Reform of MPs' expenses is a good time for IT reform

Susan de Sousa, who runs a project management site, has written a blog comment about the £234m C-Nomis project to say it’s “absolutely shocking” that it took three years before senior management realised that the scheme was running late and with a doubled budget.

I agree. My understanding is that this lack of proper oversight – for three years – was allowed to happen because nobody checked the truthfulness of the positive information that was being given out internally on the state of the project.

Dishonesty in reporting on IT projects and programmes occurs at the lowest and highest levels of government. It’s not anybody’s fault. Internal reporting on how a project is progressing – if the project is in trouble – is expected to be dishonest. Ministers and their advisers want to hear the good news only.

We’re assured by the Office of Government Commerce that gateway reviews will raise the alarm over problem projects before such schemes become irredeemable. But gateway review alarms can be part of the problem.

They’re designed to sound very softly: nobody but the senior responsible owner [SRO] hears them. An open and self-confident SRO will spread the word. But an inexperienced one may tell nobody if the project is heading towards a precipice.

SROs don’t want their projects to fail. And people don’t become civil servants to experiment recklessly with public money. But it can easily look that way.

I’ve said it before many times but there needs to be much more looking-over-shoulders of large, high-risk projects by committee MPs. For that to happen there needs to be a change in the system, a forcing of honesty and openness over mistakes – two things that are anathema to ministers and their advisers.

The National Audit Office does a generally excellent job on a very limited budget. But it can report on only a small number of so-called “mission-critical” schemes.  Parliament needs to be more involved.

Now’s a good time to consider how – while the Prime Minister and shadow ministers are in a mood for reform.

Links:

What went wrong with C-Nomis project – IT projects blog

NAO report on C-Nomis – NAO website

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