful year SAP began selling IT disasters to the retail industry, there was David again as ERP marketing director at the Retail Industry Unit of IBM, telling supermarkets how by spending mere hundreds of millions of pounds they could turn reliable old systems into ones that would burn their money more efficiently.

Andy Nelson - Government CIO.pngRetailers lapped it up. Andy Nelson, our new government CIO, was there in 1997 - lapping it up as Asda director of computer services, though only as long as it took to outsource the supermarket's computing to IBM.

Asda's then new CEO Allan Leighton did the deal after returning from a Harvard MBA programme. Two Harvard professors came to see it went smoothly.



Bad reputation

ian watmore DIUS Expo 08 Manchester Uni.jpgIt might not have gone so smoothly, but it certainly gave the eggheads something to think about when that first raft of ERP deals came to fruition in the mid-noughties.

MFI's £50m IBM SAP implementation led to losses and two boardroom scalps.

Sainsbury's had outsourced its entire IT in a £1.8bn deal with Accenture, then overseen by Ian Watmore. Four years later, its first ever net loss was attributed to supply chain and IT problems.

Sainsbury's kicked Accenture out and wrote off £260m IT spend. Bringing its IT back in-house was said to have helped turn the business around. Its management still denounces outsourcing, "unequivocally".

Angela Morrison, the woman who kicked Accenture out of Sainsbury's, had earlier kicked IBM out of Asda, undoing the work our new man Nelson had done in 1997.

Asda's subsequent, do-it-yourself SAP implementation was so successful it was rolled out across the rest of Walmart, its parent. Walmart's success was said to stem from doing its own IT, because it was too integral to trust to an outsourcer.

Other companies followed suit. JP Morgan bank terminated its $5bn IBM outsourcing contract in 2005. It had been the largest such deal in banking. Even Gartner, cheerleader for the US IT industry, admitted it was "time to stop compulsive outsourcing".

Worse still for IBM, the dotcom bust had forced the private sector to freeze IT spend. So IBM and its ilk turned on the public sector, which was famously the only sector spending any money. Watmore was now in government, overseeing the spending.

That's where Julian David pitched up after retail. As vice president of IBM public sector business he started flogging the same big outsourcing deals that had gone tits up in the private sector.

There was some good news to boost his chances.

Rob Fraser - Sainsbury's IT Director - receiving 2011 CIO of the Year award.png Boots terminated a £710m IBM outsourcing contract only half-way through its term in 2007, apparently because it had been so successful its modernisation finished early.

But Boots vowed never to put all its eggs in one basket ever again.

Rob Fraser, its group IT director (now at anti-outsourcer Sainsbury's), said outsource suppliers had no interest in helping customers cut the cost of their IT.


With friends like these...


But outsourcers were now busy trashing their reputations in the public sector. They made such a good job of it that government IT became synonymous with disaster. And government is going through the same re-evaluation of outsourcing industry went through in the mid-noughties.

This is the apparent legacy of John Higgins, Intellect boss for 14 years. He became head of the CSSA in 1998 and rode the rise and fall, consolidation of power, establishment of a bankrupt contractual model, left a trail of IT disaster stories and an industry with a reputation for bodge and exploitation - a reputation that became so well established the coalition government was able to define itself in opposition to it - to define Labour as the government of big-state IT failures. Government has denounced his trade association's membership and methods as the corollary of Labour IT. It has tried to mend their mutual record of kaput computing by rallying tech entrepreneurs not normally associated with Intellect.

On the occasion of David's appointment last week Intellect issued a press release in which the DG-designate said he looked forward to doing his bit to improve skills in the industry and support SMEs.

CW asked Intellect for David's SME credentials, Intellect said he had wide experience and had worked with SMEs.

Burmuda.pngDavid used to flog computers to SMEs as vice president of IBM's SME business. But his SME credentials consist of just eight months as a board director of EGS Group, a £3m company that had worked with him on the Cabinet Office G-Cloud plans in 2010.

He left EGS in May 2011 to open a UK office for Hong Kong-based, Bermuda-registered, Azeus.

...who needs SMEs?

David's SME credentials do not compare well with the notable notches he marked up as big business honcho at IBM.

The most notable of his recent achievements was an infamous £400m outsourcing deal by which IBM sought to gain control of public computing across the entire South West England. It is hard to imagine this megalomaniacal plan having any regard for SMEs.

