Time to stop passing the buck

The hearings into problems with the government's pension credit systems by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last...

The hearings into problems with the government's pension credit systems by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last week were a grim experience.

EDS, which supplied the systems, admitted responsibility for failures that left tens of thousands of families short of the benefits they were expecting.

The senior civil servants were unfortunately less candid. Sir Nicholas Montague, chairman of the Inland Revenue, put the blame on his technology partner. He could have, but did not, mention the part played by the project creep that has afflicted the tax credit programme since its inception.

Computer Weekly has reported on many high-profile public sector IT failures. Invariably, there has been more than a single cause of difficulty and more than one person or organisation responsible. The tax credit debacle is no different.

Inland Revenue leaders are doing themselves no favours by washing their hands of technology failures. The Inland Revenue prides itself on being an "intelligent customer", but its performance over tax credits calls that claim into question.

EDS was not as candid as it should have been in telling the Inland Revenue of potential problems. As deadlines slipped, it simply warned of an increased risk to the project. But as an intelligent customer, the Inland Revenue should have made its own independent assessment of the risk and acted appropriately.

If we are to avoid further disasters, IT suppliers need to be candid with their public sector customers, and civil servants must drop their "notme.gov" attitude when things go wrong. It is, unfortunately, an old message.

IT's hard-won success

This year has been tough for IT departments. Business has continued to demand ever more from IT, while you have coped with less staff and tighter budgets.

That is why it is worth reflecting on how much you have achieved in 2003. You have pushed suppliers for the best contracts, and stood your ground when over-ambitious business managers tried to extract more than you can deliver. You have kept the business running.

As your non-IT colleagues are winding down for Christmas, you are preparing for upgrades and new deployments and checking disaster recovery plans.

As you contemplate the festive season, do what is necessary to push the business forward, but also make sure you get a break. You deserve it.

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