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Failure is not an option in Government's review of IT

Minister promises cultural change in civil service to eradicate IT disasters. Mike Simons reports

Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney this week signalled the Government's determination to put major IT disasters behind it with 30 recommendations to improve project performance.

The report answers criticisms made by the Commons Public Accounts Committee in a report published in January, and will provide a benchmark for all future government IT projects.

Flanked by e-envoy Alex Allan and Peter Gershon, head of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), McCartney said "we refuse to tolerate failure", as he outlined the key themes in the report Successful IT: Modernising Government in Action. The minister pledged to drive through a cultural change in the civil service so that IT projects become part of the process of business change.

He promised strong leadership. "The implementation of these recommendations will be owned by the e-envoy who will report to the e-government minister."

McCartney said the new guidelines would break down the civil service culture that existed in the past of "not me gov", where ministers were kept in the dark about problems.

A key recommendation is the creation of a senior responsible owner (SRO) for each project. Unlike the past, the SRO will not be able to move on as a project hits trouble, said Allan. "The SRO will stay until the project is complete," the e-envoy said.

The report said, "The practice of having SROs must be embedded across government through appraisal and rewards systems."

Suppliers will be managed more rigorously. The report warns that future tender evaluations will "include a consideration of whether suppliers have a record of openness".

"Civil service project management skills will be improved and big projects will be broken down into manageable sections using a modular or incremental approach," said McCartney.

Gershon said the approach was about "front loading" management resources into projects. This, he said, meant ensuring projects satisfied clear, preset criteria and passed a peer review process even before an invitation to tender was issued.

However, the OGC chief played down the role of independent assessors, saying that reviews would be conducted in the civil service, with outside consultants brought in only when necessary.

Allan said, "This report will not be left on the shelves of Whitehall to gather dust. All recommendations set out actions, owners and key delivery dates and I will work with departments to ensure it makes a real difference."

The stakes are very high. In January the Public Accounts Committee warned ministers that IT failures were threatening their legislative programme. The plans announced this week are the best shot yet at getting major public-sector IT procurement right, but the real test will be in their application.

Successful IT: Modernising Government in Action

The 30 targets in the Successful IT: Modernising Government in Action report

Business change

1 Business development skill must be included as a key feature in the framework being developed by the Central IT Unit (CITU)

2 CITU (supported by the Office of Government Commerce [OGC]) will strengthen the application of business development skills across government

3 Business cases must reflect all of the business change to be delivered

Leadership and Responsibility

4 Professional development events for ministers and senior civil servants will include informing them of their role in, and responsibility for, major IT projects and programmes

5 All IT-supported change projects or programmes must have a single, named, senior responsible owner (SRO).

6 An interim checklist of roles and responsibilities of the SRO will be available to departments and agencies by June 2000. Guidance will be regularly updated and refined

7 The SRO for a project should remain in place throughout or change only when a distinct phase of benefit delivery has been completed

8 The SRO of each project must ensure that a formal approach to project management, such as Prince 2, is applied

9 Key staff on major projects must undertake formal project management training

10 Departments and agencies must assess the difficulty of their projects, using the Project Profile Model, and match this against the abilities of their project management

Risk Management

11 The OGC will investigate further methods of problem reporting and upward referral. These will be based on the Project Profile Model

12 Departments and agencies must adopt a modular and/or incremental approach to projects, unless there are very strong reasons for not doing so. The approach to be taken must be clearly documented

13 OGC must refine and expand on the preliminary guidance issued by the major ITprojects review team

Benefit Realisation

14 All major projects or programmes must undertake periodic reviews of proposed benefits throughout development and implementation

15 A post-implementation review must be undertaken and benefits realised assessed against projected benefits outlined in the original business case

16 Treasury should review the systems departments and agencies have in place for monitoring the realisation of benefits

17 The OGC should review the results of post-implementation reviews and ensure that valuable common information is widely available

18 OGC, in consultation with CITU, should examine what additional measures and guidance need to be established to ensure government maximises benefits from its investments in technology

Procurement and Supplier Relationships

19 OGC should audit existing policy and guidance on procurement and produce a consolidated and unambiguous set of materials for IT, making it clear which elements are mandatory

20 Departments and agencies must ensure that they put in place processes that will actively encourage co-operation and open a dialogue between supplier and client

21 Part 1: Before contracts are signed, suppliers must have produced a realistic plan, including timescales, resources and technology

Part 2: Guidance for departments on how to evaluate such plans should be developed, initially by HM Treasury Task Force and then by OGC

22 OGC should continue to gather information about the top 10 suppliers of IT to government

Cross-Cutting Initiatives

23 Cross-cutting projects and programmes must have a unified, regularly updated business case

People and skills

24 Government, through CITU (supported by OGC), must develop (a) technical skills framework to be used by departments and agencies

25 CITU must develop an extension to the Skills for The Information Age framework

26 The work on Civil Service Reform should explicitly take into account this study

27 The Government must support the co-ordinated and ongoing assessment of its IS skills base and ensure improvements

28 The draft peer review process developed by this study should be implemented by OGC by September 2000

29 Government must establish effective permanent mechanisms for obtaining and disseminating information about managing programmes and projects

30 The Government must construct a system for gathering, maintaining and sharing information about the progress of projects

Successful IT: Modernisng Government in Action Cabinet office

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