Flush with the Boots boost in 2007, IBM formalised an agreement in principle to subsume the IT functions of 36 councils and emergency services in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

It initially involved IBM taking 75 per cent ownership of a public-private partnership called SouthWest One and acquiring the IT functions of Somerset and Taunton Deane Councils and Avon & Somerset Police.

It would implement a SAP system to run them and deliver £192m savings over 10 years. David said the project would cut costs and boost the local economy. But it floundered.

The SAP implementation went awry. A report by Somerset County Council Review Panel in 2010 said participating councils would have to renegotiate their contract before they would realise the savings IBM promised at the outset.

Alan Jones - former CEO of Somerset County Council.pngThe then Somerset CEO Alan Jones had earlier denied specific allegations of SAP problems and contract failures made by Ian Liddell-Grainger, local MP.

£65m of savings had already been booked, Jones claimed in 2009. The 2010 report said the venture had delivered only £2m of savings, had no clear idea how it would produce the rest and could anyway conceive only an estimated £45m cut in procurement costs.

The affair was murky, with Unison and councillors complaining about unwarranted secrecy. IBM had blocked an ITV reporter from using a little-known public scrutiny law to view the contract. Liddell-Grainger made unsubstantiated allegations of corruption. Jones got embroiled in grubby in-fighting with councillors.


David personally played an important part in turning this trashy reputation into a revamped sales story for outsourcers. Called the cloud, it was a transcendental vision worthy of the late 90s ERP pitch.

The cloud was a rebranding of ideas already in David's public sector pitch in 2007: departmental silos were bad, paying IBM to consolidate your data centres and virtualize your systems was good. Asset re-use was the carrot on the stick.

The fully formed cloud pitch was essentially outsourcing with dodgy bits stuck on. It promised to cut costs, cut jobs and deploy a radically new sort of computer system.

Julian David Presents RBWM plans for UK LAs to cloud at Intellect - Cloud Presentation - 11 October 2010.pngIt'll be different this time

As president of Socitm in 2010, Jos Creese promoted those same ideas, proposing local authorities sack computing staff and buy services instead from the cloud.

Creese fell in with David in 2006 when as CIO of Hampshire County Council (home of IBM HQ) he did a five year deal to rent an enterprise architecture made of elements that would later underpin IBM's cloud.

Hampshire had at the time just celebrated the successful installation of an SAP system. Council IT staff had done the installation themselves. Hampshire systems were running £2m-a-year more efficiently.

Creese's ideas echoed those touted by Ian Trenholm, CEO at the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, a council with intimate ties to the coalition government. David's cloud pitch did too.

The shared idea was that if councils standardised their business processes, their organisations would readily plug into the cloud.

Margaret Miller - Accenture - former Sainsbury's CIO.pngSainsbury's had adopted the same ideas for its abortive Accenture transformation in 2000 - the one that led the supermarket to realise how IT was too important to entrust to someone else.

Margaret Miller, its then CIO, said how was trying to adopt standard business processes so it could use commodity computer systems. Miller now advises government customers for Accenture.

Pompous postlude

The idea runs contrary to the bottom-up noises the coalition government made before coming into power.

It runs contrary also to agile and lean, the empowering methods to which government has turned in the hope of reversing the trend for moronic public computer ventures - methods more akin to Sainsbury's, Asda and Hampshire in the days when they took IT into their own hands.

The Cabinet Office is meanwhile making a song and dance about getting SMEs into the G-Cloud. But the cloud will ultimately be a greater force for consolidation than economic regeneration.

When every council in the South West is using the same business processes, IBM's SouthWest One will be able to make a better case for subsuming their IT. The G-Cloud may not, as we are told, be a greater opportunity for SMEs, but merely something that must be made to accommodate SMEs so they are not excluded entirely.

Placatory postscript

John Higgins presents an award to an IT company for being an IT company.png
David will have to work hard to prove his SME talk is anything more than hot air. He will have to work harder to rescue the legacy left by Higgins, who you might think a decent man who has done good work, but showed poor judgement by staying in office after the wind changed.

As it happens, your jaded correspondent has had the good fortune to meet the new DG, and was struck at what a jolly good chap he appeared to be. That might better qualify him for the job than any publicity guff about SMEs, for the current bout of government-led reforms have striven for genuine collaboration to replace the adversarial relationships that defined its relationship with ICT suppliers in the past. But what industry really needs is a reformer, not a placatory pair of hands.

