Home Office minister Liam Byrne says in a speech “A 21st Century Public Good” that ID cards will become another great British institution. Perhaps the ID Cards scheme will follow the NHS’s National Programme for IT[NPfIT] in that respect.
The trouble with the IT project that supports ID cards – and the NPfIT – is that there is no clear objective. Senior members of the Association for Project Management say that the lack of a simple clear objective is one of the most common factors in failures of IT-related projects and programmes.
In his speech, which sought to set out the case for ID cards,, Byrne swirled around like a fly that never seems to land.
These were the rather vague objectives he spoke of:
– To make borders and the individual more secure
– To tackle multiple identity abuse
– Reduce benefit fraud
And a new objective was added to the list: he spoke of wanting to combat the “mish-mash of unregulated, potentially unsafe [biometric] systems, mushrooming in growth and size in a way that is just uneconomic”.
IT suppliers have held presentations for Whitehall officials on the necessity of ID cards for any modernising government.
Indeed, for suppliers, the £5.3bn ID cards scheme is a first-rate idea. And some ministers may wish to be immortalised by a scheme that becomes a Great British Institution.
But, as mentioned earlier, IT-based projects and programmes need clear objectives.
Byrne compared ID cards to the railways in the 19th century and the national grid in the 20th century. But these had simple objectives that could be summed up in a sentence: the aim of railways was to take people from A to B quickly, safely, comfortably and cheaply, and the aim of the national grid was to provide a reliable supply of electricity to most homes in Britain. The objectives of ID cards cannot be summed up in a single sentence. Byrne’s speech comprised 1,700 words.
ID cards may be a good idea but as an IT scheme it may be deeply flawed. The more speeches ministers make on the subject, the more they unwittingly portray the ID cards scheme as a good idea in search of a simple objective and a strong business case.