C-Nomis £513m project - reality trumps our satire

Editorial to be published in Computer Weekly next Tuesday

Number one in the list of Computer Weekly’s top tips for project managers is advice that’s supposed to be humorous, even slightly cynical.  It says that projects with realistic budgets and timetables don’t get approved.

But reality trumps our satire: big projects keep being approved on the basis of unrealistic estimates of their cost and time to completion. 

One government project executive has told Computer Weekly that budgeting in government is a game: if the Treasury and the department in question want the scheme approved, they turn a blind eye to irrationally low initial estimates of the cost and the timescales

That could explain why projects such as C-Nomis, the Defence Information Infrastructure, Libra and the NPfIT began with announced cost estimates which are fractions of their prices today. 

This is no way to run a government, let alone its IT projects. The latest NAO report on the C-Nomis scheme for a single database of offenders depicts near-anarchy on parts of the project. Ministers and senior officials were not even told of how bad things were until three years after the start.

Officials at the Ministry of Justice are proud of having suspended work on the project. But they’re not embarrassed that it was three years before they realised that the £234m costs had trebled and it was two years late.

Will anything be done to ensure that ministers and officials are in future given timely and pertinent reports on cost overruns and delays? Probably not. 

Nor are the Tories are committed to making systemic reforms, to ensure proper and early Parliamentary and ministerial accountability and scrutiny of IT-based change programmes.

Doubtless some good will eventually come out the scaled-back £513m C-Nomis project. We’ve waited 18 years for the roll out of the Home Office and Ministry of Justice’s £444m “Libra” case management system for magistrates’ courts. 

So perhaps the NAO will be singing the praises of C-Nomis in a matter of a couple of decades. And transformational government can be renamed cryogenic government.


Why big Government IT projects keep failing – Public Accounts MP – Computer Weekly  

Basic project management failures on C-Nomis project – Computer Weekly

Top tips for project managers? – IT Projects blog

MoD concealed truth on full £7bn Defence Information Infrastructure costs- IT Projects blog

Libra – one of the worst projects ever – Public Accounts Committee (2003)

7 of 8 common mistakes repeated on C-Nomis – Computer Weekly