What a NHSIT year for CSC

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Christmas pudding.pngTuesday 27 December was a good day to bury bad news. With 60m Brits digesting their Christmas Bank Holiday feasts in front of crap telly, news outlets were running skeleton crews. The most work done anywhere was by the nation's sewers, straining under the seasonal glut in excrement.

This was the day Computer Sciences Corporation let it slip that it might have to write off the entire $1.5bn it has invested in the UK NHS National Programme for IT (NHSIT), after two years of negotiations under the threat of cancellation.

Was this some fit of seasonal goodwill from the most vilified of boohisstems integrators - relinquishing its claim on money otherwise needed desperately for aunt Mabel's tit transplant?

Or was it just the latest manoeuvre in the battle for public opinion being waged over Labour's National Programme for IT?

It was of course the latter and though CSC's warning was not the defeat it appeared to be, it was a retrenchment the beleaguered company did well to keep from the limelight. Now it has cleared all its skeletons from the closet and is reportedly close to appointing a new CEO, the markets might ease their sustained punishment of its share price.

Weak resolutions

The spotlight can return now to the government, which after a year of playing shark cards on CSC has achieved nothing of its ambition to scrap the National Programme.

It hasn't scrapped the programme because it can't simply tear up its contracts. It may not want to either. It outsourced the work. CSC, its outsourcer, invested $1.5bn in it. It developed an albeit unfinished suite of next-generation health software. It wants the guaranteed return on investment the NHS deal originally promised.

Unable to cancel the contract, the Cabinet Office has been able only to stall while the political machine piles up evidence in condemnation of the programme. If public opinion turned the contract toxic, CSC would have to get rid of it; NPfIT could be scrapped.

Public relations

This seemed to be the game when in February the NHS interrupted ongoing negotiations with CSC to issue a public threat of contract termination. CSC was still missing deadlines for systems it was originally contracted to deliver in 2007. But NHS couldn't terminate the contract without facing the question of its own liability for the project's failure.

So Cabinet Office forbade NHS from signing the deal until its Major Projects Authority had reviewed the project and issued a verdict on the MOU. The evidence meanwhile stacked up against NPfIT and CSC.

Negotiations reached a preliminary conclusion in May, in the shadow of a damning National Audit Office report into NPfIT's failure and the part CSC and other suppliers had played in it. But the terms (when leaked - Public Accounts Committee hearings that month were denied details) did not look pleasant: a one sixth cut in the £3bn cost of the contract in exchange for nearly a third fewer implementations and a year added to the contract term.

The MPA was apparently not content. Within weeks NHS CIO Christine Connelly was replaced with a Cabinet Office executive. MPA delivered its review, recommending the NHS extract further concessions from CSC, effectively condemning the MOU to the shredder. But the document was classified and seen by only a limited number of ministers and civil servants. CSC carried on in the belief that the review had not yet been completed. When CSC stated this in a statutory report to shareholders on 15 June, MPA stayed schtum.

MPA stayed schtum again on 3 August when the Public Accounts Committee produced its report into NPfIT, calling for some sort of review to consider terminating the contracts.

Hogwash

The MPA also stayed schtum when on 10 August CSC said in a statutory statement to shareholders that the MOU was still waiting on the conclusion of the MPA review. It wasn't until September that the Department of Health finally admitted it had the review. It said it would consequently seek to dismantle the programme more quickly than it had been doing. But this was hogwash: it had not reached an agreement over CSC's £3bn contract.

Cabinet Office finally published a heavily redacted version of its review on 23 September, just seven days before the six-month deadline for its return of a £170m advance if the MOU hadn't been concluded. Of course the MOU hadn't been concluded. MPA had redacted its final recommendation on the MOU. It had apparently not delivered its verdict so the MOU wasn't agreed and the money had to be repaid.

CSC had egg on its face over the repayment. Its CEO announced his retirement. CSC then went back to the negotiating table. But it told shareholders on 9 November it was still waiting on MPA's recommendation on the MOU and therefore the future of its contract. Its financial results were terrible.

The stand-off had achieved something. It had crushed CSC's share price to below a goodwill threshold, contributing to a £2bn deduction in earnings. That crushed its share price further. But there was still no resolution in negotiations that had now been going on for two years.

