NHS blaming suppliers could be a warning sign
Chairman, Castell Consulting
Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT, has declared that some of the key contractors supplying the £6.2bn national programme for IT (NPfIT) are to be replaced because they are failing to live up to expectations.
At last month's HC2005 healthcare infomatics conference (Computer Weekly, 29 March), he said "substantial progress" had been achieved, but warned that suppliers not doing their job would lose their contracts, and without action against ineffective suppliers, such progress would "continue to be difficult".
As an experienced expert witness in major computer systems disputes and litigation, this sounds to me like someone getting in their retaliation first - perhaps trying to find a scapegoat for what may yet become the government's most magnificent IT procurement failure, and taking it out on some suppliers who may not actually be wholly to blame.
From my experience over the past 15 years of examining a wide range of failed IT contracts and projects, there are eight "red warning flares" that signal impending IT disaster. One of these early signals is the absence of an adequate statement of requirements - a requirements specification that is clear, comprehensive, sufficiently detailed and unambiguous. Where is this document for the NPfIT?
We taxpayers are not only the financiers/sponsors of this new mega-system, but also the intended users and beneficiaries of its functionality. Why have we not been consulted as to what system we actually want? Why has the definition of requirements for the NPfIT not been opened up to peer review by independent IT professionals?
Are there any IT professionals in charge of this venture, and if so, who are they? If not, why not?
An urgent independent review of the NPfIT is needed - one that is very different from any review processes currently envisaged or under way. Parliament should give the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee wide powers to appoint its own truly independent and forensically-experienced IT expert teams.
Only then can we get to the technical truth, give to the taxpayer a truly independent opinion on the state of the NPfIT that counts, and begin to face up to any proper remedial action necessary. And that would then probably better be arrived at through a practical and pragmatic process of skilled and informed mediation.
Summarily blaming and chucking out a few suppliers simply will not do.
Widening the net would ease NHS skills troubles
Your front page story regarding the reported skills shortage in the NHS raised an ironic smile (Computer Weekly, 29 March).
I am currently looking into returning to the IT industry after a short career break, but even with a degree and experience of project implementation I am faced with what seem to be unrealistic expectations in terms of skills and experience.
Many health service IT vacancies specify that prior NHS experience is necessary, for example. This is surely a Catch 22 situation - how is a candidate expected to gain experience in the NHS unless they can actually find employment there?
This is not the first time that employers have complained through your pages of a lack of the desired skills. Again, however, many vacancies list very specific requirements with little room for negotiation.
Relatively few employers advertise training among the benefits of the job, and those seeking employment are often expected to fund their own certification or other training before even applying. As a graduate with student debts to repay and a young family to care for, this is not even affordable, never mind desirable.
I believe that rather than a skills shortage, there is a gap between the general skills candidates have to offer and those sought by employers. I would welcome a response from any employers to try to break this stalemate situation and find some common ground.
NHS must share the blame for skills shortage
I read with pained amusement director general of NHS IT Richard Granger's complaints about skills shortages facing the national programme for IT (Computer, Weekly, 29 March).
As far as project managers are concerned, Granger might find there are plenty of talented people out there, if only NPfIT recruiters stopped demanding "recent NHS experience".
I fear the "skills shortage" is partly of the NPfIT's own making.
Avoid ageism and invest in your staff to gain skills
I strongly disagree with Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT, about severe skill shortages (Computer Weekly, 29 March). One reason for these supposed shortages is employers believing that IT staff over the age of 30 are past their best.
Another reason why there appears to be a skills shortage is that employers are now looking for multiskilled people - for example, with a Unix and networking skills. In the past these would have been two jobs.
One solution would be for companies to invest in the people they already have.
I have been agile since the 1980s
I read your article "Dixons uses agile method for Epos project" (Computer Weekly, 29 March) with amusement. It appears that I have been an agile programmer since 1982.
I have always adopted the approach mentioned, and I know it works as it proved to be a major contribution to the success of a company I worked for in the 1980s. I was the only employee and now the founder is in the Times Top 100 rich list (alas, like most programmers, I did not benefit from my innovation).
Interestingly, I was a voice shouting in the darkness at that time. Indeed, in one large corporation when I asked to talk to the users I was seriously asked by the IT director, "What for?"
It is nice to know that the approach I used in the 1980s still works today. I must now update my CV to indicate that I am an agile programmer.