At last a government agency has had the confidence to admit some of its mistakes on IT-based programmes, publish the wider lessons, and show how it is learning from them.
The self-critical report of the Identity and Passport Service is a direct response to Computer Weekly's campaign for departments to be open, honest and accountable for their mistakes, so that they and others can learn from them.
The unprecedented report sends the right signals to the 50,000 people who work in government IT and who keep thousands of systems running smoothly.For decades their departmental heads, hired marketing hands, political advisers and ministers have put much effort into not admitting mistakes and pretending their organisations are all-wonderful.
Such propaganda has the opposite effect. It has given government IT an aura of unreality, a reputation for cover-up. Yet IT staff and CIOs know that systemic problems cannot be tackled readily by a department in denial.
If all departments produced reports of lessons learned with the same conviction as the Identity and Passport Service, taxpayers would be right to regard this as a genuine attempt by government to begin to put its house in order.
But the Identity and Passport Service's report is not a perfect solution to a lack of transparency in government IT. It is not independent, it is unregulated, the perceptiveness of the findings relies on the knowledge and skills of the internal interviewers, and its credibility rests on the willingness of departmental heads to publish criticisms as well as praise.
But while government IT remains largely unregulated, unaudited and unsupervised, published self-criticism is a remarkable cultural step forward.
Read article: Passport agency goes public on test errors
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This was first published in January 2007