Nothing, it seems, would make CSC fold its cards. Yet if the government settled for anything less its ICT strategy and long-standing condemnation of the National Programme would look puerile.

Times £2bn CSC NHS exclusive.pngHard news

That was until 8 December when the Times Newspaper stepped in with the apparently shocking results of an "exclusive" investigation: the MOU would involve CSC's contract being extended by a year and £2bn, it said.

The Times story was ridiculous. But it caught on with some help from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee. Committee chair Margaret Hodge compared CSC to "cowboys". Whatever had been going on since negotiations had resumed, CSC was on the ropes, but still clinging to its contract. The MOU terms published as findings of the "exclusive" investigation had been public since May and a matter of public record since CSC repeated them to shareholders in June.

CSC had said in the summer the MOU deal would extend the contract a year. It said it expected to realize up to £2bn in revenue in the period. It was very unlikely this meant an additional £2bn, or two-thirds increase, on the existing £3bn contract. A £500m reduction was part of that same deal. It more likely meant that would be the period when CSC would realize the bulk of its income on the entire contract. It's payments had always been contingent on delivery. It might have won a quid-pro-quo extension for a cut in the cost of the contract, but MPA hard-nuts had not dragged negotiations out for another year only to hand CSC another £2bn.

Google Finanace share price shapshot for CSC - Year to 31 December 2011.pngWinter harvest

CSC's share price held out till a scheduled dividend payout on 20 December. It then took a dive. Ratings agencies started downgrading CSC. Phrases like "junk status" started flying around. A week later CSC said the MPA had rejected the MOU. So the Cabinet Office had finally delivered the verdict it had published internally in June and redacted in September.

CSC said the MOU talks would resume in January. But with nothing having been achieved in 2011, it had to face the possibility that it would not never recover the £1.5bn it had invested in NPfIT to date. Talks were clearly getting nowhere even now they were entering their third year.

So Cabinet Office goes back to square one after a year of public buffoonery and fruitless backroom scheming. It's ICT strategy is starting to look ridiculous. Neither the Department for Health, the Cabinet Office nor CSC will answer even the simplest of questions about the situation, such as when MPA actually delivered its verdict to CSC.

The only reason anyone knows anything about the talks is because CSC is required by law to tell its shareholders. They enjoy a greater right to know what about what the government is really doing with the National Programme than British citizens and tax payers.

Margaret Hodge may have been right. But the government's failure to produce a CSC deal that will allow it to conduct its planned "dismantling" of the National Programme and deliver redress for its failure makes it begin to look like it lacks the moral as well as contractual rectitude, no matter how bad a deal it thinks the NHS got in 2003.


US military issues agile and open standards orders after ERP disasters

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US Marine Camel.pngThe world's most muscular military machine is still operating on creaky old computer systems after a decade of modernisation by systems integrators and ERP software suppliers whose problematic implementations have gone $7bn over-budget.

It is nearly 10 years since US military divisions followed the millennial trend in public computing by pooling their purchasing and embarking on the ambitious, clean-slate replacement of hundreds of business systems with all-encompassing Enterprise Resource planning software.

Then they followed the ERP trend of going years over-schedule and billions of dollars over-budget.

Now the Department of Defence claims it is going agile, adopting open standards and embracing the semantic web.

But the millennial ERP projects are still unfinished, racking up enterprise-scale costs, and leaving US military logistics short of the "global" potency imagined in polices and contracts draughted in the years it invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

The US Air Force responded to further questions about its software troubles last week by confessing it is cutting its losses on ERP project that by October 2010 was 4 years and £2.2bn over-budget.

"Agile...open"

In testimony before the Armed Services Committee of the US House of Representatives last Thursday, Elizabeth McGrath, deputy chief management officer at the Department of Defence, said the next phase of its efforts to modernize computer systems supporting military operations would be agile.

"Through the next release of the [Business Enterprise Architecture], we will apply open standards and protocols to architecture development, leveraging Semantic web technologies, common business process modelling approaches, and agile development methodologies," said McGrath's testimony.

"To implement these new approaches, I recently directed the Department to use these specified standards, and the end-to-end process framework, in the development of both the BEA and all subordinate Enterprise and solution architectures," she said.

