The biggest cause of IT failures ... and where it leaves ID cards and the NHS IT programme

The most common factor in the failure of many large IT-based programmes is the lack of a clear objective, it was said at a recent roundtable meeting of the Association for Project Management.

So where does that leave two of government’s biggest projects, ID cards and the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT]?


Congestion charge for example had a clear objective: to charge people for entering the centre of London at certain times. The scheme is a success – in terms of its IT support.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency had a clear objective when it brought together car tax, insurance and MoT information so that drivers can renew car tax online. It works, provided that the Royal Mail delivers the car tax licence to the right address and even when it doesn’t the DVLA sends another quickly.

The Department of Work and Pensions also had a clear objective when it launched a £824m scheme to pay pensions and benefits directly into customers’ bank accounts. It was a success. In 2002 most beneficiaries were paid by giro cheque or by producing a paper order book. Now nearly 100% of pensioners and claimants are paid by direct credit. Order book payments used to cost 67 pence per payment and giro cheques £1.49 each. Direct credits cost one pence per payment.

And another clear objective: the New York City mayor launched NYC 3-1-1, a single telephone number, answered by an operator, all day and night , which gives access to all government information and non-emergency services. It replaced about 40 separate call centres and hotlines and 14 pages of phone numbers in the City’s telephone directory. And it can handle calls about everything from power cuts and strikes to complaints about specific agencies. “I can’t imagine running the city without it,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

All these objectives are unambiguously specific and clear.

So what about ID cards and the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT]?

The clear objective for the ID cards scheme is to, well, … “help protect people from identity fraud and theft, ensure that people are who they say they are tackle illegal working and immigration abuse, disrupt the use of false and multiple identities by criminals and those involved in terrorist activity, ensure free public services are only used by those entitled to them, and enable easier access to public services.”

That’s clear then.

And the NHS’s National Programme for IT? It’s objective is to …”bring modern computer systems into the NHS which will improve patient care and services.”

More information from the useful roundtable discussion of the Association of Project Management on the State of Project Management in the UK will be posted separately on this blog.

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