Tony Blair to monitor status of top 20 IT projects

The prime minister Tony Blair is to receive briefings on the top 20 IT-related projects in government so that he and his team...

The prime minister Tony Blair is to receive briefings on the top 20 IT-related projects in government so that he and his team have a detailed understanding of how well they are progressing.

The move comes after high-profile problems with IT-related projects at the Child Support Agency, Criminal Records Bureau, Passport Service, Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs.

The briefings will offer the prime minister a regular insight into the IT implementation of national identity cards, should the programme be resumed by the new administration, and the national programme for IT in the NHS, which has run into delays and criticism from some clinicians.

Blair's briefings will be given by John Oughton, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, supported by government chief information officer Ian Watmore and the CIO Council he created.

Watmore said last week that Oughton was talking to the prime minister about ways of focusing on about 20 top schemes so that Blair and his team "have got a real insight into those projects".

Watmore said, "There are typically hundreds of projects going on in government at any one time, and probably over 100 are quite sizeable, so we are really focusing in on the very biggest projects."

The briefings are likely to increase accountability on major projects by making the prime minister at least partly responsible for, involved in, or aware of any decisions on reviewing, aborting, or reducing the risks and scope of any of the government's biggest projects.

Among the top 20 will be the Defence Information Infrastructure contract, worth at least £2.3bn, which was run by a consortium led by US services supplier EDS. The scheme will replace numerous individual information systems throughout the MoD with a single, more efficient information infrastructure.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs is also preparing to award large contracts. Watmore cited criminal justice IT as an example of successful work in progress. The scheme involves providing a hub which allows authorised users of systems in courts, police, the Probation Service and the Crown Prosecution Service to exchange case files.

Watmore also gave details of what happened at the April meeting of the CIO Council, which comprises IT executives in government and the wider public sector. He said the council discussed the idea of the government setting up an IT academy which would provide recruits with a unified standard of training. It would also help boost the image and importance of the profession within the public sector.

The academy would be a virtual or physical centre. "We are exploring all the options on that. It is important we have some form of unified training and community programme so we allow new competencies and know-how to be promulgated," he said.

The CIO Council also discussed separating functions of human resources and finance departments across more than 1,000 organisations within government to help deliver efficiency savings. The transactional systems could be brought together but the organisations would retain their leading executives in finance and human resources, in part to provide accountability to Parliament.

In addition, the council discussed ways of avoiding customising packaged software to fit a department's processes. Instead council members want to adapt their practices to use the business processes that come embedded in off-the-shelf software such as that supplied by SAP and Oracle.

Among those at April's meeting were Andrew Turnbull, head of the Home Civil Service, John Birt of the Prime Minister's Office, Steve Lamey, CIO at HM Revenue and Customs, Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT, and John Suffolk, head of criminal justice IT.

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