With unfinished ERP projects having not delivered what they promised, the US Department of Defence is still voicing the same ambitions as when launching its IT modernisation programmes in 2002 and 2003, saying it wants to modernize its computer systems to be more flexible, cost effective and powerful instruments of organisation.

Budgetary pressures have now compounded the military's ERP problems. The armed forces have been ordered by statute to adopt private sector accounting practices by 2017 so they can get a tighter grip on spending.

But they are having to pay for the upkeep of old systems that must be kept to make up for the failures of their ERP replacements. The combined US military ERP effort is twelve years behind schedule and $6.9bn over-budget, according to the Government Accountability Office.

David Tillotson - US Air Force.pngAir Forced to rethink

David Tillotson, deputy chief management officer of the US Air Force told the Committee development and implementation its Expeditionary Combat Support System, envisaged in 2002, begun in 2004 and contracted in 2006, had "lagged."

"The Department is now engaged in strategic reassessment of the overall program," he said. This would focus on "audit readiness..and genuine return on investment".

"Alternatives under consideration include building on the current ERP software, leveraging other service/Defense Agency solutions, and/or modifying legacy capability," said Tillotson in written testimony.

Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) took the offending project on in 2004 for an agreed $378m. This was tacked on to an existing $250m contract it was given under the 2002 Enterprise Software Initiative (ESI), which instigated the DOD's ERP push.

Asif Khan, director of financial management at the GAO, told the Committee that 6 of 10 major military ERP projects had run into trouble.

"DOD's ERP implementation has been impaired by delays, cost increases, failures in delivering the necessary functionality, and a lack of compliance with required standards.

"Delays in implementation have extended the use of existing duplicative, stovepiped systems, and the need to fund them," said Khan.

Smoking gun

Problematic projects included the Army's $2.6bn Logistics Modernization Program, for which CSC was awarded a 10-year, $680m contract in 1999. Scheduled for delivery in 2005, it's final roll-out occurred six year's behind schedule this year. GAO said Army was experiencing problems with the software, having to produce work-arounds for missing functionality.

The US Marine Corps' Global Combat Support System, initiated in 2003 and initiatally designed by Accenture in 2005, was now three-years behind schedule and $808m over budget, said the GAO last year. Accenture was at pains to stress it has not worked on the project since 2006 

Accenture was also given a $79m contract in 2006 to produce the US Air Force Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System. The project went nearly a billion dollars over budget and is not scheduled for delivery until 2017, three years late.

The Army had meanwhile agreed to pay Accenture $537m in 2005 to implement a General Fund Enterprise Business System. Rollout was ongoing and DOD expected it to be completed next year, only one year late. But GAO said it had not delivered Army accounting staff functionality they expected. It was creating a backlog of work and staff were having to input two-thirds of invoices manually because of interface problems.

The Navy was also two years behind schedule and $530m over-budget with a SAP ERP implementation. Personnel and Pay Systems were 12-years behind schedule across the military.

The projects were of immense proportions, seeking to replace at least 500 systems built up to 40 years ago, serving at least 450,000 users in more than 800 locations, and relying on around 400 systems interfaces. The problems were related to systems interfaces, data management and project management.

How FiRe Control burned £494m hole in public finances

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MPs published yet another account of bodge and splurge in government IT today. It was a familiar story. But one that for once had lessons for the coalition government.

The topic of today's autopsy was the stinking carcass left from the last government's IT-led reform of Fire and Rescue Services, called FiRe Control. Begun in 2004 and cancelled in 2010, it burned through half a billion pounds of public money.

The project was tabled in a frenzy over the "War on Terror". The emergency services had to be got ship-shape, and quick. So the Department for Communities and Local Government called in military contractor EADS. They then proceeded without proper planning to waste six years and £494m getting nowhere.

The idea was the encourage localism among the 46 Fire Services. DCLG did this by forcing them to ditch their existing control rooms and replace them with nine, pan-local centres. It then tried to force a new computer system on them. It said they had to change their working processes to fit the new system, which it aimed to take 'off-the-shelf' from EADS to save money and time. So much for localism.

If this sounds similar to plans being pursued by under the coalition's banner of localism that's because it is. And that one's under DCLG's remit too.

The Fire Services were of course excluded from all this important work. Their input would be required only when it came to paying the bill for post-implementation costs.

