New discipline in managing government IT projects is starting to pay off, with the prospect of benefits totalling well over £500m a year, the chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce told a British Computer Society conference last month.
Peter Gershon said more than 230 projects, costing £36bn, were now subject to gateway reviews occurring at key points, so that problems and risks are spotted and corrected early on.
"It is absolutely essential that gateway reviews are led by people who have no vested interest in the outcome, so they can say what they think without any fear of comeback from the department concerned," Gershon told the annual conference of the BCS Project Management Specialist Group and the Programme Management Special Interest Group.
He added that because gateway reviews are standard practice and everyone involved has had the same training, lessons can be shared across projects.
Experience is also being shared through the Successful Projects in an IT Environment (Sprite) initiative, formed to put recommendations from a study of IT projects into practice.
"Sprite will lead initiatives and drive change across government," Gershon told the conference.
"Over 250 representatives from 88 organisations are in the Sprite implementers network, which brings together those responsible for embedding the recommendations in their organisations to share information and good practice."
Another body, the Senior IT Forum, has been formed to look at problems between the public sector and suppliers and to find new ways of buying IT services and running projects.
Gershon reported progress here too, "All major government projects now have senior responsible owners providing leadership that has often been lacking in the past.
At project level the "successful delivery toolkit" is now available, providing best practice via the web or on CD.
Another initiative is a plan to introduce programme and project management as a career specialism later this year under Gershon's personal leadership.
"This will help reinforce the importance of these skills in the delivery of the government's agenda," Gershon said.
Meanwhile, all government departments are to set up programme and project management centres of excellence by June. These will support everyone from the "senior responsible owners" to everyday project work where needed, and again share lessons across departments.
This initiative was agreed after a presentation by Gershon to the Cabinet. This shows how seriously the government is taking the issue, he told the BCS conference.
Gershon repeated his earlier calls for the IT industry to recognise the problems in running projects and "take some painful medicine to start to improve itself".
But he concluded there were encouraging signs of progress.
"The challenge is significant," he said. "But the prize in terms of the reform of public services and better value for money for all of us as taxpayers is absolutely enormous."
For further information on the Successful Projects in an IT Environment initiative go to www.ogc.gov.uk/index.asp?docid=428
This was first published in May 2003