In all the rush, DCLG and Treasury approved the budget before they had determined whether the project was feasible. They sped past warnings from Gateway reviewers. They rushed on without properly planning what they were doing.

They also lacked the staff to do the job. So did EADS. So EADS subcontracted the work. DCLG notched up a bill of £69m for flash-Larry consultants. It paid £42m alone to PA Consulting. And the project was still so poorly managed the Public Accounts Committee said today it was among the worst it has ever seen.

The contract was so troublesome it took three years to draft. When it was agreed in 2007, the control centres were three months from completion. It was still "weak" and "poorly designed".

EADS went off on its own trajectory that had nothing to do with the contract anyway. The document had no means of keeping them in check. DCLG got through five senior responsible owners and four Project Directors - the people who are supposed to keep things under control.

DCLG kept insisting the project should continue. Local fire services meanwhile opposed the plans. They didn't like the reforms being imposed on them. So much for localism.

The department has put up another £84.8m to clear up the mess. The Fire Service has nine empty, regional control centres without an IT system to run them and staff still follow the same working processes they did in 2004.

The PAC said people should be held accountable. But it sounded like bluster. It didn't name the nine civil servants responsible, nor the lead consultants, nor the lawyers who drafted the atrocious contract, nor the companies to which EADS subcontracted the actual work. It didn't even name EADS or its Cassidian IT subsidiary. Nor did it actually account for the lost £494m.

The PAC had no shortage of colourful adjectives to describe just how poor this New Labour IT project was. It's recommendations were familiar: consult users, manage things properly, hold management accountable. We've heard it all before.

Agile in the NHS: 10 years, £5bn and still not finished

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Dick Dastardly.png
When the Department for Health signed £5bn of contracts for care records systems in 2003, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Trust (OBMH) already had one.

But OBMH was forced to swallow the system under the extortionate National Programme for IT (NHSIT) anyway, even though it would cost way in excess of twelve times what OBMH already paid for a perfectly functional patient system, and even though, seven years since NHSIT was conceived, the software still wasn't up to the job.

This must be what passes for agile development in the NHS: £5bn, 10 years and still not finished.

If you want to know why the Public Accounts Committee thinks NHSIT is an expensive failure, this is a prime example. OBMH bought the NHSIT software because that was the only way to avoid a £9m fine being levied on Trusts that didn't get with the programme.

The numbers are unbelievable, even without the extortion. OBMH had been paying an IT SME called Maracis £60,000 for ongoing support and development of its "enviable" PCIS care records system, which OBMH already owned under a perpetual licence that only cost £250,000. In comparison, NHSIT had arranged to pay BT £9m for each Trust it supplied under the programme.

The Trust expects the RiO system to cost in excess of £350,000-a-year when the NHSIT contract runs out in 2010 - and that's just for starters. Development costs will go on top. Then there's the cost OBMH expects to incur from buying in other systems to fill in the gaps left by RiO's poor functionality.

It sounds like too much for any cash-strapped NHS trust to swallow, and it's a wonder BT managed to persuade anyone to use its care records system. But lets not forget the extortion. OBMH's Business Case for using BT RiO said the chief reason was indeed the £8.8m fine it would be forced to pay if it tried to use an alternative - even if that alternative was the Maracis system it was already using when BT RiO and NHSIT were but a twinkle in some bozo's eye.

Farce

In the 12 years OBMH used PCIS, the system "served the Trust well", said the report. It put OBMH in the "enviable position" of already having a comprehensive records system. The Trust was nevertheless forced to conclude (after using it for 12 years) that PCIS wouldn't meet its strategic objectives in the long term because there was no longer a market for non-NHSIT records systems in the NHS.

No matter that Maracis had already "significantly" developed the system over the years since it first installed it at OBMH in 1998, four years before NHSIT even got started.

And what a farce it turned out to be. After NHSIT got started in 2002, OBMH was told to ditch a regional care records system it had already been working on with other Trusts. Just as well the Trust had carried on with PCIS because it had meanwhile supported new implementations of implemented document management, an integrated electronic health record and clinical management information - all while NHSIT was still trying to get started.

NHSIT originally planned to force Trusts in the Southern Cluster to accept the IDX CareCast records system on subcontract from Fujitsu, which then held the calamitous Local Service Provider Contract for the South. But IDX was shown the door in 2004, leaving NHSIT up the creek without a paddle. OBMH was meanwhile getting on just dandy with PCIS on mobile devices - being possibly the first trust to have electronic care records available to its community workers.

NHSIT meanwhile tried to clear up the mess it had created with IDX. It tried replacing it with Cerner Millennium, a system so so poorly suited for Mental Health Trusts that OBMH had to muck in on a programme to get it fit for purpose. But it was so rubbish they had to ditch that too. PCIS was meanwhile still going strong.

OBMH's ongoing use of PCIS was making a mockery of NHSIT. It not only had a working care records system, but it was being continuously developed as well - and for mere tens of thousands of pounds. It implemented support for the Care Programme Approach to mental health, an outpatient project, a patient transfer project, an outreach data project, and a Child and Adolescent Mental Health data project.

In the wake of Fujitsu resigning from the programme, Some Mental Health Trusts had meanwhile taken a look at the iSoft Lorenzo application. But Lorenzo's delays and financial problems scared them off. Then in 2009 BT bought up the remnants of Fujitsu's contract and trusts were lumped with RiO.

OBMH was still making great strides with PCIS. It automated document loading, implemented another child and maternity records system, a notes system and an archive project.

And then came crunch time. The Trust was told that if didn't ditch its trusty PCIS and install RiO the South Cental Strategic Health Authority would extract an £8.8m fine. Suddenly, the £90,000 a year it was paying for ongoing development of a system that was already and ever being made fit for purpose was nearly a £1m a year over 10 years. Who clocked the bonus for that one?

Thought experiment

To appreciate how absurd this situation is, contemplate spending £5bn on a patient administration system.

Remember that industry analysts used to justify the high cost of these systems by saying BT ought to be paid a decent rate for a decent job. Now try this thought experiment. Imagine installing Maracis everywhere (disregarding for now that this would be as absurd as installing RiO everywhere). The first time costs of Maracis are, according to the firm, £250,000 for a single Trust and £60,000-a-year for ongoing support and development. (£70,000-a-year if you throw in bespoke development).

Lets say for the sake of argument the 392 Acute, Mental, Community and Ambulance Trusts originally set to be supplied under NHSIT all bought Maracis and were all charged the same rate. Lets also assume (for the sake of argument because Maracis doesn't do a GP version) the 5,643 GP practices originally set to be supplied under the £5bn NHSIT programme all bought Maracis as well, and they paid an average (across practices from 1 to 10s of GPs in size) £40,000 for install and then £8,000-a-year. The total cost of the Maracis NHSIT contract would be £1bn. That's one-fifth of the cost. Even if you add £100m for large-scale extras and throw in another £100m for fat cat salaries and wide boy pensions, that's still only £1.2bn.

A more realistic comparison can be made if we were to imagine either BT or Maracis getting a contract to supply all 80 UK Mental Health Trusts. At the rate each of them established at OBMH, it would cost £720m under BT and £76m under Maracis.

This is clearly absurd. Just where has all the money been going?

Suppliers tell parliament NHSIT stories

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Pantomime villain.pngSo why did you take this undeliverable £multi-billion IT project on?

The Boo-Hisssstems Integrators were up before parliament again this week. MPs on the Public Accounts Select Committee wanted to know why the computer systems they've been building for the NHS are so expensive, so late and so not working.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge wanted to know why BT and CSC why contracted to do the work when it had clearly been undeliverable from the outset.

It's a good question. The government had in 2002 offered the entire administrative health IT market and payments of billions to what was then just five suppliers. The Department for Health would effectively banish the existing health IT market. It's five favoured suppliers would each get a ready-baked regional monopoly.

No matter that it was unfeasible. The Boo-Hissstems Integrators couldn't lose, as has become apparent now the programme is running seven years late and the government shows no sign of ceasing to subsidise their failure.

The healthcare presidents of BT and CSC, sole remaining suppliers of patient systems for the NHS IT programme, tried to persuade the committee Monday they had got the sprawling project under control. They claimed they hadn't finished the job till now because users' needs had changed.

Had they not taken so long over it, the system would have been delivered before the world had moved on. So here we are, 10 years later, and Margaret Hodge is having to ask them if they will ever finish the job - which she did.

She didn't get a straight answer.

Just how cushy these suppliers have had it under their NHS contracts became apparent when the committee turned its attention to Patrick O'Connell, president of BT Health. (See from 16.30 minutes in).

Both execs behaved as though they had the largest pensions in the room. But O'Connell showered the committee with patter not heard since Terry Thomas graduated from the School for Scoundrels.

Hodge was livid over BT's having charged £20m-a-site for patient records systems. Was this what BT called value for money?

BT at PAC - 23 May 2011.png"I think the benefit the systems' producing are equivalent to the value for money you started out [with] before it was rearranged into a different setting that will not only produce value for money, it will produce more value for money going forward," said Terry - sorry, Patrick.

He made a mockery of the inquiry when Ian Swales, the mild mannered MP from Redcar, took the gavel.

Swales, clearly a decent man, started out well enough. The software's simple to produce, so where has all our money gone: surely its a failure of BT management?

But he started flapping. His question became babble. It was as though there was something withering about O'Connell's stare.

"You mean BT management?" asked the BT president reproachfully. A condescending smile fluttered near the corner of his mouth. Ho, you little worm. So you think you can spar with me?

Ian Swales on PAC - 23 May 2011.pngDuel

Swales was going to spar, yes.

"The software costs are trivial," persisted the MP.

"A teenager in their bedroom can automate an email from one system to another."

And so the contest was on.

O'Connell wrestled like a Hydra over this simple question of how much of the billions wasted on NHS IT had been hoovered up by BT management.

He played dirty. He swatted at Swales with a suggestion the MP was doing a poor job. Then he described just how significant were the forces at his own command, running as he was, or claimed to be, the largest such public IT system in the world.

He finished with some smug sales patter.

The combination of a threatening tone, belittling look, a put down and a puffed chest had been enough in the space of just a few moments to cause the MP to sag like a classical hero in the jaws of defeat.

Swales began mirroring O'Connell's patter about the size of his IT project, repeating it as though it was a question from the committee. All seemed lost.

"So were we wrong to ask for it then?" was all Swales could manage.

It was a wilting repetition of the claim made by Boo-Hissstems Integrators that customers were at fault for public sector IT failures because they asked suppliers for the wrong thing in the first place.

Hodge stepped in like Hercules' faithful charioteer, and Swales got back to his feet, a little unsteady.

"So can you answer my question?" the MP blurted.

But he was weak from all the flapping. He asked how much BT and NHS management were to blame for the mess in NHS IT. It gave O'Connell a way to slither round the question.

BT at PAC - 23 May 2011 - 2.png"I don't think that's the issue," said the BT exec, setting up his misdirection.

"If you are talking about NHS staff, we have found them to be perfect, dedicated, committed, and have worked extremely hard to advance health care in a very evolving and changing environment."

O'Connell mocked a little choke of emotion as he spoke.

He ended with a little laugh. This was childs play. He thought he had the day.

But Swales would not give in.

He might not have had the wherewithal to handle the BT exec's deceits. But he was a representative of the people. He lifted his last question like a great, blunt sword and whacked it over O'Connell's chuff about the poor, offended NHS staff.

"The delays are all down to your companies, then?"

O'Connell lost his poise. Did this pipsqueak MP not know when he was outclassed? He got tetchy, the last recourse of the playground bully.

He starting blaming users again.

What users wanted today was different to what they wanted 10 years ago. Every NHS Hospital Trust wanted its own internet domain nowadays. He concluded with a feeble cad's flourish: "I don't know if you know what a domain-per-trust means?"

Hodge called order, noting that what NHS users wanted today was exactly what they wanted 10 years ago - a working system.

BT at PAC - 23 May 2011 - 3.pngDefeat

Now it was O'Connell's turn to babble. His game was up.

Richard Bacon, the heavy-hitting MP from South Norfolk, asked him about the trouble the National Audit Office had trying to reconcile numbers submitted by BT with those from the Department of Health.

O'Connell tried to claim there were no such discrepancies.

He started flapping. BT's numbers did reconcile with those of the DoH, he said. He suggested the government auditors had got their numbers wrong. His heavy gold jewelry flashed for the video cameras.

Bacon was trying to find out why BT was charging £9m per site for a records system that should cost under £2m.

"That's part of the numbers we are trying to reconcile," said O'Connell, drawing laughter from onlookers at the back of the committee room.

The committee was none the wiser on the numbers. And it won't be till it can open BT and CSC's books. But it did get a measure of these Boo-Hissstems integrators.

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